Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Frank Sargeson's "More Than Enough": Excerpts

Here are some excerpts from Frank Sargeson's autobiographical work, More Than Enough. First, here are some of his thoughts on the activity of writing.

I had discarded, and I thought finally, all my notions of ‘copying’ which had long tended to hamper me. In the past I had as it were taken a backward look, trying to show on paper what the lives of people I knew had formerly been (perhaps as some explanation for their present appearances). And I thought the more facts I knew about people the better. Now I told myself I wanted only the hint which would trigger off the evoking imagination. Let the evocative words be got down on paper one day, and let them the next be revised and re-arranged with many fresh and lively touches of invention. Let there be patience, but also let there be discipline whereby one thing could be shown to lead inevitably to another. And let it all be done hour by hour and day upon day until there at last was the job well done, a story, a book, a work of the imagination. (32)

My writing activities were often described as a hobby, but greatly encouraged by Cresswell’s example despite my troubling doubts whenever I turned to the poetry he had so far written, I never thought of my dealings with literature in that sense: for me, too, what I had set out to do must be the central aim and purpose of my life: like the child with the mud-pie I had an engagement with my own particular brand of creation, and everything else must be secondary. I re-affirmed that I must continue to live as I could, paying attention to the daily necessities only when much pressed by their urgency. After all, the shifts I would always be put to would enrich my experience of living, hence the work I was engaged on. After a decade of trial and error I felt that my life would be stripped bare of meaning if I abandoned my writing. (96)

I am prompted to question the reader, Is this sort of thing Life or Living?
I don’t pretend to know the reader’s answer, but in these late years I think I know my own. For me there is no contradiction. Life and work are one. To live has been to write. And I have lived besides in the work of other writers, and more especially the poets. (77)

Sometimes I have thought that without a good deal of ‘natural’ ability nobody should attempt to write. And I had myself no such ability and everything over many years had to be learned. Then again, hearing stage people speak sometimes of an actor as “natural” I have felt depressed. I have felt no better about writers the same way described: often their fluency (actual, not an illusion designed to serve the purposes of a work of art), has appalled me: it has made them even more unrewarding than they might have been if they had lacked any writing talent whatsoever. I discovered in time my own remedies for lack of natural ability; and perhaps I may be excused if I often suppose there is no talent so deceiving and dangerous as fluency. (75)

…novelists would often hesitate to draw from certain people they knew out of fear of falling short: novelists might often be conceited about their abilities, but a good novelist would always recognise his own limitations, and know he might perhaps have to live and learn a long time before he understood there could be people in the world of too big a quality to handle. After all, it was the novelist’s business to enhance and heighten, to make much out of real-life merely suggested: and to be confronted by rarities who in real-life were already of a superb stature in the way of quality-well, it could be a dismaying experience. (139)

It had never occurred to me and I don’t know why, but I felt an acute need for a suitable hero: at the same time I found myself wishing to avoid any suggestion that the author was himself the hero. (95)

And while I wondered whether my doubts about a hero were a shortcoming of my own, or a thinness in the material of New Zealand life which I was so determined to deal with, I found myself asking another unsuspected question. What was the European doing in this faraway Pacific ocean country anyway? Had he the right to be here? What were the ideas and ways of life he had brought with him and how had they developed? Was a community being built which could continue to flourish, or was the European occupation a kind of tenancy which would eventually be terminated? Did I personally agree with the prevailing sentiments about these matters? (95)

On working as a reviewer:

I can think of nothing more damaging to a writer who has his own work to do, more likely to efface even a semblance of integrity, than that he should be required to drudge out comments upon books which he would never of his own volition have chosen to read: and all his work worry and doubt be rooted in the knowledge that no matter how good his intentions, neither he nor anybody can ever be sure about the justice of a pretence to judge contemporary work. (125)

On other writers:

…what was I to say for myself when I read Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm; or rather should I say re-rea? For as a younger man I had read the novel when egotism and frustration had blinded me to its wonderful genius. (95)

I had discovered much in the Russian novelists: I was indebted to Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Mark Rutherford and George Gissing; for a time I was much devoted to Edward Carpenter. (53)

On society:

From the time of adolescent awakening I had been much aware of the general misery of the human condition. I remember it had occurred to me that some such notion was surely at the root of Marx’s work: I remember too that I had understood and been greatly moved by Wilde’s wit and perception when he said that for anyone who knows the facts human brotherhood is no poet’s dream, a hopeless ideal; instead a depressing and humiliating reality. (53)

I was confirmed once again in my belief that no man who functions within the framework of the social order can expect to be ‘free’ except upon the condition of being very, very rich or extremely poor; and everything in between is at best constriction, at worst, slavery. (117)