"When I first saw that a literary profession was to be my fate, I endeavoured by all efforts of stoicism to divest myself of that irritable degree of sensibility - or to speak plainly, of Vanity - which makes the poetical race miserable and ridiculous."
Encountering writers in the flesh can be everything from affirming to crushingly disappointing, probably just as much for the writer as for the fan. By one anecdotal account Umberto Eco, a rather fine writer in many ways, was unpleasantly lecherous and self-involved and thus dreadful company. His books are equally self-involved, but the fact that I can step away at any point or indulge his whim to tell me all there is to know about the Rosicrucians as I please means that I can accept that, and still enjoy the story. David Mitchell (no, not that one - the Cloud Atlas bloke), by contrast, was very engaging as a speaker, which is often not the case when they wheel out writers on Radio 4 or whatever.
Worse, perhaps, are we, the wannabes. I've made it a habit to write about myself and my writing on this website, and I still don't sell any books, so whatever the drive to continue writing these news posts, it certainly isn't sales. I can't help feeling that there's a worst-of-both-worlds factor, in that the Vanity, the misery and the ridiculousness are all there in abundance, but the literary profession is a fantasy rather than my fate. So, with all apologies to those English teachers of 25 years ago who taught me that quoting at length is to be avoided, and you should have at least twice as much to say about the quotation as there is quotation, let me quote at length from Raymond Tallis, without further exegesis.
"Art, I want to argue, addresses a fundamental hunger arising out of the human condition. Humans have three obvious hungers: for survival; for pleasure; and for positive acknowledgement by real or imaginary others (internalised as self-esteem at being loved, lusted after, or knowing that one is not, or is not thought to be, useless or a shit). But there is a fourth hunger and it is this that art addresses – and in the future will do so more explicitly and exclusively. What is this hunger? Where does it come from?
The fourth hunger – like the third – arises from our curious condition of being animals that have woken to a greater or lesser extent out of the state of an organism. Half-awakened, we are constantly engaged in making explicit sense of the world and of our fellow humans. This sense remains tantalisingly incomplete and stubbornly local. We go to our deaths never having been fully there – except perhaps in our final agonal moments when we are reclaimed by our bodies – or never having fully grasped our being there because we never quite close the gap between what we are and what we know, our ideas and our experiences, and because our knowledge is permeated by a sense of the ignorance that surrounds it.
...the fourth hunger: for a life more connected, for a more intense consciousness, for joyful experiences that are truly experienced in the way that pain, starvation, and terror are fully experienced."
The writing (and the music) are an indulgence, but I suppose they are a prop, a mechanism for feeling that more intense consciousness, to live out the joyful and sorrowful. Through my characters I can feel the remorse of killing, love frustrated, religion proscribed, the grief of loss, and by contrast the promise of love, or glory, or power, the elation of surviving real danger. I hope you can too.
If you're wondering, that last line is a thinly-veiled plea: buy the books. Follow the links above to experience exactly what it is I'm writing about here through the three novels (so far, with a fourth being written) of These Matters.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought