October 22, 2011 by Marcus Speh
…. is one of the question discussed at Fictionaut in a thread on the “Philosophy Of Writing“. There were many fascinating answers to this challenge—ranging from “the goal should always be originality” (Ivan R.) to “write what your heart dictates” (Shel Compton)… I simply could not resist weighing in on the debate:
«Obviously everyone should write when and how s/he pleases. But there’s a but, a big, fat philosophical butt to this question, unless philosophy and the history of intellect is dead once and for all & we must fully and solely engage with a reality that knows little of the past & indeed only cares about entertainment and style.
I don’t think what your heart dictates is necessarily good writing. I also don’t think writing for entertainment produces good writing. Darryl’s criteria of “tastes good in every sense of the word” are very tempting (if only because his tastebuds must be very fine, judging from his own work) but it’s also too self-involved and poetically idiomatic to serve me well.
What is it then? For me, good writing is always edifying, always moralistic, and it always manages to transport its message, content or whatever you like to call it in a way that’s artistically worked through, as it were, namely as story. This does not even exclude poetry, which still tells story but relies on a different texture and fabric perhaps—a differently cut garment perhaps that still covers our quintessential, existential nakedness.
And naked we are, today more so than ever.
We need messages and morals as John Gardner demanded thirty years ago in “Moral Fiction”, morals which help us keep this civilization going, which is built on (good) art and (good) writing (not the other way around); we must not fall back into the dark night that Sigmund Freud wrote about more than 100 years ago in “Civilization and its Discontents”: «One feels inclined to say that the intention that man should be “happy” is not included in the plan of “Creation”.» We must look into the abyss and return from it speaking the truth.
In extension of what Sheldon Compton and MaryAnn Kolton said already [in the thread], perhaps we need not just one, but thousands, or millions of hearts beating as one in the rhythm of social media, writing for the future of humanity. Which brings me to Writers Occupy Wall Street, but more of that in a couple of weeks from Six Degrees Left…»
In response to this, Ann Bogle asked “what is the moral of today’s writer’s nakedness?” — I think, if Albert Camus is right, who said
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
then it is perhaps the nakedness of Cassandra, the messenger whose message nobody really wishes to hear and whom nobody will believe so that he’s cast out and (on the whole) disregarded (though the degree of the disrespect for writers strongly varies by country and culture)…but the hearts of men still listen, I believe.
PS. …when I told my wife how bad I felt all night after watching those videos I talked about (above), she showed me something that is apt to restore everyone’s belief in mankind: “Bystanders lift burning car to save pinned motorcyclist“. Yes to this story. Yes to humanity. It comes in so many forms—witness the mixture of grief and love implicit in the death of a British couple in their 70s that were swept away in a flash flood together. Just remember: what you write & how you write matters.