Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Composition of Traits



“One of Deleuze's interests is the way that art liberates affects from persons, traits from character.”
I was thinking about this separation of traits from character in relation to fiction. In real-life, we talk about traits as expressive of character but in writing a novel a writer creates character through traits. Traits are assembled to produce character. 

I recently entered a novella in a literary competition. It struck me that, if you borrow from life, and I can’t conceive of anyone not doing, then writing a novel involves re-distributing the traits of real individuals amongst fictional individuals. A fairly basic example*: In real life I read about an individual who preferred writing on postcards to emails. The same individual was also prosecuted for indecent exposure. There is of course no reason why these traits belong together. But if you put them together they somehow colour each other.  In the novella these two traits belong to different people. They have been de-personalised and then re-personalised. It is a woman called Beatrice who writes on postcards and she uses only fountain pens and stays up late into the night. The trait enters into a new composition. It is ‘coloured’ differently. 

In this sense perhaps the writer of fiction recognises, through the very act of creation, that traits are not ‘personal’, that they are detachable. Writing breaks up a self into traits and then re-assigns these traits. Or perhaps this process shows that character, individuality, is in any case only a particular composition of traits. 

* Not really 'traits' in this example, but it illustrates the point.

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