And a one, and a two…

July 2, 2007 § 6 Comments

Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Gustave Flaubert

You know, I think this might be the problem right here.

I have noticed that, as a general rule, the worst graduate students are often the best writers.  Or, if they happen not to be writers, then they are voracious readers of fiction and therefore keenly aware of the subtleties of language.  Because they can see the stars, they mistakenly believe that they can reach them, and worse yet, that they should.


It would seem that writer’s block is not only a failing of the ego, as Norman Mailer famously asserted, but an excess of it as well.  Before we begin, we are already defeated by our own unmitigated gall.  It isn’t nearly good enough to make the bears dance, even though that is all that the university requires.  No, it is infinitely preferable to stare at a blank page for weeks on end than to risk a boogieing bear.

The thing is, it’s no small feat to get a bear to dance for three hundred footnoted pages.  They are, after all, fairly lumbering beasts, who tire easily and are prone to long bouts of hibernation.  In fact, I imagine that it would be quite an accomplishment to inspire a bear to dance, since, if it was up to the bear, it would be lunching on my entrails instead. 

(Incidentally, I have it on very good authority that the experience of being eaten by a bear is only marginally worse than having writer’s block.  But I digress.)

With all due respect to Monsieur Flaubert, I think it is well past time that we learned to love the bears.  And so, I challenge the graduate students among you–and you know who you are–to polish up your kettles and set to banging.  Just remember this: they won’t try to eat you until you stop.


§ 6 Responses to And a one, and a two…

  • Sadia says:

    Dread and circuses?

    Writer’s block is not the passive default of creative prowess we peg it as, but a fierce self-protection. Our inner creative becomes a surly serf, protesting, pitchfork in hand, the vile test thrust upon it by the landlord of lofty forms – our ego.

    We fear that if our work were shown to the world (with all its leering expectations), the wizard behind the curtains, and er, smoke, might be revealed as nothing but a farcical wannabe runt – and not the towering Titan o’ Talent writers believe themselves to be.

    Left to fester, this sense of not belonging to the elite group of those supposedly touched by powdered wings of venerated (over-rated) “genius”, crusts into self-consciousness.

    And, self-consciousness is to writers what the dreaded query “is-it-in-yet?” is to an already tentative hard-on.

    Un-cocked cocks aside, ego isn’t the enemy – in fact it’s the thing that gives writers their vivacity. A decent author may draw us along with their writing; an extraordinary one often compels us back in, towards the writer him/herself. Except, the literary term for this is “voice” – a signature style born of Self-hood, effectively rendering signature redundant.

    Voice is perhaps the only metaphysical marker of gifted writers. Everything else is dirty, daily shoveling – soil under fingernails, scrapes from the bracken, there’s no magic – save for the unbridled bloom of self-expression. The Muse is merely manure, formed of flecked bits of digested detail. Romantic, over-extended ethereal notions of “inspiration” are for those too lazy to trim their own bush.

    Ego fucks us over when we trip on the gauging devices strewn around us, put there by the censoring mind (our own, and what we imagine as those of others). In short, we get tangled up in measure, which belongs in editing rooms only, and has no business cradling the new-born babe of incubating idea with its cold, steel calipers.

    I’ve been thinking alot about writer’s block lately (eg. my own). Those are some of my thoughts on it.

    I find journaling helps immensely as a springboard to writerly flow. So does clogging up other people’s blogs with long-winded, self-indulgent comments.

    *smiles sheepishly*

  • James says:

    How about moving the bears to pity?

  • Vila H. says:

    Sadia: Ah, an epic comment–my favourite kind! There’s much that I want to respond to, but I simply can’t let your cock analogy dangle. (Grins.)

    Without question, writer’s block is a form of performance anxiety, which is why Mailer, who is insufferably macho at the best of times, is at least half right. We are so consumed by the fear that we won’t be able to get it up that we convince ourselves it is best to avoid the experience altogether. Textbook, really.

    But what standard of performance do we expect from ourselves? Hours of athletic fucking, unbroken by cramps or thirst? Multiple screaming orgasms of exponentially increasing intensity? Tantric revelations? Speaking in tongues? ‘Tis impossible, no? More to the point, is any of this what others truly expect from us?

    The thing is, so long as we are staring at our own limp willies we are most assuredly not writing, which inexorably leads to the literary equivalent of bed death. And so it’s back to Flaubert, who has unwittingly provided us with a sex-ed lesson as well as a valuable insight into the writing process.

    (Giggles.) We do seem to bring this out in each other, don’t we? Now, if only you still had a blog I could befoul with lewd comments… ;)

  • Vila H. says:

    James: (Smiles.) God, I miss you sometimes.

  • Sadia says:

    Speaking of lewdness, I’m toying with the idea of a blog of erotic short stories. My Muse is quite a slut, so, might as well bring forth the swill of the quill, then.

    I’d stick one of those double-dot thingies over a vowel in my name, et voila.

  • Vila H. says:

    Really? I’ve toyed with an eerily similar idea, as mentioned here. (Arches brow.) Hmm…

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