Monday, October 24, 2016

Cheap materials

Cyril Connolly’s The Unquiet Grave opens with a reasonable declaration: “The more books we read, the sooner we perceive that the true function of a writer is to produce a masterpiece and that no other task is of any consequence.” This is Connolly’s self-talk against dissipating his energies in literary journalism, criticism, broadcasting, and the like. But it doesn’t go anywhere towards considering how a masterpiece is to be created. For most writers, wouldn’t there be something a bit paralysing about sitting down to create with the imperative of “create a masterpiece” hanging overhead?

If a writer’s task is to produce a masterpiece, and if the production of masterpieces is unlikely to pay the bills, at least in the short term, then the writer needs to earn money through other occupations. Connolly’s sentiment leads us to think that non-literary occupations might be preferable, but on the next page we read: “We cannot think if we have no time to read, or feel if we are emotionally exhausted, or out of cheap materials create what will last.” One marked advantage of some literary (or para-literary) occupation is that it does afford one time to read.

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