Monday, 23 September 2013

Priest or Street Preacher? The writer and his audience


When I write I have in mind some kind of audience - and to be bothered to write I have to have some kind of audience in mind.

The ideal for a writer is to have an audience who wants to read him and who will - on the whole, on average - benefit from reading him (it would be horrible for a writer to know that he was damaging his audience - feeding parasitically upon their attention - although this is in fact the situation for most mainstream writers).

So there is first the matter of finding someone, enough someones, to make writing worthwhile.

This is not easy - but the number of people need not be very great for this to be the case.

What is much harder is that the non-fiction writer needs (I think) to feel some kind of priestly vocation - that he is speaking on behalf of an audience - so that the writer in a sense serves the readership.

In Christian and religious Right wing writing, this can be seen as the sense of speaking on behalf of a community; articulating, clarifying, encouraging that community.

But what if the writer does not have a community, or realizes that the community he supposed he was speaking on behalf of is a figment of his imagination?

Well, that has been my situation, incrementally, over a period of about 25 years of writing this kind of 'journalism' - a process of this imagined community shrinking stepwise until it has altogether disappeared.

Shrinking from a time when I wrote on behalf of The Medical Profession (in big circulation medical magazines), and Scientists (ditto for scientific mags), and Sensible British People (writing for national newspapers) - and then recognizing the illusory nature of what I was doing, and trying to focus on smaller and smaller but real audiences.

For instance there was a brief phase when I wrote articles in Church of England newspapers - with the notion I might speak for an audience there, before realizing that there was - essentially - none.

I also had a notion of being a Mere Christian voice, speaking for a common interest among Christians (at least, among the kind of Christians I respected) but that turned out to be another illusions since such people don't exist (don't exist, that is, from my perspective).

Blogging, by comparison, is like being a crazy street preacher - standing up and shouting personal opinions into a crowd of passing shoppers who are variously annoyed, pitying or - at best - mildly curious.

The relationship between writer and audience has not so much broken down (because it never was there) but stands revealed as one individual trying to harangue other individuals in a noisy marketplace.