Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Creative Writing: Wild Air, No Spine

Why do I write creative stuff? Self-expression, I guess, order and beauty and aesthetic bliss. Specifically, a delight in words, their sounds and their inexhaustible novelty. Boredom, solitude. The honour of being part of a tradition, and also the pleasure of being part of a present-day community. Habit, laziness, intimacy. An interest in preserving experience, but also in enriching experience, enriching the future and the present as well as the past. A tendency to occasionally become disenchanted with reason and real-life, and to look for enchantment elsewhere, specifically in the wild air of the imagination, the strange air. An interest in people and the way they talk. An interest in discovering just what experience amounts to.

Creative writing has its drawbacks. All that wild air, it’s so wild and so airy, and at times I would rather go and do something more solid, something like making dinner or going for a run, than flutter about in all that empty space. And there is something nauseating about poetry. Perhaps it is just that I have read some bad poems, or perhaps it is that I have read good poems in the wrong way, but there is an earnestness and self-absorption, and a kind of weak yearning, about some poetry I have experienced, that makes them very unattractive.

And any story seems to lack an essential solidity, probably because they do not have any real demonstrative force. This makes them all seem pretty boneless, even if they are good fun. Sure, so-and-so wrote a novel in which the weak and unfortunate could draw hope from the bottomless reservoir of their good-will and humanity; but another so-and-so could just as easily write a novel in which the opposite is true. A story is an invention, and is detached from the world in the same way that a painting is detached from the real world: there is as much reason to regard a story as true as it is to regard a painting as true, when the painting is just something that some guy with brushes has slapped down in an inspired moment. Sure, both the story and the painting may be demonstrably accurate in their representation of the world. But the demonstration does not come from the story or the painting, but from a reasoned account of the story, the painting, and the world. And how can a novel or painting have any spine if it has no demonstrative force? I think that artists can put up a sound defence of these charges, but in some moods I have no sympathy for them, and call Art a failure because it fails to be Philosophy.

Fortunately, those moods are infrequent enough for me to write something creative every now and then, and so I’ll slap those things down here if they’re not too personal or too crap. I think I have a pretty good idea of what is personal and what is not, but I’m not so sure about crap. So if I write anything that is offensively crap, then any visitors are welcome to say so, and I will be secretly dismayed and write a fiery response arguing that it is not crap at all, but something much more edible. And if it is still too crap (and even if it is not), readers are heartily invited to go along to Defect Perfection, a blog attached to the literary anthology of the same name (which is released by Canterbury University about once a year). You can view the writing on the blog, but you can also contribute a piece of your own, by emailing us. More details on the blog.