"How can one bathe without undressing, or write without laying bare one's soul?" asks Dorothy Strachey1 in the introduction to her novel, Olivia (11). The question eloquently expresses both the Intimist's method and his2 ideology. But what is Intimism? Most famous as a minor branch of Impressionist painting practiced in turn-of-the-century France, Intimism is almost unknown in the context of literary theory3. Very few writers have ever declared themselves Intimists, and Intimism's literary principles have not been adequately explored or even well documented.
The literary term intimist was originally used to describe certain writers, circa 1900-1905, who recorded intimate, personal, and psychological experiences as a basis for their novels4. However, there appears to be no English-language description of Intimist philosophy, and today Intimism has faded into obscurity. As a self-formed modern Intimist writer, it is my hope to define Intimism fully, discuss its theory, and describe its style. Because there is so little information on Intimism available, it is necessary that this literary philosophy is my own, based upon what I have found to be the main tenets of Intimism, and expanded into a fully developed literary canon.
Intimism, put simply, is the expression of personal thoughts and feelings in literature. This refers to both the expression of the author's inner self and that of his characters. It can be seen as an extreme form of Romanticism, but it is more than simply that, and distinct enough to be considered a separate style. Like Romanticism, Intimism stresses the uniqueness of the individual and tends to focus on the unusual or neurotic personality; an Intimist would agree with Walter Pater's idea that "the addition of strangeness to beauty" (Holman 466) is ideal, but the Intimist's concept of beauty often leans toward that which is found in the "soul" of a character. The Romantic rebellion against reason and formal rules is familiar to the Intimist; for an Intimist, emotion reigns over reason, and Intimist expression's only rule is that the writer's words portray as accurately as possible the feelings that he is trying to communicate. An Intimist piece of writing should be realistic in its representation of the inner state of an individual, but realism in all but a particular character's psychology is unnecessary. If appropriate to revealing an interior experience, aspects of an Intimist work may not be grounded in the "real world" at all.
Intimism, is not, however, the same as Expressionism. Though both share a focus on the expression of inner experience, the Intimist style is on the whole much less exaggerated and extreme. The unreal atmosphere, nightmarishness, distortion and oversimplification of Expressionism have a place in Intimism, but do not predominate. Intimist world view is humanistic, and displays an underlying optimism and idealism contrary to the darkness of Expressionism. Expressionist techniques such as stream of consciousness, dislocation of time sequence, and disruption of spatial logic, which show the unique—and sometimes quite illogical—perspective of an individual's mind, are indeed staples of Intimist method, but the Intimist uses them to depict unusual states of mind as being fascinating and strangely beautiful rather than twisted or horrifying. In general, though many of the basic ideas and techniques behind Expressionism and Intimism are the same, Intimist philosophy and tone are much more Romantic than Expressionist.
Certain erroneous and idealistic Intimist beliefs are particularly Romantic in nature. These beliefs, though on the surface admirable, do more harm than good to Intimist theory and must be dispelled before the true nature of Intimism can be realized. I call these beliefs "Idealist Intimism," for, though they express a Romantic ideal and a supreme confidence in the power of Intimism, they in fact go beyond what Intimism is truly capable of achieving.
The Idealist Intimist believes that a person's thoughts and feelings comprise the intrinsic value of his soul, and that Intimist art is capable of revealing that soul. Whether dealing with a real person or a fictional character, he believes that his job is to uncover the inner essence of the man, and that all external factors such as physical appearance, actions, and verbal expression are superficial and misleading when it comes to knowing a person's true nature. To explore the inmost part of a man, the Idealist Intimist attempts to strip away all but the truth of inner thought and emotion, believing that revealing the truth is the highest goal of the Intimist.
The problem with this very noble aspiration is, as we will see, that it is impossible. Even if the Intimist possesses a great degree of empathy, he cannot be omniscient; in his attempt to present what is intrinsic and underlying about a person, the artist cannot escape being influenced by his own feelings. As Anaïs Nin5 said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are" (42). If an Intimist tries to show his subject's true essence, what he is really revealing is his own soul rather than his subject's. No matter how well the artist knows his subject, his work can only, at best, be a depiction of what the artist intimately feels the subject to be.
Unless the Intimist understands that such idealistic goals are beyond even the most perceptive writer's grasp, his writing will fall short of being truly Intimist. In his attempts to express that which he cannot know, the accuracy of his work will be compromised. The Intimist cannot write biography (except autobiography) and should not try; nor should he base his characters on any personality but aspects of his own; if he does, he will necessarily be an unreliable narrator and not a true Intimist. Though the Idealist beliefs may be called Intimist, they are faulty and self-defeating; a true Intimist realizes that he should not strive to uncover the imperceivable, but must instead focus on that which he can know—his own thoughts and feelings.
Preoccupation with one's own thoughts and feelings may seem (and indeed may be) narcissistic, but, according to Intimist theory, creative expression requires it. As Intimism is defined as "the expression of personal thoughts and feelings in literature," it is important for us to understand what expression is, and how it can take place in a written form. In general, expression refers to the manifestation of thoughts or emotions; it is the manner by which meaning or feeling is conveyed. What expression means more specifically to an Intimist writer is difficult to explain, but one might begin by differentiating three different types6: speaker expression, natural expression and word expression. Speaker expression applies to a person's saying something intentionally, while natural expression can only be used to express spontaneous experiential states. For example, a person can deliberate for a while and say, "You are a cad," which would be speaker expression, or he can spontaneously blurt out, "You cad!" which would be natural expression even though it is also spoken. Word expression differs from the first two types of expression in that it does not have to relate to the speaker's actual feelings; word expression simply refers to the use of words which in themselves designate feeling; therefore, the word fear would be a word expression of anxiety, whether or not the person saying it felt afraid (Davis 279).
The Intimist applies the three types of expression not just to speaking, but to writing, as well. Creative writing is seen as speaker expression (or, more appropriately, "writer expression") because it is an author's way of intentionally saying something—rather than speaking it out loud, he writes his thoughts down. It can also be said to be word expression if the writer uses words which in themselves express the feelings he is trying communicate; he can use words such as fear or love. Even natural expression can characterize creative writing, if the author actually feels the emotions which he writes about as he writes them. Natural expression is felt by Intimists to be the highest form of creative expression, but, as it is not always possible to achieve this "Intimistic Link," the other two forms of expression are often used by an Intimist to convey the feelings he wants to communicate in his writing.
The expression an author attempts through writing can be further differentiated in another way. Expression can be either self-expression (an expression of one's own sentiments), or expression in general. For example, if Jane says, "John is angry," this is an expression of emotion, but it is not an expression of Jane's emotion. The Intimist views his writing as a form of self-expression—that which he actually feels or has felt. He believes that only self-expressive writing can attempt to convey what an experience truly feels like. Expression of thoughts or emotions which are not one's own is necessarily done from a distance. An intimist's hope is to eliminate this distance and enable a reader, as much as possible, to enter into the experience. The Intimist tries to not just make a statement about a feeling but to describe the feeling itself. To describe a feeling, he must understand that feeling, and to understand a feeling, he must have personally experienced it.
The above assertions may not be readily apparent. Certainly, many critics would disagree with them outright. Walter Bate, for example, in his introduction to Hazlitt, boldly declares, "Hence[,] art is not an expression of the artist himself. . . . When art, in any way, departs from concrete reality, it loses truth and force. One such departure is to exploit art for self-expression" (287). The Intimist, of course, would maintain that Bate has it exactly backward; art must be an expression of oneself; otherwise, it loses truth and force. English novelist Graham Greene would appear to agree:
I certainly would not attempt to hide behind that time-old gag that an author can not be identified with his characters. . . . the points where an author is in agreement with his character lend what force or warmth there is to expression (Schwerdt 49).There is clearly conflict between the theory of art as expression and such commonly held beliefs as, "Every . . . work of art has a life of its own quite separate from [that] of its maker" (Kramer 21), or "For those who lack sufficient imagination, feeling is localized largely in self" (Bate 286). Because such opposing views challenge Intimism, the Intimist theory must be defended; this can be done by exploring the true relation between the writer and his creation.
The 'creative' imagination, indeed, is quite incapable of inventing anything; it can only combine components that are strange to one another (Simons 170).Therefore, a character will be unique, as there is no other character or real person exactly like him, but his characteristics and what he does will not be anything new. His created situation will not be exactly like anything anyone has ever experienced, because it will be the author's own interpretation of experience and his own unique combining of various aspects of experience—but those aspects which make up experience are not new; they are merely reworked into something unique.
emphatic or appreciative accuracy [in understanding others] is attained when, through sympathetic participation, we can adequately grasp the emotional context in which the action took place (5),but, although we can empathize with others, and imagine how they might feel by relating their situations to our own, we can not actually know how they feel. For example, Weber writes about the impossibility of modern humans truly understanding animals and primitive men. It is possible to observe the way animals act and react in different situations, but it is not possible to know how and what they think (or even if they do think).
In a way, [Weber adds] our ability to share the feelings of primitive men is not very much greater. We . . . do not have any reliable means of determining [their] subjective state of mind. . . . A purely functional point of view, [he concludes] is often the best that . . . can be attained (16).Indeed, it is the same with not only primitive humans and with animals but also with fellow modern humans. As Weber asserts, we can "have a significant degree of emotional understanding of [the] meaning [of emotional reactions] and can interpret intellectually their influence on the course of action and the selection of means" (6); we observe other people's behavior and try to determine the function of what they say or do, and we can try to imagine how we would feel in the same situation, but we can not know how another person feels, or all the complex reasons why he behaves the way he does—nor can we create new thoughts and feelings for that person. Our observation of others is a severely limited knowledge.
As we have been demonstrating above, the link between an Intimist and his characters is a close one—in Intimist writing, all characters are projections of different parts of the author's personality. This fact does not by any means imply that the Intimist's characters are all the same, however; the various characters may in fact be quite dissimilar to one another. As the Father in Pirandello's play Six Characters in Search of an Author says, "Each one of us is many persons . . . according to all the possibilities of being that are within us" (698). Accordingly, through the process of creation, the writer reimagines himself in different possibilities. Like the child who pretends to be imaginary people, a writer can explore various realities, all from his own point of view. Only a small portion of a person's conflicting thoughts, moods, feelings and impulses are actually acted out in real life, but, as Freud describes8, this ". . . unremembered or unrecognized desire is reworked by the creative, or transforming, imagination of the [writer, and] survives in writing in a displaced and symbolic form" (Simons 171). Thus, feelings and desires that an Intimist may not even be aware of having can appear in the different alter egos he creates, or he can deliberately focus upon and develop parts of himself that he wishes to explore in depth through the "safe" process of writing9.
When the Intimist is not consciously aware during the writing process that the thoughts and emotions he voices are expressions of his own personality, we can compare his experience to dreaming. Just as dreaming reveals a person's subconscious feelings, so too can the process of Intimist writing. According to Freud10, the work of art, like the dream, can be seen in terms of two types of content—manifest content and latent content. The manifest content is merely a mask which conceals the real meaning and source of power of works of art—the latent content. The latent content relates to the unconscious desires and demands of the artist, which are repressed by the superego and only allowed to be expressed in disguised and inoffensive ways, such as through dreams or art (Halsey 100). Hence, the Intimist may be writing about a character, but recognize his own hitherto unrealized sentiments when he examines what he has written.
The Intimist does not always need to examine the latent content of a piece of writing to uncover his subconscious feelings, however. Many different schools of thought have recognized that a writer can become aware during the act of writing itself that he that he is also expressing his own sentiments. This self-expression may not be intentional; the Intimist may be calmly writing about a character or situation and, as he enters more deeply into his work, experience what Wordsworth describes as a "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings." As Wordsworth explains, this sort of writing
takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility; the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of re-action, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion . . . is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind (20).When a writer enters into this type of natural11 expressive state while writing, he does indeed feel as if words are flowing from him, so swiftly and with such force do they come. The "powerful feelings," as Wordsworth calls them, need not always be emotions, either; for the Intimist, they can be ideas. The writer may feel that he has suddenly attained the ability to express himself clearly; he has made a connection with his inner thoughts, and that which he formerly struggled to relate now seems to be pouring out through his fingers. F.R. Leavis12 suggests that this experience can be understood as happening when an author's emotion "gains reality—a relationship to the world that is complex and rich—when through language an object is presented which justifies, limits and at the same time develops the emotion" (Casey 9). John Casey further explains:
In imaginative expression one may come more fully to understand what one feels in the act of setting it down. To know that 'this is the word I was looking for' can be understood on the analogy of my knowing what I intend. If I am convinced that this is the expression for what I feel, or that this word is the word I was looking for . . . then this is analogous to my making up my mind. (12).R.G. Collingwood13, too, describes this sort of experience by saying that the writer expresses his emotion as he writes and thereby becomes conscious of it and renders it lucid both to himself and to others. The author does this through "an imaginary experience or activity" which serves to transform his emotion from something like sheer feeling of sensation into something more like thought (Casey 10-11). Collingwood further asserts that
[the creative writer's] power of making words express what he feels is indistinguishable from his awareness of what he feels. He is a [writer] because his interest in his experience is not separate from his interest in words (Casey 11).
[Writing is seen as] expressing the profound feelings of the artist, and in the process completing him, expanding his existence; Goethe uses the expression 'purification' . . . Thus the highest expressive activity is the vehicle of both vision and feeling together, and this is why language . . . is continuous with art (112).
In its most exhilarating of forms, spontaneously expressing one's feelings through writing seems to the Intimist to be what I call the "Intimistic Link." The Intimist feels as if he has literally become his character and is thinking and feeling for him. As he writes, he actually experiences the emotions and thoughts that his character is having and knows, without contemplation, what the character will do and say as he acts and speaks in the imaginary world of what is being written. Achieving this link with one's character is a marvelous experience both in itself and because of the realistic and vivid writing it produces. It enables a writer to gain deep insight into his character—to feel that he truly knows him—and is the Intimist's ultimate hope whenever he writes.
Of course, the experience should not be explained by saying that the writer has literally achieved a link with his character, as if the character is a separate being; he has in fact become particularly in touch with the part of his own psyche that has generated that character. He blocks out the parts of his personality which ordinarily get in the way of focusing on those parts intrinsic to the character, and thinks not in a rational manner but in an emotional manner, as if the character's experience were his own real experience. He does in a way "become" the character, but only as someone with multiple personalities may do the same, allowing a part of his psyche to override the persona which ordinarily predominates and filters all his thoughts and emotions. As Rebecca West said about writing fiction, ". . . that art has nothing to do with communication between person and person, only with communication between different parts of a person's mind" (Schwerdt 110). In the end, whatever the explanation, the Intimistic Link is a wonderful, exciting, frightening, and intensely emotional experience. It can leave the writer feeling at once emotionally drained and elated.
The final method of expressing oneself through one's characters is similar to the Intimistic Link, though, in a way, it is its opposite. At times an Intimist will use his own existing emotional state and transform it, through the process of writing, into the character's experience. This is a more deliberate process than those we have previously discussed, in that the Intimist intentionally takes advantage of his mood and uses it to write a scene or chapter. The process of changing the author's emotion into the character's emotion cannot be intentional, however; as the author writes, something like the Intimistic Link occurs and the emotion that he is feeling is transformed. The writer feels in terms of his own experience, but as he writes he translates what he feels to meet the character's situation. I.e., if he has had a fight with George and is sobbing, thinking, George is such a cad! I hate him!, he may transfer his emotional condition, his actions, tone of voice, feelings, etc., onto his character, and substitute (for example), "John is such a cad! I hate him!" He can change the situation in any way, as long as the emotions are still appropriate. This sort of literary sublimation can be very cathartic, and when a writer has used his negative feelings to write a scintillating scene, his mood changes from one of despair to one of pride and euphoria at having written something so realistic and moving. Of course, the emotions that the writer uses do not have to be negative ones; they can be any strong feelings that are suitable for his character to share. Whatever the inspirational mood, exploiting one's own emotional state is so effective that an Intimist may even try to produce strong feelings artificially when he wants to write an emotional scene; he might read a book or watch a movie which he knows will cause him to feel a certain way. Then, when he has attained the desired emotional condition, he begins to write, translating what he feels into the situation at hand. It is usually true that feelings caused by genuine personal events have a greater, deeper, and longer lasting effect than those intentionally produced, however.
Now that the Intimist theory of expression has been explored, we can begin to detail how Intimist method is actually implemented. As noted above, the earmark of Intimist style is its focus on intimate thoughts and feelings. An Intimist writer can be recognized by his interest in the psychology of his characters and by the effort he puts into exploring various emotional states. Intimist writing centers around character development, and its principal action is of an interior nature; the main conflicts are usually emotional or intellectual, and often occur within the confines of the protagonist's mind.
One way of describing Intimist writing more concretely is to designate what would be included under the somewhat vague term "intimate." Foremost, certainly, are private thoughts, feelings and perceptions. These, a person does not usually voice at all, except possibly to share a few with someone with whom he is very close. Other private sentiments are part of a solely personal experience and, unless we consciously focus on them and record them, they slip out of our awareness as soon as they have been felt. Private conversations among confidants would also be considered intimate, as would an exploration of the relationship between intimate companions. The intimate relationships often found in Intimist literature are not necessarily of a sexual nature; emotional and intellectual familiarity, not physical closeness, is most important. Of course, that the use of the word "intimate" does imply a sexual element cannot be denied; sexual experiences and feelings would certainly be included among the personal and intimate, and are a suitable subject of interest in an Intimist work. Overall, the effect of external events on the individual, the complexities of human relationships, and the struggles that take place within a person's psyche are characteristic points of focus in Intimist writing.
As stated above, emotions are of primary interest to the Intimist. A novelist cannot be considered an Intimist if he does not dedicate a considerable portion of his book to showing, in some manner or other, his characters' feelings (or lack thereof). The Intimist writer may choose to focus exclusively on the feelings of his protagonist, or can explore the feelings of any number of his other characters, but he must employ some method of communicating feeling. It is possible for an Intimist's work not to be terribly emotional per se, if his characters are particularly reserved people, but, more commonly, the Intimist develops characters who, through the course of the story, are given ample opportunity to express extremes of emotion. As Christopher Isherwood admitted to doing in his writing, an Intimist may "invent circumstances of all kinds . . . . [or] put a character through its paces, provid[ing] scenes which will make it behave in the way which is almost characteristic of itself" (Schwerdt 63). Because of his fascination with human emotional reactions, the Intimist tends to create scenes which allow his characters to feel and behave in more extreme ways than the average person may do in everyday life; the intent is to explore aspects of the character's inner personality which might not come out in calm, ordinary circumstances.
The techniques that any one Intimist writer may use to show his characters' inner selves are varied; he may employ one or many different methods. These methods can be divided into two groups: those which show a character's feelings in a straightforward manner, and those which reveal or reflect the character's state of mind indirectly. Of the straightforward techniques, the most lucid method of communicating a character's feelings is to describe them explicitly. Describing an affective state is not as easy as one may assume; ordinarily we only feel such experiences and do not ever articulate them. Trying to explain how one feels often leaves a person at a loss for words. It is vitally important that the Intimist personally experience his characters' emotions; otherwise, he could never be able to describe them beyond saying vaguely, John felt unhappy, etc. John felt unhappy is not a particularly impressive example of emotional expression; a better illustration of distress would be something such as, John watched him with a clenched feeling in this throat, his heart beating painfully. The first sentence, John felt unhappy, could fit any situation where the character is less than cheerful; the second describes exactly what he is feeling in this specific instance. The character may have many different ways of experiencing unhappiness. Good Intimist technique involves describing a unique feeling in a way which distinguishes that experience of feeling from all similar ones.
Specifically describing an emotional state involves detailing the physical manifestation of the state or articulating the thought or desire it produces. The main reason that we are aware of our emotions is that they can be felt; anger, joy, sadness, nervousness, etc., can be recognized by physical responses or sensations that we do not control, such as trembling, feelings in the throat, chest or stomach, eye movements and tears, etc. These emotions, and other states—such as boredom—which are not as easy to describe in a physical manner, can also be expressed by showing what thoughts or impulses they produce; the person who is bored, for example, may wish that he was somewhere else; the person who is annoyed may want to strangle someone. Someone who is paranoid may feel (think) that everyone is staring at him. All the above methods of conveying a character's emotion focus on what experiencing that feeling is like for the person who feels it. They enable the reader to enter into a character's mind and to understand, as much as one is capable of understanding, what it is like to feel as the character does.
A less direct, but still relatively straightforward, method of showing a character's emotional state is to describe actions expressive of those feelings. This technique, unlike the one just discussed, does not enable the reader to know exactly how a character is feeling; it does, however, show the reader how the character expresses his feelings. In the previous technique, the feelings of the character are usually completely interior and unobservable to anyone but the character himself. Here, the feelings of the character are manifested in some sort of action and are a form of natural (not deliberative) expression15. Emotion that is expressed, though not quite as intimate as completely interior feelings, is of great interest to the Intimist because of what it reveals about a character's personality. The expression may show not only what the character is feeling but also, because there are many ways of manifesting the same feeling, what kind of person he is.
Examples of expressive actions can easily be found if one considers what a person might say or do without contemplation. Punching a wall, sucking on a hurt finger, jumping up and down, crying, clenching one's fist, falling asleep, frowning, laughing, and screaming "Oh no, the plane is going crash!" are all universal manifestations of feeling. An author might also choose to capitalize on some idiosyncratic behavior of his character in order to show, without specifically stating so, that the character feels a certain way. For example, one character may always bite his fingernails when he is nervous, chew on his lip when he is angry, or squirm when he is excited. Of course, in cases where the action and its causal feeling are linked in an ambiguous manner, it is up to the author to establish what each particular behavior means for each character.
The third means of showing a character's inner state directly is to employ a technique in which the narrator communicates the character's actual perceptions. This is similar to the method used when conveying a character's feelings, except that the focus is on the character's perceptual, rather than emotional, experience. A character's perceptions are just as internal and personal as his emotions, and, like emotions, perceptions are difficult to control; the difference between the two is that perceptions are how a person experiences reality while emotions are his response to that reality. Perceptions and emotions work together in a circular manner; one's perceptions of reality cause an emotional response, and one's emotional state, in turn, influences perception.
There are two distinct ways of communicating a character's perceptions: the writer can either describe the character's experience, or he can relate it directly as an experience. For example, one could write either, John felt as if the floor was moving and slanting at unpredictable angles, which would describe John's experience of dizziness, or, The floor was moving, slanting at unpredictable angles, which would show, from John's point of view, what the experience of dizziness is like. The difference lies in the distance between the narrator and the experience. As in the second case, a character's perceptions may not accurately depict reality and, when they are presented through the eyes of the character, the reader must realize that they are perceptions of what is happening, not necessarily what is actually happening.
The final way of directly communicating a character's interior experience is for the writer to allow the reader to share one or some of the character's thoughts. The writer can describe his character's thoughts, i.e., John thought himself a cad, or, more intimately, he can tell us the actual words the character is thinking: What a cad I am! thought John. As with a character's perceptions, the same idea can also be communicated, with an even greater effect of intimacy, by relating the thoughts directly as an experience. This can be done by merely leaving off the "thought John" portion. Compare, "I hate John!" I thought, "He is an absolute cad!" and, I hate John! He is an absolute cad! The use of "thought" or similar words makes it seem as if the narrator is choosing to share the thought with the reader—that he has selected or edited it. Recording only the thought itself gives the impression that it is a candid sentiment which is being spontaneously expressed. Neither method should be considered superior; a writer should choose which to use depending on the desired effect. The direct communication of a character's thought is more intimate and intense, but can be overwhelming or confusing for the reader; it should be used with care. Using words such as "thought" is less immediate, but adding qualifiers can help the reader to understand the character's tone more fully than he would be able to if interpreting pure thought—i.e., He thought disgustedly, He thought angrily, He mused, He considered, He thought with a smirk, etc.
One possible consequence of communicating thought directly from the mind of a character, as in, John should be shot! (as opposed to, John should be shot! decided Jane) is that, when using an omniscient narrator, it might not be clear whose thought it actually is—that is, is it Jane's idea, or a comment by the author? The matter is further complicated by the fact that, when an Intimist writes, "Jane" and "the author" are not completely separate entities. Jane's thoughts and the author's thoughts may merge, so that a comment such as John should be shot! could in fact be at the same time both Jane's thought and the narrator's. Or, a paragraph can begin as narration and seamlessly flow between the author's mind and the character's, overlapping at points where a sentence can be identified as the expression of both. Take an example from one of my novels:
Confused, no longer puzzled, he understood what his father had meant and could not understand why he had said it. Always, always, they say the wrong thing. Always the reaction is exactly opposite to how he wished they would act. I am dying, I, and who cares about posterity?Here, the first sentence is omniscient narration, but the sentence Always, always, they say the wrong thing can be interpreted as either the narrator's comment or a thought of the character. The next sentence is clearly the narrator's, as it includes the word "he," but the final sentence is definitely the character's (unless the author is also dying, which I am not). This sort of writing can be identified with what I call "High Intimism," or switching between the narrator and character in mid-stream. It usually occurs when the Intimist is spontaneously expressing the character's sentiments but is also simultaneously aware of his own feelings, either about reality or about the story. In the above example, I am expressing both my own and my character's opinion of the character's parents; it might just as easily be my opinion of my own parents (or of any other people); it would be impossible for the reader to know. A piece of writing might even have multiple levels of meaning, comprehensible to the Intimist alone. For example, at one point in my last book I wrote a scene which expressed a character's feelings for my protagonist, my own feelings for the protagonist, and my own feelings for a real person16.
As we said above, Intimist style can also employ indirect means of conveying a character's inner state. These techniques are quite different from their straightforward counterparts because they do not overtly communicate what a character is thinking or feeling. Instead, they employ an authorial device to reveal or reflect the character's state of mind. The literary devices that an Intimist uses are not exclusive to Intimism; they will be discussed here as merely another method that the Intimist may apply to make psychological disclosures about his characters.
The first of these devices, the use of dreams, can be used by the Intimist to reveal a character's fears and desires. Dreams can reinforce and expand upon feelings that the reader is already aware of the character having, or they can deal with subconscious feelings that we would not otherwise know about. A character's feelings are usually shown through dreams in a transformed and symbolic way. I.e., if a character engages in sex and then has a nightmare about being smothered by snakes, this would indicate that his reaction was not as positive as it seemed from knowing only his conscious thoughts and feelings. The Intimist may also create "prophetic" dreams which can be used as a means of foreshadowing an event which will take place later in the story. Prophetic dreams allow the reader to know how the character feels about a certain type of situation and, when that situation really occurs, our awareness of the character's feelings about the event will be heightened. For example, if a character is extremely shaken by a dream about a death, and then, later, someone in the story actually does die, we will recall the character's response to the dream and be aware that, because this situation is similar, the character's response may also be similar17.
A second literary device that the Intimist sometimes employs is the Romantic technique of allowing nature or other aspects of the external world to reflect the state of mind of a character. This device is used in Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, where the condition of the building that the Ushers live in reflects the mental condition of the Ushers themselves18. Simple applications of the technique include such devices as the day being clear and sunny when a character is cheerful and the sky becoming cloudy when his mood changes to one of melancholy. In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, for example, the narrator describes a "benign sky" and "soft wind breathing through the grass" when, in death, Heathcliff is finally happy and at peace (308).
A character's physical state can also be used as an insight into his mind. Examples of this device include giving an evil character a limp (used in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus), and reflecting moral decay with parallel physical degeneration (as in Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray). As with the use of nature to reflect a character's disposition, a writer can also mirror a character's fluctuating mood with changes in his appearance—i.e., his eyes may alter in color from blue to grey. Another application of this technique is for seemingly accidental physical injuries to reveal a character's subconscious feelings. For example, in my second novel, my protagonist, an Intimist painter, is having an extremely difficult time with one of his paintings and, apparently unintentionally, he wounds his hand, preventing him from working on the painting until it is healed. Although he is seemingly very upset about being physically incapable of painting, the injury shows his subconscious desire to put off completing the work19.
As a final way to indicate a character's mood, the Intimist may use leitmotifs. Here, a recurring phrase represents a particular feeling. When a phrase that has been used in one scene repeats identically in another, this connects the two scenes in the reader's mind and shows that the feeling is the same in both scenes. To vary this technique, the writer may not repeat an actual phrase but instead refer to an earlier scene in some other way in order to show a connection in feeling or reaction. For example, in my current novel there is a scene where my protagonist wants to talk with his mother, but she is busy counselling someone from church. He stands outside her study door and has the following reaction:
Valentine frowned, violently. He found that his left fist was now clenched, and he opened it, and looked at the thin white scar on the side of his index finger. It was glossy, and when he bent the finger it became more white.The scar on his finger recalls a similar situation, when he was a child and badly cut his finger. He went to his mother for comfort but, because he interrupted a confidential counselling session, she spurned him. In both instances, he thinks his mother cares more about other people than about him, and feels rejected.
Intimism, as we have seen, is not a specific historical movement but rather a philosophy of writing which draws its beliefs and techniques from many sources. Intimism's roots are Romantic, but its influences span many different eras and fields of thought. Intimist notions can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks; Plato's idealism is intrinsic to the Intimist mind, and Sappho may have composed one of the first Intimist works when she wrote,
If I meet you suddenly, I can't speak—my tongue is broken; a thin flame runs under my skin; seeing nothing, hearing only my own ears drumming, I drip with sweat; trembling shakes my body and I turn paler than dry grass. At such times death isn't far from me (48).Late Victorian aesthetician Walter Pater can also be seen as a major influence on Intimism. He viewed art as highly individualistic—the expression of the personality of its creator—and, in The Renaissance, wrote of the works of Luca della Robbia:
They bear the impress of a personal quality, a profound expressivenness, what the French call intimité, by which is meant some subtler sense of originality—the seal on a man's work of which is most inward and peculiar in his moods: it is what we call expression, carried to its highest intensity of degree . . . it is the quality which alone makes work in the imaginative order really worth having at all (71-2).In Intimism, Freudian psychology and theories from modern sociology and philosophy combine with Romantic and Victorian concepts of art, and Modernist and Expressionist techniques are implemented together with more traditional methods. Although the term Intimism is so little known, and it is impossible to say how many writers can be considered true Intimists, examples of Intimist views and passages can be found in the works of writers from almost any era. The novelists whom I mention here—Dorothy Strachey, Anaïs Nin, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann—are only a few of the writers in whose work can be found Intimist techniques and intentions20. Any author who chooses to focus on expressing the feelings of his characters, or who believes that writing is an expression of the artist himself, can be a model and inspiration for Intimist writers.
Thoughts that can merge wholly into feeling, feeling that can merge wholly into thought—these are the artist's highest joy. And our solitary felt in himself at this moment power to command and wield a thought that thrilled with emotion, an emotion as precise and concentrated as thought: namely, that nature herself shivers with ecstasy when the mind bows down in homage before beauty. He felt a sudden desire to write (Mann 45).