Why write?

September 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Her last letter to me ended with the usual exhortation for me to write.  You do it so well, she said, it is all so interesting, you tell us all those things we ignoramuses don’t know.  [Tricky words from a university professor, published novelist and someone rather famous — to someone entirely unknown and without credentials].

Ah, yes, well, thank you.   I guess all those years of traveling and reading, of living an odd lifestyle in all sorts of odd places where other people who share my interests do not usually go, let alone live, have not been entirely in vain…  why, given the gift of the lifestyle, of the experience, it would have been proof of utter imbecility of me if I did not make at least some observations…  so perhaps I did figure out a thing or two which have not occurred to others, not because those others are dim, but because these things simply could not have occurred to them because there weren’t there, they haven’t see what I have seen.  So perhaps I do have something to say, however insignificant it may be.

But I don’t seem able to explain it — no one seems to understand what I think I am trying to explain…  or even notice that it is in any way important…  or care.  the fault must be entirely mine, of course — if a speaker isn’t getting through to a crowd, it isn’t the crowd’s fault — but the truth is that I am no longer worried about it… it doesn’t seem to matter to me anymore if anyone does understand — or care.

I do write, of course — like you, I have been writing all my life.  I have been writing as an aid in thinking — I don’t seem to understand what I think until I see what I write;  I write as an aid in reaching that understanding which I think I have reached…  but I have never cared to be published, to see my words in print.  I have never been ambitious that way. It just doesn’t seem such a big deal to me to be a book shelf or to be mentioned in a newspaper book review.  (I was once a fashion model; my mother kept all the magazines and calendars in which I featured, but I… did not. If anything, I was embarrassed by them).

It is true that at one point I did publish a successful blog and that when I did it, at the time, I did go out of my way to promote it.  But I didn’t do it for fame or to shine or to exist (some people seem to exist only to the extent that they exist in other people’s minds, but I have always felt secure in the knowledge that I exist, even on five-day solitary hikes in the mountains):  I did it because I imagined that the internet, then young, offered a way for like minds to meet, to find each other, to talk.  In the end I am not sure that I succeeded in proving that:  I am not sure I really found any “like” minds…  I know I found plenty enough “unlike” minds.  I have met others, too, who have been gentle and generous — like you — but, I repeat, even in those cases I don’t think I have met any “like” minds.

If anything, talking to people on that blog about art and literature I have discovered what I have discovered in all life, that I don’t really understand other people.  A scientist-philosopher once published a huge hit of a paper in which he argued that we (“we, cognitive scientists”, that is) could never understand what it was like to be a bat on account of the animal’s unique sensory system (echolocation).  Be that as it may, I find that I cannot imagine what it is like to be other people!

I have spent the last two years reading memoirs and letters of many prominent thinkers and I have discovered that their likes and dislikes, their desires and ambitions and fears were all very odd to me — a was the way they reasoned about them.  I am sure the feeling is mutual and this disparity, this gulf, is one reason perhaps why I seem unable to explain my discoveries; and the conviction of the vastness of this gulf, now stronger then ever, is the main reason why I no longer try to explain.  I mean…  if by some miracle I managed to convince someone that the theory of art he has learned in art 101 and which everyone seems to accept and which fuels all the furious production and all the auction house bidding and all the museum building and going… if I convinced someone that there was something fundamentally wrong with that theory…  that it was only a plausible-sounding falsehood…  if a light lit up in their heads saying “aha”, would they really understand that which I am trying to say?  Or would they understand something completely different and would I have any clue as to what they got out of the conversation?

And — why should I worry about that at all?

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