January 22, 2016 by Stephen Bentley
The soul can mean many things.
The word has connotations with music, for example. We have heard of soul food, soulmate, the life and soul of the party.
In my writing, I strive to connect with my soul, an inner force. I feel that my best words derive from true feelings, a passion, my innermost convictions and beliefs.
This connection cannot be switched on and off like a TV set. Nor is it easy to surf different channels with the remote until I find the “soul” channel.
Rachel Toor recently wrote –
“How do you help someone learn to write with “soul”? What does that even mean? What does it look like on the page?
Pascal said, “When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” I think that’s a fine definition of writing with soul, except, of course, for those times when we see a woman. Soulful writing is human—essential, authentic, honest, flawed, contradictory, messy. We see a person with ideas and emotions who claims our attention not because she has all the answers, but because she is struggling with vexing questions and trying to figure something out.”
I found that passage when I researched the word soul in the context of writing.
Possibly a more literal and scholarly version of these thoughts on ‘soul’ in a writer, taken from Pascal’s Penseés, is to be found in the Modern History Sourcebook of Fordham University, a Jesuit university in New York –
“When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man. Whereas those who have good taste, and who seeing a book expect to find a man, are quite surprised to find an author. Plus poetice quam humane locutus es. ¹ Those honour nature well, who teach that she can speak on everything, even on theology.”
Through the writer’s words, one can sometimes sense the person. It’s a form of connection between author and reader. Dare I suggest it is a liaison that is more difficult than listening to the spoken word.
Listening to the speaker, one can hear the cadence in speech, the emphases, and idiosyncracies. It is easier to connect (or disconnect) with the speaker especially if one can see him or her at the same time as listening.
Writers, both soulful and dull, are often a complex mixture of introvert and extrovert. Hemingway immediately springs to my mind. An extrovert bon viveur who plumbed the depths of his soul to write the truth as he saw it.
Me? I’m still learning my craft as a writer. I have a long way to go.
An extrovert? Yes. Introspective? Yes.
My regular nightly routine is quaffing two cold beers and eating my favourite Nagaraya Hot and Spicy Cracker Nuts. I sit alone on my roof terrace stargazing, thinking.
My brain was doing the thinking. However, I sensed the reactions to my thoughts in my chest. I was thinking about my departed father. I was filled with a sense of love. My chest rose and fell. I thought – why my chest? Why did I sigh deeply?
Is that why people clutch their breast when they panic? My thoughts asked.
The thought pattern continued – the brain thinks but the soul takes over. Is that why people associate love with the heart? After all, that is also in the chest area of the human body.
That would also explain the deep pain felt in the same area when heartbroken, I reasoned with myself.
These ruminations reinforced in me a belief in “soul.” After all, the brain is but a highly sophisticated computer. It’s our souls that breathe life into the computer.
I have no idea if the soul rises from the mortal body on death. That is best left to the Jesuits, philosophers, and God. Of the three, only God knows the answer to that and He sure isn’t letting on anytime soon!
¹ “You have spoken more poetically than humanly.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of Louish
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