Monday, December 20, 2010

Borrow a soul (trade up) & write something needed

There is something about writing I haven’t told you, in part because it smacks of the sentimental and abstract—two of the monsters I’ve hoped to drive from your work...For your writing to be great—I mean great, not clever, or even brilliant, or most misleading of all, beautiful—it must be useful to the must love the world as it is...Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart...The world is not a focus group...The greatest love you can show it is to create what it needs, which means you must know that yourself...The writers whom we agree are the great ones...are great because their subjects and themes are great, and thus their usefulness is great as well. Their souls are great, and they have had the good sense and the courage to consult their souls before their pens touched paper...

It is your soul I am talking about, I’ll say it again. And if, upon examination, you find your soul inadequate to the task of great writing, then improve it, or borrow someone else’s. Commencement speakers are forever telling you to be yourself. I say, be someone else, if that other self is superior to yours. Borrow a soul. I am not in the least being facetious. In The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov says that the soul “is but a manner of being,” not a constant entity. Dissatisfied with the makeup of your old soul? Trade it in. But always trade up...

You must write as if your reader needed you desperately...You must function as a displaced person in an age that contradicts all that is brave, gentle, and worthwhile in you. Every great writer has done this, in every age. You must be of every age. You must believe in heroism and nobility, just as strongly as you believe in pettiness and cowardice. You must learn to praise. Of course, you need to touch the sources of your viciousness and treachery before you rise above them. But rise you must. For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy...Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing...

- Roger Rosenblatt

(Yet there's also the flip side via the avant-gardists and others that some of the most exciting, sublime, whatever, writing and art is anything but useful, or perhaps, directly useful.)

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