On Writing

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets

Ideas punctuate the mind like fireflies in the night, emerging out of the darkness for a fleeting moment before retreating back into the blackened void. The modest task of the writer is to seize these ideas from the ether of consciousness; to preserve the glow of the firefly, smearing its inky luminescence indelibly across the page.

The writer, then, is not simply interested in being an honest witness to their place and time, but strives to illuminate a previously unknown or seldom acknowledged corner of the universe. We are carpenters who aspire to add another inch to the house, yet hammer in hand, we tremble.

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

What is the meaning of words today? Who has the patience for the unfolding of verse or the ciphers of abstraction? What remains to be said about a world that, curiously, is afraid of silence but stopped listening long ago? In a word, who believes in beauty and truth, or that the pen could somehow be mightier than the sword?

What message could be so urgent so as to rise above the din of everyday banality? What glimmer of light vibrant enough to guide the way in these desolate times? The self-assured writer exists as a flimsy fiction for, indeed, the task of writing is irrevocably grounded in a fundamental condition of uncertainty—an uncertainty of voice, of moral and intellectual certitude, of purpose or success.

I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

Against the fear of rejection and a latent sense of inadequacy, there still remains an inexplicable desire to create; to roll the universe into a ball that, for all of its imperfections and idiosyncratic distortions, is intelligible nonetheless. To write is to risk one’s own identity as a being that is capable of communicating the essence of one or another fragment of the world.

It is this risk that endangers yet justifies the enterprise of writing, serving at once to both dissuade and compel. The writer risks their own identity in order to preserve it, and in so doing does nothing less than attempt to change the world around them. In short, writers are romantic fools who cannot help but be seduced by the vagaries of a world that is human, all too human.


~ by Sean Best on January 15, 2008.

One Response to “On Writing”

  1. Great post! You manage to merge both abstract and sharp ideas in wonderful prose 😉

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