The Aura of the Story by Sally Cooper
“The Moment changes…. Keep eye peeled regarding situation around you.
Learn its demands. And – meet them. Be there at the right time doing the right thing.” (Dick, 155)
Can a story have an aura?
Walter Benjamin tells us that an ancient statue of Venus “stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.” (Sec. IV)
The literary object we expect to exude an aura is the book. Possession of the right book allows a collector to “own” history. Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Codex Leicester. Shakespeare’s First Folio. The Gutenberg Bible. But our oldest stories first came to us orally, were held collectively. If these stories had auras, would they embrace the shape of the teller’s mouth and the timbre of her voice? Would they contain the curve of the attending ear?
I’m reminded of Eric Packer‘s desire in Cosmopolis to buy the Rothko Chapel and install it in his living room. When his art dealer/lover says: “Forgive the pissy way I say this. But the Rothko Chapel belongs to the world” Packer replies, “It’s mine if I buy it.” (DeLillo, 28)
DeLillo toys with Benjamin’s idea of bridging the original and the beholder. Where Benjamin suggests that “The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art” (Sec. II) meaning anyone who wants to, may engage with a work of art, DeLillo speaks to the urge to be the only one who may engage with a particular work of art, in other words, the drive to use one’s power (read: money) to acquire and hoard aura.
My peak and most personal experience of "aura" in writing was the heft of my first novel in my hands. By definition, the moment held more than itself. It held the first glimpses of the cover mock-up two months earlier, the page proofs, the font. It held the editor's enthusiasms and substantive suggestions. It held the words of those who’d read it in workshops; mentors’ feedback; rejected tenses and points of view; excised characters; dropped titles. This object represented my experience from the moment a short story expanded to the moment I clasped the published artifact.
An entity like Red Lemonade bridges the act of putting a book in the marketplace (publication) and the workshop. Here, what the reader gives back attaches itself to the work. Though its usefulness to the author may vary, the reader/writer’s feedback is a potent currency, now part of the story’s digital aura. Whereas Benjamin suggests that the aura of a work of art “withers” in the age of mechanical reproduction, I propose that a story flourishes in the digital medium, cultivated by the presence of the writer-artist and nurtured by willing reader-artists.
Research cited in Susan Cain’sQUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talkingshows us that people produce more and better ideas when they work on their own than when they work as a group. The exception is online brainstorming. When properly managed, groups brainstorming electronically do better than individuals, performing even better, the larger the group. Thus: “…[P]articipating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own.” (Cain, 92-93)
Online, the writer/reader becomes enfolded in the historicity of a story revealed in dishabille.In her essay “Creating: The Online Conversation,” Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer comments that by publishing on Red Lemonade, “I was performing story in a way I could not have imagined I would have the guts to do ever.” Exposed during creation, a story may now accrue its aura socially much in the way an oral story is honed in the telling.
Unlike Kuitenbrouwer, I’ve not had the guts to compose a story in the Red Lemonade work book, unfolding its genesis for anyone who wants to be involved, but I have taken the leap and posted an early-ish draft, vetted only by my writing group, within days of its conception. The experience felt exhilarating but mortifying, too, as if the story, a hybrid not only in its melding of literary and fairy tale genres but in its amassing of others’ suggestions if not designs, became less knowable to me, and not in the way of my novels in their finished jackets with spines and page numbers and pages on Amazon. An online review of a book is as fixed and finite as the book itself. Because the comments on the Red Lemonade story came publicly and because the story is “in process” – though I didn’t feel any more beholden to these responses than I would to those received in an in-person workshop – they themselves have entered the story because they sit alongside it, inscribing it like forceps marks.
To twist Walter Benjamin’s words: “the distinction between author and public [has lost] its basic character.” Posting a story on Red Lemonade invigorates like good collaboration, the kind Cain references, where each member contributes the best of her ideas to the group from a position of potent solitude.
Sally Cooper is the author of two novels, Love Object (2002) and Tell Everything (2008), both published by The Dundurn Group. My short fiction has appeared most recently in Event, Grain, The Nashwaak Review and Hamilton Arts and Letters. (Read the HA&L piece here: http://samizdatpress.typepad.com/hamilton-arts-letters/sallys-greg.html) I teach creative writing for Humber School for Writers and Humber College. I am inspired and grateful when another artist gets it right, articulates a feeling that is resonant and true. I want to connect with other artists, show appreciation for the effort to put work out into the world. Make a difference. (Visit my blog, Redlands: http://redlands1.tumblr.com/)
Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Marxists
Internet Archive. U.C.L.A. School of Theatre, Film, and Television. Feb. 2005. Web. 21
Cain, Susan. QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. New York:
Crown Publishers, 2012.
DeLillo, Don. Cosmopolis. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Dick, Philip K.. The Man in the High Castle. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
Kuitenbrouwer, Kathryn. “Creating: The Online Conversation.” Red Lemonade. Red
Lemonade,7 May 2012. Web. 25 Jun. 2012.