I love the Zen posts about writing that I come across on my rambles. The remind me of Beckett at times. The nothingness of so much.
There should be a writing of non-writing. Someday it will come. A brief writing, without grammar, a writing of words alone. Words without supporting grammar. Lost. Written, there. And immediately left behind.
There is an interesting interview in On Beckett concerning a meeting between Beckett, Burroughs, Ginsburg, and Sontag. They said he was strange and distant. Burroughs thought he was the kind of guy who didn’t need anyone else, anything else. No one could remember seeing any books. This was in Berlin, temporary quarters as Burroughs put it. Beckett went to Berlin for privacy. He was old then, probably in his seventies?
It is an interesting thing to discover a new writer. I was thinking about this whole business of writing this morning (as I most always do) and a recurring thought popped into my head. We, the homo sapiens, are the only species that seems to tell stories. For us, everything is tied back to the story and so then back to writing. Milan Kundera said, “When everyone writes, no one will listen.” Is this true I wonder? Today there are more “writers” than ever. The web has filled the world with the written word and anyone can take part without the critical eye of an editor. They can do anything, place anything online and what is all that worth aside from cave drawings.
Is it anything better than that?
Without a process of revision, of editing, what kind of work do these people produce? And as a society, what does it do to us to see them and read them? The mass of people, for whom I have little but contempt, have become more stupid by the season, and by season I mean television season of course because that is the true measure of our culture these days. The television season has continually played to the lowest common denominator. Of late, the television “shows” are now videotaped ogle sessions without script and dialogue. They are live dramas without plot, they are reality or such that it is recreated on the television screen without editing. Well, I suppose there must be some editing some cutting and slicing of tapes, but there is no real process of revision. We are not going back and reshooting scenes because someone did not pull a rope properly.
So what does this lack of revision mean? It means that a journal like this could be published without even the least bit of copy editing. We trust in the computer to handle those details, adjusting grammar and spelling on the fly. Even word choice can be dictated by the machine if we choose. In the end though, it is a raw product that goes out into the world, and the world is prepared to receive it. In fact, the world has been modified to accept it and even to crave it. These live journals that appear on the web and the live rawness that appears on the television screen, they have altered our consciousness as everything does.over time. We who were heading for a kind of refinement have stepped back and away from that refinement and allowed ourselves to dwindle down into mass movements, herd reactions.
We are giving in to the base mechanism of our brains, this desire for reaction. The brain is hardwired for reaction and not for contemplation, or so the scientists now tell us. We are complex mechanisms whose sole function is to react. And yet, we have this capacity to do something else to wonder and dream. To develop in our minds the most wonderful stories. We tell them sometimes to ourselves for amusement or to each other for the same. It has been this way for a very, very long time. Somewhere down the line (again according to scientists) we traded our large jaws, our “chomping power”, for a bigger brain case, and so the theory goes that our brains evolved into ever larger masses. So if we fail to use these brains will we devolve over time? Will our jaws become more squared and full, filled with chomping power as the brain dwindles away into nothing.
But why did we trade our jaws for brains, how did this come about? Could it have been that a smaller jaw, such as the one we possess now, is something required to make language work properly with complex words and sentences? Could our brains and jaws adjusted to our ever growing intelligence? And then to what end this intelligence? What does it serve and why? To tell stories of course. I seriously doubt that our larger brains gave us an evolutionary advantage in the gathering of food. Food gathering is not a cognitive process. There is a reaction to stimulus and indeed a more coordinated attack allows for the death of larger prey items. A bigger brain would assist in that process, but really, what do we need such large brains for aside from telling stories?
It is thought that we have been in our current state for eons. What did we do with that time? We told stories. Stories about the earth and about warriors, stories about animals and weather. We told stories about the gods; we created them after all in response to the unknown. We gave names to everything and passed this down from generation to generation. Always, though, always the story.
Now the story appears to be dying.
There is less desire to know why. We simply allow ourselves to react. Partly because we haven’t the time to do much else. Our busy lives moving so quickly, and only speeding up more and more. I should say that it has been this way for a long time. For several hundred years there has been little but complaint about the ever increasing pace of life. Then, I suppose it is relative. As a human ages, the days grow shorter and the years pass by more quickly. Why not too then with the human race as a whole? Why as we enter our elder years as a species would not the pace of life speed up to a bewildering pace? We do not consider the larger picture. This very idea that the human condition, the human race, is an entity above the actual humans, we do not recognize this as true or real or even possible. It is though. Just as every individual is a part of a family or a group, so to does that organism belong to part of another whole and so and so. A quickening of the pace of life can only lead to death and it is a death that is surely coming as a result of reaction and not contemplation.
So to those of us who contemplate, we the storytellers, because storytelling is not about reaction. It is about editing and careful revision. To we storytellers who are left to chronicle the dying of our age and our species, what is left? We struggle on. There are those who read but their numbers grow thin over the years. If I write today for an audience of 100,000, through attrition (i.e. death) that number will be reduced in a generation to 75,000 or maybe less. I suppose there is a mathematical process at work here, a formula that could easily determine the death of all culture. That same formula could instill some hope of rebirth, unless of course the math works out that there is a point of no return, net loss, zero sum gain, or whatever the proper term may be.
A pendulum swings from side to side, but I think that life is not like a pendulum. Life is more like a glass of water. You tilt it and perhaps it can regain it’s position if the water is not too high and the base is wide enough. Sometime though the tipping will move the water in a way that there is no going back, the glass with tumble and the water will spill. Someone must come along again and pick up the glass and refill it.
I think about this work that Beckett has created and I wonder what kind of man could produce this. It seems like something I would write and my wife thinks so. As I said, she called his work annoying and said yes it was very much like some of my stuff. I am no longer writing for her. Not because she said something mean, I do not consider it mean. Really, Beckett is a Nobel prize winner. To have my work compared to his, even if the comparison is derrogatory to both of us, I think that’s a good thing. This strange man and I share a bond, as I guess most writers do. I am different though because I do need the works of other writers while perhaps Beckett did not. Of that I am not sure though. There is more reading to do on that subject.
But let’s say that Beckett lived through a golden age of literature and so did Burroughs and Ginsburg after their own fashion. The era that came before had Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. Aside from Beckett, these are men of American letters. There are European colleagues as well. Then we go back and back, there is Joyce andd Lawrence and back to America with James. And all along there are the French with Celine and Gide and Sartre. This list is hardly complete. I’ve not included the others like Durrell and Miller and Nin. I’ve not included Proust though further back and what of Maugham? Flaubert?
I guess perhaps to discuss the death of literature is to be premature. I guess one simply has to cut off the rest of the world, this world of the mass population. One must ignore it and do the workthat is necessary without regard to the mass. The mass will or will not recognize you and in fact to be recognized by the mass is probably not a good thing. Either one agrees to conform to its desires or one is ruined after a fashion. If one never takes notice, then one cannot be ruined or or made to conform.
One simply is and continues to be.