It’s spring in New York, which means we’ve had our first robin sighting in the parks, our first hint of green from the trees, the Allman Brothers are making their annual stand at the Beacon, and soon we’ll face opening day at Yankee Stadium, to be followed soon after by the first in-season Page Six story about A-Rod…
And of course, what would spring be without something to make the literary circles here a little perturbed, like this essay Gawker reported on from Robert Lewis Stevenson that appeared in the latest issue of The Strand Magazine.
(As an aside, it’s interesting how the throwaway comment Maggie Lange makes at the end of the article gets a lot of challenges from fans of Treasure Island, which is a bit of a heart-warmer, I confess…)
For those looking for the executive summary, Stevenson complained about the state of current literature (which for him was from the Victorian era) being devoid of reality, which seemed daring in the midst of the purple rage that most writers fell under during the late 19th Century, but a criticism that would be abandoned by most writers come the advent of Hemmingway. Of particular interest is this one comment he makes about pirate navigators, and how they would appear askance in pirate fiction of the time (including his own work, which was being written at the time of the essay):
If you read a true account of these rogues you would be thunderstruck. Again and again they try to cross the Atlantic – what hundreds of decent, respectable merchant skippers do successfully every month – and again and again they lose their way, cannot find the trade-winds, and, from sheer block-headedness, suffer the last extremities of thirst and hunger.
Let’s take a moment to consider what is a quite frank comment about those plying the Sweet Trade by a man who would make his reputation discussing pirates. What would drive this man to bite the hand that would feed him, with enough force to sever fingers from palms?
Is it the frustrations of writing in that we want to do by our characters the most justice we can, even if it means portraying them with the same techniques you’d find in a 40-plus minute Yoko Ono steady-camera kind of art installation? Which, despite the amount of Absolute Truth you bring to the piece, you know in your heart of hearts is going to drive your readers to drink or worse…?
Is it the feeling that Art needs to trump over Truth, because Art is the flighty one that needs the special attention? Seriously, if Art and Truth were personified, would Art be the one that needed to get past the velvet rope every night to enter the clubs where Chris Brown was going to, to abuse amuse Rhianna, to be there for the event, or at least the possibility of the event, while Truth was happy to be at home keeping the accounts?
Is it guilt the authors feels that they are somehow misrepresenting the characters they create that makes them worry about an absolute truth when they ignore the drudgery that we as real humans wish we could just skip over? And why isn’t there some sense of guilt we feel that we mere humans ask that 165 hours of our week be skipped and that we relish the three hours we really want? (And the idea that if we could appeal to that Greater Writer to do that for us, that we wish like hell that said author wasn’t Alexander Solzhenitsyn…?)
Or is it just my own neuroses playing in me, while the rest of you are able to enjoy life? Hey, if I’m the only person tied to New York writing tonight with self-doubts, at least I’d be in good company…
But excusing the personal issues (which every writer has, and the ones who claim otherwise are either lying or have had more drinks than I have tonight), there’s still the overriding issue of Stevenson’s worries about how to portray pirates, which for some of us-
OK, damnit, for me! Yes, I have my own beefs. And it has to do with events not so far away, but recent. In particular, it seems my musings about characters with guns post-Newtown were not unfounded, as readership has diminished as of late. It could be a large part of this is due to the public losing a taste for people in a gun-based culture having to turn to the tools at hand to deal with their issues, and abandoning accounts of such activities.
That, or else the fact that I suck as a writer; hey, at this point, either works…
Whatever the cause, I find myself coming to the end of Red Jenny with the same enthusiasm Dave Sim faced when Cerebus #300 finally came around. Somehow, I thought it’d be… well, not like this…
No, I don’t want pity. A party, maybe, but not a pity party; that much work posting every week, someone needs to buy me a drink, damnit!
But beyond my personal issues, there’s still the unresolved matter of what writers need to do to stand by their works. Is there an over-reaching Truth they need to serve to honor their characters, or does the story need to make them compromise the way we real folk need to do every day? Are we honoring our characters and/or readers by glossing over the long bits of boredom between punctuations of terror/drama?
And if a much better writer than any of us here today like Robert Lewis Stevenson couldn’t come up with an answer, what f’n’ chance do we have…?
If nothing else, this makes for good conversation over drinks. Which, if you ever look me up, I’m still available for…