Saturday, July 29, 2006

Relieved, frankly, not to have been given a mauling on K-Punk’s site over the “Wyatting” thing (do I spy an Albatross winging its way toward me?), a post I read through my fingers while hiding behind the setee, much as I used to when the Sontarans came on the telly.

Why do I care so much? Well, let’s be frank, it’s probably due to the schoolboy-ish intellectual crush I have on the man and his works. I was trying to think of why I found the Blog so utterly compelling and the only word I could come up with was: “troubling”.

Yep. I love that Blog because it’s “troubling”, which seems counter-intuitive as our natural inclinations are apparently to avoid pain and seek pleasure (cue much debate as to exactly what those terms imply). So, maybe it’s only me, but somehow certain kinds of trouble (rent arrears, spousal infidelity, shadow on the lungs: NO. assumptions undermined, practices questioned, orientation recalibrated, universe enlarged: YES) are exactly what I’m looking for, indeed I would go even further, are what I feel it is in fact my DUTY to actively seek out. The fact is that my desire to be challenged is only growing as I get older and one of the wonderful things about the Blogosphere for me is the amount of unbelievably enriching, exciting thought that’s swimming around out there (the Pinocchio Theory, Different Maps, Subject Barred, the Measures Taken, infinite thought etc). It’s been and continues to be amazingly educational , troubling, in effect, in the most vital, most rewarding of ways.

I guess this means that, for me at least, the traditional wisdom that the natural movement of the soul is from youthful idealism to disillusioned middle aged (“ if you’re not a socialist at twenty there’s something wrong with your heart, if you’re still a socialist at thirty there’s something wrong with your head”, as my dad, a disillusioned ex shop-steward has been telling me twice a week for the past thirty six-years) and then on to a kind of Zen-like acceptance, in your twilight years, of man and his foibles, (“what fools these mortals be!”) is, in the current situation, actually reversed. I feel myself moving ever closer to the kind of idealism and engagement that evaded me in my youth, in fact that “maturity” is represented not by increasing “acceptance” but by the process of rejection, that the movement toward “disillusion” in the context of liberal tolerance is a return to “belief” and I think that all my longer fiction (at least the last two and the current, still unfinished, one) have been precisely about this, the disillusion/dissolution of disillusion itself. I don’t mean some kind of clapped-out PO-MO “re-enchantment” with the world or “ Spirituality” as a sop for the ugly brutalities of early twenty- first century life (see World’s Most Aggravating Film,“ What the !$%* do we know?” (Even that title, suggesting the propriety of awestruck quietism in the face of the imponderable Universe. GAHHH! “But why do I have to work two jobs on minimum- wage with no employment rights and…” “ SHUSH child, unfold your antennae and attune yourself to Music of the Cosmos! Is it not rapturous?”)) but rather that the struggle toward belief is not for the relief it offers as a closure to the agonies of thought but is an attempt to find a solid grounding for action, political action, ethical action. I tend to try and figure things out through fiction, and the tensions, knots and impasses that I encounter in arguing with myself through the intermediary of invented others is the way that I’m moving closer to a “ position” on things. This sounds hopelessly weak, (what do you stand for, man!) and in fact it is, which is again why I think in the last two longer pieces I wrote, both of the central characters are men trying to give up “writing” (writing is a kind of symptom of a deeper sickness, I’m sure there’s been a lot of interesting stuff written on this and I’d be really grateful if someone could point me toward it. I also found myself describing music as “ the last of my vices” to my sister on the phone the other day. Hmmm! ) and why I had this anti-writers rant by The Lapsed Writer in “White Diaspora.”

"No more. No more. You’ve written enough, you’ve pursued this empty, idle myth of yourself for long enough. It’s a sham existence. The life of your mind. Your great thoughts, your art. People do more, with the sweat of their brows in an eight-hour day’s work, to affect the world, to change lives, to connect.
Accept it. Maybe there was a time when art could change the world. Thought. Literature. But not any more. Now it’s just entertainment, or decoration, or academic point scoring. Yeah, yeah, sure, it’s the repository of the permanent truths of the human condition and all that stuff that transcends the local and temporal vagaries of era and culture, but also allows us to understand the social/historical context in which a previous generation, blah de blah, blah. And all that.
Great, nothing wrong with that, but maybe first, if you truly are interested in life, you should try and help to sort the world out somehow. This is what Adorno meant when he said, no poetry after Auschwitz. Until the problem of the world is solved, until the poem of the world is perfected, the lesser forms of writing, the ones that exist as words on paper instead of actions that twist the currents and mutate the structure of the world, are trivial. Not that no poetry is possible, but that there should be a moral injunction against it, that the best minds must, that the refined sensibilities that, whatever, that those who care about life must bend all their effort toward the shaping of the world. That literature is debased, diluted politics, impotent, ersatz. That politics is literature by other means. Higher means. Politics is to literature as war is to peace.
And as for writers….
Writers are hermetic and cowardly, the most vain and absurd of creatures. Writers are always pacifists aren’t they, always conscientious fucking objectors. Only the Active have the right to call themselves artists, they shape the reality that the lesser artists rebels against or affirms, the context in which he reflects, acts, feels and records his condition.
How many more paintings do we need, how many more novels?
How many more movies? Who needs your books? Whose life will be worse without them? What will be lost to the world?
Something so minuscule it’s unworthy of consideration.
A man can spend his time more productively than that."

So I guess I would say that I’m trying to write myself out of writing, or at least that fiction is the nightmare from which I’m trying to awake, and that the awakening is an awakening into action. In this struggle with myself I feel that certain people (k –punk being one ) are on the side of the healthier, more noble side of that within me which is fighting against me. The side I want to win.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Another interesting post Carl. Similar concerns re: the usefulness of the artist to society are found in a lot of his early play, /Enter A Free Man/ he uses the metaphor of an inventor who creates beautiful but useless contraptions to question the privileged position of the artist in society. (Something which becomes a running joke in the third series of Channel 4's /Peep Show/, where Jeremy repeatedly justifies his inertia by reminding Mark that he is A Musician).

However in later plays Stoppard takes the opposite view point, asserting, after Wilde, that the great artist is the /most/ important member of society, as he both transcends and outlives it. Thus Joyce, in Stoppard's /Travesties/, in response to the question, "What did you do in the First World War?" - "I wrote /Ulysses/, what did you do?"

The key text here is of course Wilde's /The Critic As Artist/, the supreme expression of the supreme importance of the individual artist. Those who "create" history - who /act/ - are, if remembered at all, only remembered thanks to art. Were it not for Homer, all we'd be left with is a collection of broken pots....