He turned his eyes from her, paced up and down the room, and murmured, “Things cannot go on this way,” between his teeth. Lotte, who sensed the terrible state into which these words had plunged him, tried to divert his thought by all sorts of questions, but in vain.
“No Lotte,” he exclaimed, “I shall not see you again!”
“Why do you say that?” she replied, “Werther, you can, you must see us again, only be moderate. O, why must you be born with this vehemence, this unconquerably clinging passion for everything on which you once lay hold! I beg you,” she continued, taking him by the hand, “be more moderate!”
(The sufferings of young Werther, Goethe)
O, why can Werther not be more moderate? Why must be so relentless? Why does he fall, doubt, hurt, commit?
For the reason that he is Werther.
Let yourself be who you are, writer.
Suffering will come whether you do or whether you don’t.
Ich wandle unter Menschen als den Bruchstücken der Zukunft: jener Zukunft, die ich schaue.
Und das ist all mein Dichten und Trachten, dass ich in Eins dichte und zusammentrage, was Bruchstück ist und Räthsel und grauser Zufall.
Und wie ertrüge ich es, Mensch zu sein, wenn der Mensch nicht auch Dichter und Räthselrather und der Erlöser des Zufalls wäre!
Die Vergangnen zu erlösen und alles „Es war“ umzuschaffen in ein „So wollte ich es!“ — das hiesse mir erst Erlösung!
(Also sprach Zarathustra, Von Friedrich Nietzsche)
Gathering by writing creates unity from the pain and chaos. Zarathustra claimed this as his rescue, his deliverance. Let that power into your words today writer. Turn every fact of the past into the acquiescence of your command. Be brave. Make it so.
“I walk among people as among the fragments of the future: the future into which I glance.
And it is with all my poetry and aspiration that I write into unity, as I gather the fragments and the riddles, and the terrible accidents.
And how can I endure being human, if each person were not also a poet and a riddle-reader and the Redeemer of accidents!
To redeem the past and to change everything from ‘It was’ into an ‘I wanted it so!’—that alone means redemption to me!
(Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from Friedrich Nietzsche)
For the wounded normally fall in the direction of their wound: the blood spurts out towards the source of the blow; and the enemy who delivered it, if he is fighting at close quarters, is bespattered by the crimson stream. So, when a man is pierced by the shafts of Venus, whether they are launched by a lad with womanish limbs or a woman radiating love from her whole body, he strives towards the source of the wound… His speechless yearning is a presentiment of bliss.
Sensation and Sex
To cast a phenomenon as ineffable is effortless but is that you, writer, hiding from your hard work of bringing to words? Do you lay deceit upon your less than best so that you may settle? What labours allow you to articulate the speechless of being?
“To be with the one I love and to think of something else: this is how I have my best ideas, how I best invent what is necessary to my work. Likewise for the text: it produces, in me, the best pleasure if it manages to make itself heard indirectly…”
This is Barthes’ observation in The Pleasure of the Text.
Why would it be the case, writer, that our best ideas come indirectly? What power lay hidden beneath our floorboards, in the back of the cupboard, waiting for us to grope and grasp at another object altogether so that we may say with surprise, ‘Look what I found’?
For Volume IV of his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire wrote an entry for ‘End of the World’.
The greater part of the Greek philosophers held the universe to be eternal both with respect to commencement and duration. But as to this petty portion of the world or universe, this globe of stone and earth and water, of minerals and vapors, which we inhabit, it was somewhat difficult to form an opinion; it was, however, deemed very destructible. It was even said that it had been destroyed more than once, and would be destroyed again.
Let this set you free, writer. The end of the world will come again, and then again. Let it come. Hasten it with your words if you dare.
Following his early career success, a fictional revolutionary poet in Nabokov’s short story A Forgotten Poet, grasps for straws in the pond of ineptitude in his follow-up collection.
“… he had got hold of some German philosopher or other, and several of these poems are distressing because of the grotesque attempt at combining an authentic lyrical spasm with a metaphysical explanation of the universe…”
Do you, or someone you know, suffer from lyrical spasm? Are you tempted to dot your poems with the names of philosophers or literary theorists? It’s not too late to stop. Help is at hand. Just say no.
Writers need tactics. Tactics is the only known surviving work of philosopher Asclepiodiotus (c. 1 BCE – unknown). The text focuses on the titles and formation needed in the phalanx, including the use of chariots and elephants. Chapter V details the character and appropriate size of arms including the use of bronze shields and spears of varying lengths.
“And the Macedonians, men say, with this line of spears do not merely terrify the enemy by their appearance, but also embolden every file-leader, protected as he is by the strength of five…”
καὶ Μακεδόνες μὲν οὕτω τῷ στοίχῳ, φασί, τῶν δοράτων οὐ μόνον τῇ ὄψει τοὺς πολεμίους ἐκπλήττουσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῶν λοχαγῶν ἕκαστον παραθαρσύνουσι πέντε δυνάμεσι πεφρουρημένον
The things you fear in your writing, the things you are afraid to write are also the things that give you courage. Your greatest enemy, writer, may be you. Embolden yourself.
An idea from the narrator of Nicholson Baker’s book The Anthologist (2009):
Isn’t crying a good thing? Why would we want to give pills to people so they don’t weep? When you read a great line in a poem, what’s the first thing you do? You can’t help it. Crying is a good thing. And rhyming and weeping—there are obvious linkages between the two. When you listen to a child cry, he cries meter. When you’re an adult, you don’t sob quite that way. But when you are little kid, you go, “Ih-hih-hih-hih, ih-hih-hih-hih.” You actually cry in a duple meter.
Poetry is a controlled refinement of sobbing. We’ve got to face that, and if that’s true, do we want to give drugs so that people won’t weep? No, because if we do, poetry will die.
Tell me you sob. Tell me our poetry lives.
What have you read, writer, that made you weep?
Have you ever been betrayed by your words? In the comedic ‘war between the sexes’ text, Gospels of the Distaff (Les Evangiles des Quenouilles c.1475), a sewing circle of women, led by six elderly doctresses, decide to gather and share their collective feminist knowledge in the form of a book. Their knowledge is both profound and trivial.
On Garters in the Street
Nowe ye for as true as the gospell that yf the hose of a woman or of a mayden unbyndeth in the strete & that she lese it, it is sygne & fayleth neuer that her husbande or her loue gothe elles where.
(from Watson’s 1510 translation)
As none of the spinners and needleworkers can write, they ask a humble cleric to transcribe their teachings. He wields a pen, they wield the distaff. He transcribes their words not in the frame of an intimate knowledge but unfortunately, for himself and the women, ironically, as an immense joke.
You, writer, are in possession of both your knowledge and the means to write it. What are you waiting for?
Are you writing what needs to be written? It takes guts, and balls, to do so.
Take, for example, Gwerful Mechain (1460–1502); a medieval Welsh poet who wrote Poem to the Vagina as a correction to the canon of poems about women, and women’s bodies, that neglect the quim.
Cywydd y Cedor (Extract from Poem to the Vagina)
You are a body of boundless strength,
a faultless court of fat’s plumage.
I declare, the quim is fair,
circle of broad-edged lips,
it is a valley longer than a spoon or a hand,
a ditch to hold a penis two hands long;
cunt there by the swelling arse,
song’s table with its double in red.
And the bright saints, men of the church,
when they get the chance, perfect gift,
don’t fail, highest blessing,
by Beuno, to give it a good feel.
For this reason, thorough rebuke,
all you proud poets,
let songs to the quim circulate
without fail to gain reward.
What does your world say you must not write? What are you denied to write?