Dear Isabel (Letter/9)
by Mark Chmiel
Monday 29 June 2015
Glad you had friends visiting over the weekend and that you now have a little more space for your daily practices and chill time/spaces.
Page 11, paragraph 1
Don Quixote: “Comparisons are odious.” You don’t need to compare your US writing and El Salvador writing. You may not WANT to write about the USA; if so, you can explore why that might be so.
And is it really “emoting” that characterizes your Salvador writing? Speaking of emotions and Salvador, here’s a part of an interview with Chomsky [note the comments on Joan Didion’s book]:
I think you would know [if only from your strong self-awareness and journalistic training] if you were romanticizing and simplifying the Salvadoran reality. Obviously, what you write to yourself or friends is one thing (and I say anything goes in that case) and what you write for the reading public is another.
OK. Don’t apologize: This is the kernel of an essay, collage, book, screenplay—“Is it because I’m a white middle-class midwesterner who was shocked & shattered & hooked on crisis?” You can say as a deflection: “Shit, that’s appropriating their narrative, and has been done so many times, blah blah blah blah…” But that’s your story. Own it, which may mean you simply have to adopt a dialectical approach to writing that inter-weaves the USA and El Salvador, the personal and political, the symptoms and the disease.
Also, by calling your commitment to El Salvador a “more politically correct one,” that’s only true from your lefty perspective/orientation/communities; among lefties, yes, you’ve got tremendous street cred. I don’t think it necessarily gave you cred with your professors or editors, given their reaction you mentioned earlier in the letters. And caring about Salvadoran orphans from the war years can’t compete with African orphans in the mainstream media (worthy and unworthy orphans, cf. Herman and Chomsky’s tome).
You characterize your writing about El Salvador as “Self-serving, theatrical, and soothing” —— I will pick up here tomorrow, and address this with fire and gusto!