Sunday, July 09, 2006

Why write?

In one of the latest Tales from the Reading Room, Orwell's "great motives for writing" are adumbrated:

Sheer egoism
Aesthetic enthusiasm
Historical impulse
Political purpose

Once again, then, I find myself - where Orwell and writing is concerned - left aside. These mean nothing to me. If a political impulse is apparent, it's really an impulse to get away from politics; writing an impulse to have done with writing.

In the blog's comments, Emily Barton adds the necessary fifth motive: I think some of us are just ... compelled to [write] ..., the way others are compelled to something like dancing, and we just can’t help ourselves. Litlove herself indicates the advantages of such a compulsion: If the work goes well, I feel nothing, no hunger, no thirst, no sense of myself whatsoever.

Such is the balance between life and where we live.

Painters experience the same thing. There's an impulse merely to cover a page; to decorate it with ink. At this point I would have posted an image of a yellowing A4 writing pad of mine. Two pages on either side of the ringbinder covered in handwriting. Nearly two-thousand words in all. But the camera isn't working. (I've thrown it across the room once already. Something has to be done.) What is written there is less than useless, but I have kept it, all fifty pages covered like that. There is aesthetic enthusiasm here, I suppose, but perhaps not what Orwell meant by the phrase.

Write in order not simply to destroy, in order not simply to conserve, in order not to transmit; write in the thrall of the impossible real, that share of disaster wherein every reality, safe and sound, sinks. (page 38)


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