Sunday, 12 January 2014

Writers with nothing to say - but saying it anyway


It happens a lot. And in the history of literature there are broad phases.

In the early and mid twentieth century there was a lot of stuff of the writer writing about writing (nothing to say).

Then there was a lot of stuff of writers writing about the fact they had nothing to say - and this was pretty mainstream in the sexities and seventies when I was a youth.

After quite a bit of this, then writers got used to the fact that had nothing to say; and since they had been brought-up in this situation, and had never known any differently; writers for the past few decades say nothing because (as they perceive it) there is nothing to be said.

That is the subtext of what the Mass Media scream at us every day, and what we encounter in the highbrow world of serious novels, art movies, ambitious TV programmes - writers are simply messing around, trying to grab and hold attention, producing positive and negative feelings - just passing the time.

They have nothing to say and they believe there is nothing to be said - and they are just filling-in time: their own and everybody elses.

Filling-in time with time-filling is not, however, morally neutral - nor is it passive; it is actively destructive of good.

Thus writers are generally become agents of evil, so are books, TV and movie narratives.

Art is destructive now, as is science and academia - indeed much that once was good (on the whole) has become bad (on the whole) - including education and socialization which now make people dumber and worse citizens (on the whole); because with the mass social communications media almost everybody is now a writer, and they have nothing to say, and believe there is nothing to be said - but say it anyway; louder, more frequently, more manipulatively, and with ever-smaller breaks in-between.   



Wm Jas said...

Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, when going through Customs in New York, that he had nothing to declare except his genius. The same would appear to be true of many a modern writer.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I agree with you pinpointing Wilde as a key figure in this - it was when the attitude went mainstream.

He wrote a lot about the fact that his writing was trivial - including some very elegant and witty essays on the need for lying, how nature imitates art and other 'paradoxes'.

I regard Wilde as an intellectually brilliant pasticheur who struggled between ambition (pretentiously fabricating a reputation for himself) and laziness.

All of his work is contrived (superbly contrived, in most instances) - but most obviously the poetry; and you can 'see the working' but with 'Earnest' he produced one of only a handful of the eternal stage comedies.

Wilde seems much more modern than his contemporaries such as Shaw and Wells, who did have something to write about - namely socialism (at least in their early years, before 1918).

Of course, Wilde regarded himself as a socialist, and wrote the Soul of Man under Socialism - but this is really matter of redefinition. He was an absolutely committed and explicit snob, who worshipped the upper classes - but his sexuality meant that he was always prepared to make an exception for beautiful lower class boys.

(There is often this pseudo-altruistic/ inclusive kind of egalitarianism among aesthetes and the promiscuous - they are quite happy to have sex with attractive people of any class, race or gender!)

Perhaps socialism was the last real topic for mainstream literary Western writers (the last era of optimism among writers), but that was exhausted by the mid-twentieth century, and nobody *really* believed in it from then.

The great exception to the above analysis was Tolkien, who had something to say but was not a socialist and was great; but then he isn't mainstream.

Samson J. said...

Tolkien isn't mainstream?

Bruce Charlton said...

@SJ - No. Among prestigious literary academics and to-end critics Tolkien is an embarrassment and an annoyance, and certainly NON-canonical. See Tom Shippey's book JRR Tolkien Author of the Century.

Samson J. said...

Right, but I guess we're using different definitions of "mainstream". Anyway, not a point worth going on about, I guess.

SFG said...

Do you think most of the fans of the fantasy novels derivative of his stuff would agree with his conservative Christianity? If anything soft-neopaganism seems to be more popular among hardcore nerds...

The man's work is not dead, and he obviously tapped into a longing for myth or he wouldn't have so many imitators, but I'm not sure his output has had the effect he intended--if he intended any effect at all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SFG "Do you think most of the fans of the fantasy novels derivative of his stuff would agree with his conservative Christianity? If anything soft-neopaganism seems to be more popular among hardcore nerds..."

No - for the reason you say. I was serious Tolkien fan for 35 years before I became a Christian - and I was indeed pretty much a 'soft-neopagan' for mcuh of this time.

On the other hand, in the end Tolkien was a significant factor in my conversion - especially via The Debate of Finrod and Andreth

Until then, Tolkien was like a secret thread running through my life - invisible to the external world, but more real than most things which were more overt.

I could not at all explain *why* this was so - but it was.