Exploring the Black Hole

I didn’t plan to follow up yesterday’s post, but the comments, including one that I trashed, added to my online reading, changed that.

Here are purely arbitrary numbers that represent my impression of the topics on Kboards: 90% are concerned with writing as a way to earn a living (representative threads – What is the most you’ve made off of a single book? $5,000 a month or more with no sex? A controlled test of writing to Market with a space opera. How much do you spend on ads per month? 5% are concerned with writing tools, grammar usage, etc. 5% concerned with non-financial issues such as creativity.

This is not criticism, just laying out things as I see them. The essential take-home idea is that writing, particularly novels, is now perceived as a viable way to earn a living. When I see an article claiming that to be a writer you must watch tv, I realize that my growing awareness of science fiction as a movie and tv product that has little to do with books is just one small niche in the commercialization of something that was once considered a creative act.

Commercialization of creativity has always existed. What is different now is that it is the dominant factor. There is very little room for creativity that doesn’t start out with a dollar sign in front of it, and there is correspondingly less interest in it. This is why I see so many articles that mourn the lack of novels with large themes. Literary novels concern themselves with the agonies of the individual, and literary novelists win awards for books that turn over the same soil that has been dug up and raked over for a few hundred years. Genre writing is devoted to entertainment. In a world that is entering what may be the final stages of the great human species experiment, the most successful writing entertains, titillates, and constructs fantasies that allow readers to ignore the simple fact that their ship has hit an iceberg and is sinking.

Linking this back to yesterday’s post, my problem is not writer’s block as one would-be commenter offered, quite irrelevantly, along with a link to his radio broadcast about something or other. My problem is knowing that, in the long run, I’m writing for myself alone. I have no illusions that writing about global climate change and its effects on individuals will have the least effect in changing anyone’s awareness and perhaps their lives.

What made this particularly clear was coming across an article on Lit Hub this morning. When I saw What is the Writer’s Place in a Violent World? I hoped for something that would make sense to me, maybe lift me out of my slough of despond. What I found was the usual exploration of aesthetics, a foamy construction of soap bubbles of literary concerns, and ending with,

“And this is where I am today, wondering about the writer’s role when there seems there is nothing we can say to change anything. What I have begun to think: that before the word comes the image, that before we describe, we must first be willing to look. We must stare, then verbalize, then reclaim. We learn to comprehend what is in front of us by writing, by re-creating in such a way that we urge others not to turn aside.

“There are those who came before us, who have looked and written and forced our gaze toward greater empathy and our language toward greater capacity: here are just a very few: Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Be’alu Girma, Ousman Sembene, Assia Djebar.

“But they would be no more than mere voices, unintelligible words carried through empty space, if we, all of us, did not take part in their protest against silence, and read.”

And that is, apparently, the solution to violence, that we read the words of authors who’ve written about it so well, and then write about it ourselves. Between the lines, though, is the tragedy: that none of those writers have had any impact on the course of events, which have continued to wend their way to increasing violence, against other human beings and against the world we live in. Both the reading and the writing (and the writing about the writing) are comforting delusions that one is actually doing something useful.

Will I continue to write? Yes, but with less and less hope that it will do anything but entertain, even though that is the very last reason I would have for writing. Why bother? Because it’s something I can do well, that brings me a certain amount of satisfaction for its own sake. Because it is a way of keeping mentally active rather than allowing the downward slope of my life to become even steeper.

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8 thoughts on “Exploring the Black Hole

    1. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, but there is something wrong when entertainment drowns out anything else. And when something meant to be taken seriously is read mostly at the shallowest level, as mere entertainment.

  1. Agreed, but I’m saying that even writing that is mere entertainment probably penetrates the brain in ways that we don’t necessarily understand. Any kind of story stimulates the imagination.

    1. Afraid I have to disagree. For most people, entertainment is a substitute for imagination. That’s been discussed often in reference to children’s creativity. The more time they spend watching tv, the less they’re able to imagine anything that doesn’t relate to what they’re familiar with.

  2. You have articulated not only my view about writing but my world view. It sounds as if, like me, you don’t have transcendent faith to give meaning to what is essentially meaningless. One of your commenters yesterday mentioned that she writes “in spite of,” not “because of,” and I think that is an apt description. I, too, write for myself with little or no sense that my words will do anything beyond creating a fleeting connection with a fellow human. I write–and live–because what else am I going to do? And that has to be enough.

  3. I write to entertain, because if something is not entertaining, no one will read it, and I have a buried message I want to put across.

    I think the entertainment value has to be higher, the more message you’re trying to pack in.

    It’s easy to toss off a conspiracy thriller; but if you want to change the world – or even mark a change – you’re going to have to engage the minds and emotions of the readers, and they resist that mightily.

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