Friday, 18 February 2011
"Why I [don't yet] write."
There are few good reasons to write: money, fame or therapy. None of them are certain, and most of them are unlikely. You have some odds with therapy, but it's not the kind of therapy that is going to make you happy, but merely the kind that stops you muttering in public, self-medicating, running amok and doing injury to yourself. The three reasons I have listed differ from Orwell's essay, though they match up in certain ways. Jonathan Franzen's conclusion in "Why Bother" (originally "Perchance to Dream" - behind Harper's paywall) is the one I have the most sympathy with, and it applies as much to the writer as to the reader: it is the only way not to feel alone in a world that does not care for, or reward, any of the finer human virtues. The best reason I have to write, with the uncertain reward of money or vacuous fame, is therapy. It's the same reason I write this blog: not to go mad with anger at an unjust humanity. I don't believe I will fix humanity. I do not believe I will preach to anyone but 'the choir'. I hope that a few people read this blog, or what book I ever write, and they and I feel a little less despair. The Internet makes that limited goal more possible than ever before, though the rest of it be dross. The only way I can give a %$#@ is to write for solidarity, as I am not vain enough to believe I am entirely original, naive enough to be certain of fame, nor cynical enough to tailor to commercial success.
Yet I have to be aware of my competition. If I am thinking of fiction, there is a long list of writers who speak to my principal concern so well, humanity's venality, that I am intimidated to challenge them. Thinking of non-fiction, it is much the same, and the research for any argument is daunting; which research is meaningless: 'the choir' knows it, and the rest don't care. I have been reading a lot of Chris Hedges, and Chalmers Johnson lately. I don't think I have anything to add to what they have written, though Hedges is too hopeful for a return to a socially-engaged Christianity. Whoever Christ was, the religion is past redemption.
Orwell's head is at the top of this posting for two reasons: "Animal Farm" and "1984". If you have not read both, stop reading this! If you have not read them both you are woefully unprepared to deal with human political nature. Do not imagine that they are about communism. That is incidental. They are about totalitarianism, which Orwell experienced on the side of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Don't limit the interpretation to political totalitarianism; the metaphor expands to include arbitrary authority in corporations, public-institutions and families. What can I add to that?
There is the opus of Kurt Vonnegut. Is he the best stylistic writer? Heavens no, and neither was Orwell, but you do not know anything about the venality of your species if you have not read some of both. What can I add to Vonnegut's understanding of man's perfect absurdity? Nothing. Nor will I ever have the depth of experience Orwell had shot in the Spanish Civil War, later on the run from the Bolsheviks. Nor Vonnegut living through the fire-bombing of Dresden. (I hope my luck endures.) It nearly destroyed Vonnegut, along with personal tragedy. With everything that he endured in his life, all of it due not to natural cause but to human inhumanity, it is shocking that he did not try more often to do away with himself, but merely broke his heart. Aren't we all, who care, broken-hearted? Only an optimist could continue to write.
A less important consideration to me, but important enough to keep an audience, is style. There is a book that made me drop my jaw in despair of having enough technique, and that is "Beasts of No Nation". It isn't the subject matter, though the story is interesting enough, but it is the internally-consistent argot of the first-person narrative by the, fictional, African child-soldier, which is shattering to anyone who wonders at their own talent. I do not know that the patois is technically accurate, or the story representative: those are two things of which I had no doubt during the reading. Staggering. And how do you even think of competing with Borges' Ficciones , Kafka's Trial, or anything by Conrad writing in his third language? And there are so many more...
A list of my excuses is all that I have made. The reason to write is need. I need an alternative to despair.