Category Archives: courage

Writing and morality

If you too are in the business of writing and publishing, you’ll run across at every turn moral injunctions and prohibitions from the editors and publishers as well as the public, whom they represent.

These may not be first-rate editors and publishers; in fact, it’s highly unlikely. But how many run-of-the-mill ideologs are out there whose job it apparently is to confuse good writing with good morals?

Take one little literary magazine’s statement of what they’re looking for:

We seek mysteries and marginalized voices, a sense of shared wonder, inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced … including LGBTQ+, neurodivergent writers, women and women writers.

Then take Oscar Wilde’s statement on the relation between art and morality (including what we’d call these days politically correct morality):

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. [Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray.]

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Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900.

We can write about mankind and human morality, or lack of it, in other words. But the choice of subject matter says nothing about the success of the writing, whether we’re talking about homosexual rights or the Holocaust. Does the writer have something new or interesting to say? And a new or interesting way to say it?

Wilde, who for sure did have an interesting way to say what he had to say, goes on: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

Of course, Wilde was an aesthete as well as LGBTQ+ (wherever he might have fit within that spectrum). But his main point is simple: either you’re a good writer or you’re not. You don’t have to be writing about good or preaching good or babbling good. Chances are such babbling, which includes sticking to a prescribed set of socially approved values, and even vocabulary, makes you a bad writer, someone who’s saying the obvious, in an obvious way, who knows what he/she thinks before writing, and for whom nothing new is revealed or discovered in the act of writing.

 

 

 

 

 

I write for me

Taking up where I left off yesterday, with so much more to say and say it more clearly and powerfully: writing for ourselves does not mean that we write solely for ourselves.

It means that we express ourselves so truly and deeply and honestly, bringing forth what only we know, in the way we know it, in our unique view of the multiverse of experience, that an audience will be created, or summoned, that knows and appreciates the unique art.

It may not be a big audience. Or a remunerative audience. But there will always be an audience when word magic is effected, and our abracadabra calls up a vision that has never been seen before.

If we write about love, for example, we will talk about it in a way that hasn’t been realized before. Our writing will resemble no romance novel ever written, no love poem, no story of lust or betrayal or torture. It will be ourselves, an imprint of our unique own transit through the world, if only we have the skill, of course, and the courage that the task requires.

To cite the example of Karl Owe Knausgaard, the Norwegian phenomenon, his  long autobiographical novel My Struggle, so rude and shocking to his countrymen on first release, contains according to one critic “forensic observations of the everyday [that] are an astonishing effort to capture the vast mystery of consciousness through the techniques of a novelist.”

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The vast mystery of consciousness, indeed. A transfusion of such consciousness from one individual to another, an attempt to explain what it feels like to live here and now, before the here and now, inexplicably, are no more.

So here’s to courage, my hearties. Drink up now. The strong red wine of your own blood if you must.