That is the definition of truth, it is the thing you must not say. “The miracle into which the child and the poet walk” [Tsvetaeva] as if walking home, and home is there…The thing that is both known and unknown, this is what we are looking for when we write. We go toward the most unknown and the best unknown, this is what we are looking for when we write. We go toward the best known unknown thing, where knowing and not knowing touch, where we hope we will know what is unknown. Where we hope we will not be afraid of understanding the incomprehensible, facing invisible, hearing the inaudible, thinking the unthinkable, which is of course: thinking. Thinking is trying to think the unthinkable: thinking the thinkable is not worth the effort. Painting is trying to paint what you cannot paint and writing is writing what you cannot know before you have written: it is preknowing and not knowing, blindly, with words. It occurs at the point where blindness and light meet. Kafka says—one very small line lost in his writing—“to the depths, to the depths.
And why don't you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven't written. (And why I didn't write before the age of twenty-seven.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it's reserved for the great-that is for "great men"; and it's "silly."Besides, you've written a little, but in secret. And it wasn't good, because it was in secret, and because you punished yourself for writing, because you didn't go all the way, or because you wrote, irresistibly, as when we would masturbate in secret, not to go further, but to attenuate the tension a bit, just enough to take the edge off. And then as soon as we come, we go and make ourselves feel guilty-so as to be forgiven; or to forget, to bury it until the next time.
We should write as we dream; we should even try and write, we should all do it for ourselves, it’s very healthy, because it’s the only place where we never lie. At night we don’t lie. Now if we think that our whole lives are built on lying-they are strange buildings-we should try and write as our dreams teach us; shamelessly, fearlessly, and by facing what is inside very human being-sheer violence, disgust, terror, shit, invention, poetry. In our dreams we are criminals; we kill, and we kill with a lot of enjoyment. But we are also the happiest people on earth; we make love as we never make love in life.
It is the heavy reality of the writing life which makes the “why” so easy to forget: Gutless rejection letters, denigrating revision letters, incompetent copy edits, insulting reviews, late checks, disappointing sales, down-trending print-runs, shrinking advances, royalties paid in a geological timeframe, imprints folding, publishers downsizing their lists and conglomerating their overhead. One day your editor expresses all the enthusiasm of an overtired undertaker. The next day your agent demonstrates all the faith and commitment of a diseased streetwalker. Your book is packaged with a cover that would embarrass anyone who wasn’t raised in a Red Light district. You give a thoughtful interview only to discover the resultant article describes you as churning out potboilers. Three people show up at your book signing, two of them because they thought you were someone else; the third person came because you owe him money. When you make the New York Times list, a neighbor asks you “which” NYT list you’re on, because there must be a separate one for the trash you write. Though you’ve been publishing regularly for years, you know people who ask, every single time they see you, if you still write. (No, I fell back on my independent wealth when the going got tough.)
Poor Superman is about a married man who, much to his own surprise, enters into a passionate love affair—with another man. The experimental theatre which hosted the play here is a small place, and we happened to wind up sitting in the front row. Practically on the stage. The actors were often within a few feet of us. So, during the big love scene, when the two male leads start passionately stroking and kissing each other’s stark naked bodies... and doing this so close to me that I could have touched them both with only a little effort... I sat there in mute panic, thinking, “Please don’t either of you fellows get an erection. Just don’t. Should I look away? Should I close my eyes? Should I just keep watching as if I’m not obsessing about your genitals? Aren’t you done kissing and touching yet? Because if this goes on any longer, one of you could have an involuntary reaction, if you get my drift! And I am a total stranger sitting within four damn feet of you, in case you hadn’t NOTICED!”Though my seat wasn’t as dark as usual, the writing lesson was very memorable: Don’t ever pull your reader out of the frame.Bad research. Anachronistic writing. Self-serving polemics and lectures barely disguised as narrative. Incongruity and lack of continuity. Weak characterization, leaden pacing, lack of motivation, stiff dialogue, lazy plotting... There are a thousand ways for novelist to wind up naked onstage while an appalled audience obsesses about her exposed genitals at a critical moment.
Most of us are pseudo-scholars...for we are a very large and quite a powerful class, eminent in Church and State, we control the education of the Empire, we lend to the Press such distinction as it consents to receive, and we are a welcome asset at dinner-parties.Pseudo-scholarship is, on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning. It also has an economic side, on which we need not be hard. Most of us must get a job before thirty, or sponge on our relatives, and many jobs can only be got by passing an exam. The pseudo-scholar often does well in examination (real scholars are not much good), and even when he fails he appreciates their inner majesty. They are gateways to employment, they have power to ban and bless. A paper on King Lear may lead somewhere, unlike the rather far-fetched play of the same name. It may be a stepping-stone to the Local Government Board. He does not often put it to himself openly and say, "That's the use of knowing things, they help you to get on." The economic pressure he feels is more often subconscious, and he goes to his exam, merely feeling that a paper on King Lear is a very tempestuous and terrible experience but an intensely real one. ...As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment were contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one be a penny the stupider.