Friday, June 20, 2014

But you must write

Is it possible to be a writer and yet not write? Not writing, continually not writing, wouldn't you eventually have to accept that you are not a writer? Does it matter? The fact of it? Or the label? Surely not the label.

I've been quiet, for long stretches, and longer. I've had good reasons; I've had bad reasons. It bothers me. Why does it bother me, the silence? Presumably I feel some need? Some need not being met? Some need I am not meeting?
But then why do you write? -- A: I am not one of those who think with a wet quill in hand; much less one of those who abandon themselves to their passions before the open inkwell, sitting on their chair and staring at the paper. I am annoyed and ashamed of all writing; to me, writing is nature's call -- to speak of it even in simile is repugnant to me. B: But why, then, do you write? -- A: Well, my friend, I say this in confidence: until now, I have found no other means of getting rid of my thoughts. -- B: And why do you want to get rid of them? -- A: Why do I want to? Do I want to? I have to. -- B: Enough! Enough! (The Gay Science, Book II, section 93)  (Taken from Being In Lieu.)
I do feel this weird need to get rid of the thoughts I have, weird, I think, because I all too often don't do it anyway... and also obscurely feel that the project I've supposedly and half-assedly taken on here is somehow socially important.... why do I feel that? What do I mean by it? It bothers me even more that I'm not getting the thoughts out there, as if I'm letting them down, or time is running out on them, the ideas... why? it's not as though I feel like what I'd write could change anything of any size, expand any wider conversation, so what is it? just the need for the subjects to be taken up generally with any seriousness? As if I could impact that? Or is it not just that? It's not: they are personally important to me. The subjects matter, the writing matters. Yet the silence persists.

Last year I read volume two of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle. Among other things, this volume covers his move to Sweden, falling in love and having children with his partner Linda, and the writing of his astonishing second novel, A Time for Everything. He writes about taking care of the children so Linda could attend classes. He admits to some bitterness - and it is in some of these passages that the first real whiff of misogyny creeps in. Yet he is devoted to his children, or so it seems. He writes:
. . . He looked at me and said with the natural authority that was typical of him: "But you must write, Karl Ove!"
     And when push came to shove, when a knife was at my throat, this was what mattered most.
     But why?
     Children were life, and who would turn their back on life?
     And writing, what else was it but death? Letters, what else were they but bones in a cemetery?
Who would turn their back on life? The history of writing has, in many ways, been a part of the history of men off doing things while women maintain life, and children in particular. Writing is a solitary activity. It suffers from distraction. Children are distracting! Women who have tried to write have grappled with this problem, given that they are still expected to attend to life. My attention, here at the blog, has been trained not only on certain literary matters, but on socio-political matters. I am overtly feminist in my outlook and have written about that too. I have sought to connect these matters, but have rarely been capable of much more than gestures in that direction. My sense is that they are connected anyway.

Who would turn their back on life? This question nags at me, suggests things. Not writing is not a new problem for me, nor, to be sure, is it a new subject for a post - the linked post is from 2007, folks, so I'm not trying to blame my not writing on the responsibilities of life. Far from it, in fact; it runs deeper. Yet the question still presents itself. So consider it presented.

Given that, a possible thread for future posts: consider questions of trust and play, as found in Josipovici's fiction and literary criticism, and discuss with, or alongside, storytelling and play as producing meaning for children.


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