Critical Distance Writing

N. Scott Momaday once wrote:

'In 1974 I accepted an invitation to teach at Moscow State University, and I lived in Moscow, in what was then the U.S.S.R. for six months ... something about that time and place made for a surge in me, a kind of creative explosion. I wrote numerous poems, some on the landscapes of my native Southwest, urged, I believe, by an acute homesickness.'

Annie Dillard calls this 'critical distance':

'Writers very often need to be away from a place to write about it well. Ibsen wrote his Norway plays when he was living in Italy. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels when she was living in New York City. James Joyce wrote his Dublin novel and Dublin short stories when he was living in Paris. Mark Twain wrote about Missouri when he was living in Hartford. Walt Whitman wrote about life outside and they found out recently he barely left his room. That’s called critical distance or something. You have to have it.'

- Annie Dillard, from 'The Thoreau of the Suburbs'

Nabokov on the Poet's Organic Miracle

Am currently reading Nabokov's Pale Fire and was struck by the narrator's admiration of the fictitious poet John Shade:

I am witnessing a physiological phenomenon: John Shade perceiving and transforming the world, taking it in and taking it apart, re-combining its elements in the very process of storing them up so as to produce at some unspecified date an organic miracle, a fusion of image and music, a line of verse. And I experienced the same thrill as when in my early boyhood I once watched across the tea table in my uncle's castle a conjurer who had just given a fantastic performance and was now quietly consuming a vanilla ice. I stared at his powdered cheeks, at the magical flower in his buttonhole where it had passed through a succession of different colors and had now become fixed as a white carnation, and especially at his marvelous fluid-looking fingers which could if he chose make his spoon dissolve into a sunbeam by twiddling it, or turn his plate into a dove by tossing it up in the air ... Shade's poem is, indeed, that sudden flourish of magic: my gray-haired friend, my beloved old conjurer, put a pack of index cards into his had - and shook out a poem.