The following is a comment from “Whisky Prajer,” a Canadian correspondent I met when we both posted books to www.lulu.com. He’s quite a bit younger than me, but hip to religion and free-wheeling in other thought ways, though he’s a family man. Maybe because he’s a family man. And the wheeling includes bicycles.
The current politics are indeed profoundly weird. What I find especially bizarre/fascinating/abhorrent is all the "virtue signalling" involved. In my lifetime I can't recall this level of fervently expressed moral absolutism coming from anybody but the Religious Right. The Left has always had its causes, but the general tenor of its evangelism has usually been of the "Put yourself in their shoes" variety -- the liberal ideal we learned from being wide and deep readers of Important Texts. Now the Left has wholly embraced the tactics of the Right: there IS a moral order, and anyone who questions it is a troglodyte, or worse. I do no t see this drum-beating marching the mob in a happy direction.
It's simplistic of me to say, but my sense of the generational attitude among those of us who came of age in the 80s was "We're figuring it out, just bear with us." Exceptions allowed for, of course -- I was a pious and socially docile youth for most of that decade. But we'd witnessed the razing of mores in the 70s, watched as families split up and reconfigured in unusual formats, fended off (with varying degrees of success) the adult solicitations for sexual favours while we were still pre-teens, mostly steered clear of drugs that weren't visibly rooted to the soil, etc. Sometime in the last 30 years there occurred a "Eureka" moment, I'm thinking probably among the post-modern set I left behind at the University -- THIS is what is morally acceptable; THIS is absolutely NOT -- and I missed it. I'm still trying to walk it all back and figure out how we got here.
The Hero's Death -- every kid has to live through it and come to terms with it herself, but I think what made the 80s different was the common acceptance that there was an entire tier of Heros expected to behave execrably. Rock Gods received an absolute pass -- movie stars and the like came close to it also. Famous authors, etc. Rise high enough in the public consciousness and illicit behaviour is approved.
Disappointment occurred when someone was perceived to be a decent person, only to be revealed as the antithesis. Nobody my age thought Harvey Weinstein was a decent guy. Charlie Rose, on the other hand -- he was NPR, so probably not too out-of-whack. So Rose elicits disappointment.
With the kids these days the stakes are so much higher. I was reading this morning that an entire generation raised on J.K. Rowling is disappointed (or more likely incensed) that she is not as "woke" as they. Yeah, but she's my age! And a novelist! She's still figuring it out, expecting the challenge will remain there to puzzle over long after she's laid to rest. Not so, the kids.
Anyway, I'm puzzling over it all, and grateful to have your blogposts as a scout-trail.
About three emails later I got an enewsletter message from Steve Pressfield, a spin-off from his best-selling book, “The War of Art,” which he takes to be overcoming blocks in the mind, like “writer’s block.” Sign up at www.stevenpressfield.com/ He says he’s starting a new book and once again goes to the journey/trail/path metaphor. He writes in one-sentence paragraphs:
The book is about writing.
I don’t have a title yet but the premise is that there’s such a thing as “the artist’s journey.”
The artist’s journey is different from “the hero’s journey.”
The artist’s journey is the process we embark upon once we’ve found our calling, once we know we’re writers but we don’t know yet exactly what we’ll write or how we’ll write it.
These posts will be a bit longer than normal, just because that’s how chapters in a book fall. I don’t wanna post truncated versions that are so short they don’t make sense, just because that’s where chapters happen to break.
Please let me know if you hate this.
I’ll stop if it’s not worth our readers’ time or if our friends find the material boring.
That said, let’s kick it off.
Starting with the epigraph, here’s the beginning of this so-far-untitled book:
“I found that what I had desired all my life was not to live—if what others are doing is called living—but to express myself. I realized that I had never had the least interest in living, but only in this which I am doing now, something which is parallel to life, of it at the same time, and beyond it. What is true interests me scarcely at all, nor even what is real; only that interests me which I imagine to be, that which I had stifled every day in order to live.”
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn
So here we have two alternative ideas about writing: proposing the absolute morality somehow derived from the post-modern morality that has brought us to our political dichotic ramshead-bashing — and Henry Miller who would rather make love than war.
So far Pressfield is simply listing the titles of works by admired pop movie makers or song writers. He works with what sells. I try to ignore all that as ephemeral and low-grade. But maybe there’s a ground that hasn’t been explored in fiction so much except by Ursula LeGuin or Erik Erikson— I speak of the culture’s journey. Maybe it has more to do with the Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter. Maybe it has something to do with Orpheus in the catacombs, searching for the carbon unit alter egoes he loves and wants to spin up again into life.
In that case, what is necessary is the song, because every song is a map of the journey, as Bruce Chatwin knew. Some of this pulls the “pop” up to “literary.” If that means anything. Except that best sellers come from being in sync with the culture, not from being brilliant individuals.