Gissing, Orwell, Kafka, Lawrence: What do these distinguished authors have in common? They all produced a lot of great work, certainly, but surely their most important unifying quality is that they were all younger than me when they died. I have now lived longer than a lot of people who achieved a lot more than I am ever going to achieve. Taking into consideration how much time I have already wasted and how much time realistically remains – and how much of that remaining time is likely to be wasted – then that situation is unlikely to change. Even if I devoted every available remaining hour in unswerving devotion to this unrequired and rewardless task, it would still be impossible to ease the margin of defeat and offset the overwhelming backlog of lost time. It is no longer possible to measure my own lack of progress by that of other authors who started ‘late’. I have now surpassed them all. When ‘they’ talk about an author’s career taking off, and their ‘finally’ producing the work for which they are rightly revered, the author is always at least ten years younger than I am at time of said ‘take-off’. There are others who seemed old when I was young, who started to produce work at a sensible age and have continued to produce it; they have been old for a long time, whereas I have been young for a long time, because I haven’t started yet. I have spent twenty-five years preparing to start. And it’s not as if I haven’t spent all this time struggling with literary endeavor; it’s just that I haven’t finished anything. Well, that’s something: a point from which to recede.
If the amount of time I ‘put in’ were commensurate with actual finished product, I would have amassed a substantial body of work by now, several groaning shelves worth, if not of a Jamesian or Dostoevskian amplitude, then at least in the Flaubertian range. Although, admittedly, most of the time that was supposed to be spent immersed in disciplined endeavor has been lost in a haze of abstraction. All these thoughts and memories – all these notes – will perish with me, and maybe that’s for the best. Why save them from inevitable oblivion? If only to bespeak the gulf between what one imagines one is capable of and what one actually is capable of, and the folly of continuing to work on something when one knows in advance that it is a failure. Who am I kidding? The only person I’m kidding is myself. Nobody else is invested enough to be in on the joke.
And so, lost to myself, I find myself again, incapable of losing myself, in a state unfit for discharging what I stubbornly and unconvincingly still cling to the notion of as being my duty, weighed down by the forces that were supposed to raise me, sinking into a lyre-backed chair amid the flickerings and trillings of a hot February morning. Despite the best of intentions, things didn’t go according to plan. A few sentences were squeezed out like the rancid dregs from an almost empty bottle, long past its expiration date. The results, when viewed, will probably strike me as nothing I’d care to share. But at least a few lines emerged.
Shakespeare, Proust, Kafka, Camus, Orwell, Gissing: What do each of these distinguished authors have in common? They all produced a lot of great work, but surely their most important unifying quality is that they were all younger than me when they died. I have outlived Keats by a quarter of a century: that’s a morbidly sobering thought. But let’s leave poets out of this. In the time it took Balzac to write 91 novels, covering every aspect of the human condition in its myriad complexity, I have produced two very slender volumes of poetry, addressing a rather more limited sphere of activity… or rather inactivity.
Further proof that nothing is beneath me
Further proof that nothing is beneath me.
New column up at Artillery: Tottenham Corner.
Pass the salt… http://artillerymag.com/tottenham-corner-3/
This story up at The Weeklings:
Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, consumed by this precious illusion of service to the pen: priceless time that might have been used to benefit others, from which I might even have derived pleasure. And what have I received in return for this self-serving – if that – satisfaction of having actualized myself? Poverty and solitude have been the chief rewards. And what, actually, am I actualizing? Do I have anything to say that is worth saying at all or that hasn’t been said better before, that might justify this massive investment of time and energy, this insistence on keeping going, this unflagging commitment to a lost cause, as if it were a sacred act and not a sickness born of vanity? What would happen if I didn’t do it? Nothing. Nobody would notice. It wouldn’t make any difference to anybody… other than myself. And I would probably be a lot better off without it. As a compensatory last resort there’s always the myth of posthumous glory. But to receive that one has to die first. How inconvenient. I must put that on my to-do list. It would completely validate the work, of course. The only problem is that I haven’t done the work. I must also put that on my to-do list.