Finished reading Borges' This Craft of Verse with pleasure, hoping that some of what he writes will stick in my mind. He writes about his journey - as a writer who started off wanting
...to express everything. I thought for example, that if I needed a sunset I should find the exact word for a sunset - or rather, the most surprising metaphor. Now I have come to the conclusion(and this conclusion may sound sad) that I no longer believe in expression. I believe only in allusion. After all, what are words? Words are symbols for shared memories...
(p. 117). And earlier on the same page, an example of his depth and his modesty:
When I write, I do not think of the reader (because the reader is an imaginary character) and I do not think of myself (perhaps I am an imaginary character also), but I think of what I am trying to convey and I do my best not to spoil it.
I do my best not to spoil it.
It sounds like the Hippocratic oath - at least refrain from harm.
He means it. He says on p. 116:
...Had I to give advice to writers (and I do not think they need it, because everyone has to find out things for himself), I would tell them simply this: I would ask them to tamper as little as they can with their own work. I do not think tinkering does any good. The moment comes when one has found out what one can do - when one has found one's natural voice, one's rhythm. Then I do not think that slight emendations should prove useful...
Of course, the key sentence here is The moment comes when one has found out what one can do...Until that moment comes, we tinker and tinker with something, puzzle over it, and the final product is no good, it has a patched-up way of being. But then for the next thing we write, the writing may flow into something that is fine and good. I have seen it happen to friends in the visual arts. The work they have laboured over endlessly is warped by their effort. It is the next piece, which they have thrown together in one go, almost without thinking, which is wonderful.
Almost without thinking.
Very Zen, no-thought. Zen masters painting a perfect circle.