“If a doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”
There’s nowhere to hide when the task of writing comes about. It often comes as a blessing. When it does so, there’s no reason to fear it. But there are other moments (many more, in fact), when having to write is possibly equal to having to strangle oneself with one’s own hands. Not only equally terrifying, but also equally difficult (or laborious).
A writer is one who writes, and there’s no way known to man to argue against that. There’s no additional option, no middle ground, no escape route – except, of course, the one expressed in the form of a refusal. But refusing to write means choosing not to be a writer; and so it is not exactly a choice at all for the one who dreams of embracing the writing profession. In order for a text to come to light a gesture of literal inscription needs to have been made. Those who think about writing are thinkers. Some of them quite excellent: geniuses of orality, champions of the spoken word. But they will never graduate from their oral state. They will never be writers. This is so odiously simple, so blatantly evident, it’s hardly worth saying. But still...
Writing relies not only on this decision to take up the task of writing but also on the motivation to stay put. In other words, with writing comes the status as well as the work. But mostly the work.
Work is eternity
What lies in the tenacious task of writing is sweat. Once this is acknowledged, it is easier to accept failure; which is, in essence, the short-circuiting of work’s capacity to go on forever. Failed projects are projects in which, in theory, the work could have continued ad infinitum. If it weren't for the barrier, for the enforced halt.
But what is this stop-that-comes-from-outside-work, and which imposes itself upon writing?
Well, work of all type is, by definition, a manifestation of the infinite. Writing, which is a form of work, is also a manifestation of the infinite progression towards no objective other than the perpetuation of the process itself.
Work is continuous. Work is becoming. Work entails no real beginning and no real end. This is best illustrated by the logic of hitchhiking: you hop on at some point while the vehicle is in motion and hop off to look at its slow, irreversible departure. It's really the vehicle that matter, or rather – its velocity. And this makes it necessary for us to distinguish between work and worker. Work is never-ending. Like all ideal situations (Platonic ideas, metaphysical perfections), it resides in a region where there are no limits and no categories. It is a form of perpetuity and limitlessness. The worker, however, is the well-known human being, with his limitations, with his dependence on biology, with his death. Work exists after the worker died, just as it existed before he was born. It’s within this vessel that the worker carries out his task, and within this perimeter that he finds, once more, the confirmation of his mortality. And so he carries work out knowing that nobody is irreplaceable in the workforce: the harshest, most unfair thing we learn when we are employed for the first time, on which occasion we realize that our employment was another’s end-of-contract. Saying that one’s life is another’s death would be very accurate in this context, as would be to note that this realization places work itself in an ecosystem of its own, with its own logic of sustainability: in order for one to work, another must stop working (and so on).
|Source: Walls Pick|
The finished work, as I suggested last week, is not finished in a natural way. It is work stopped in its becoming. A book, a document, a project of any kind is, in truth, an unnatural death, insofar as Work is concerned. It is, at the same time, itself a form of failure: the work's failure to impose itself as continuous. Finished projects make work seem fragmentary. An author’s books are his/her fits and starts, his/her re-engagement with the eternity of work – not in the hope of containing work, but in an attempt at giving work its due. And work’s due is its lack of history. Work is without history in the sense of not being made of moments strung together, but being a progression without interruptions; a continuum.
Failure is a tricky thing. The writer who writes and writes and writes and writes in order to eliminate errors (thinking they’re doing it in order to make their work perfect, or as close to perfection as possible) is, presumably, a creature thriving on the termination of failures. However, this termination is not equivalent to the achievement of success. To a writer, the book just published, the document just printed, the recipe just handed over, are, really, failures of Failure (by which I mean, as above, the affirmation of the worker’s limits – his virtual death). Failing to fail is equal to failing to die. Hence the immortality we hope to acquire thought the books we write, through the texts we produce.
Workers who perform their task as if it were the pill that made them eternal work in order to vanquish Failure as a principle, by struggling to eliminate every particular calamity while it's still unborn. And this is why writers almost always boast about the fact of their dealing in mistakes and fiascos. To quote Margaret Atwood again (from the same text quoted last week):
"A ratio of failure is built into the process of writing. The waste-basket has evolved for a reason. Think of it as the altar of the Muse Oblivion, to whom you sacrifice your botched first drafts, the tokens of your human imperfection. She is the tenth Muse, the one without whom none of the others can function. The gift she offers you is the freedom of the second chance. Or as many chances as you'll like."
Error comes with work – that's the message here. (Miscarriage, the Tenth Muse – I need to retain this association.) This is not only a warning; it is also a promise. A promise that failure cannot be avoided, since beginnings, as initiations of new projects, are failures in-the-making.
|Source: The Guardian|
And because writing is so much a withdrawal from life, it appears (in spite of its exclusive definition as work) to be no-work. Leisure. Pass time. Elegance and uselessness. Aristocratic affordability to waste one's time and to bring no good (or little good) to those who live around. "Why do you write?" appears, to Atwood, as a subtle rewording of another, more proletarian, question: "Why not do something useful instead?"
"If you were a doctor, you could tell some acceptable moral tale about how you put Band-Aids on your cats as a child, how you've always longed to cure suffering. No one can argue with that: But writing? What is it for?"
Yes, writing, unfortunately, has to happen as an attempt at answering this impossible question. And every time somebody thinks they've found an answer, that answer is harshly, emphatically, pragmatically, rejected. There's no way you can accept writing, especially writing that's never acquired the (partial, never-sufficient) confirmation of a book cover. Writing, if it has to be considered significant, will have to take place in one's spare time. (Nota Bene: One's own, not the time of others.) Professional writers are in fact writers whose writing doesn't appear as profession but as hobby.
So when the question comes, when it is thrown at the writer with the force with which a spear is thrust towards an enemy, the only safety guard is the forget-about-it argument:
"If at a loss, perfect the shrug. Or say: It's better than working in a bank. Or say: For fun. If you say this, you won't be believed, or else you'll be dismissed as trivial. Either way, you'll have avoided the question."
And so, under the protection of one's own techniques of avoidance, writing can return to its lair. It can evolve the way it has been evolving all along: apart from the world, into the wilderness of one's own isolation, into the rage of one's soliloquies; i.e. into one's precondition as a writer.