I have noticed, dear reader, a recent tendency for the whimsical. Perhaps it is because I am still finding my blog legs. Perhaps it is because I notice the popularity my posts have so quickly attained. Am I too a slave to clicks and views? Bite your tongue.
One of my favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown: ‘you can uncover powerful, hidden things if you let yourself get lost in the woods.’ Steinbeck was not limiting himself to shrubs and glens. Unsympathetic critics might point to Steinbeck’s appetite for description that teased (crossed?) the line between elegant and florid. For now, I only ask that you revel in the perversity of getting lost in books! Treat yourself to those books you have read and forgotten or, even better, never read in the first place.
“Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption,” groused the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “It is not only an interruption, but also a disruption of thought.” That is, I feel, also the main thrust of Steinbeck’s greatest paragraphs. It was not his plot lines, which were affably straightforward. The beauty was in the naturalistic descriptions. He disappeared into a few details. He disappeared into the descriptions of the land and the people on it. He got lost. There was no noise and that is the only way I think anyone could describe his writing for good or bad. I wish I had someone more intelligent and interesting to quote to corroborate this feeling. I do not and for that, dear reader, forgive me. But when I read Steinbeck with a vista as my firmament there is a certain unity of intention and execution that becomes readily apparent. It’s such a tragedy that he’s taught in classrooms.
The greatest part of getting lost is spontaneity. Everyone has their favorite stories, but some of mine were by Ernst Hemingway who wrote one May afternoon in a Madrid pension, when a snowstorm forced the cancellation of a bullfight at the feast of San Isidro. Those stories, he told George Plimpton, were ”The Killers,” ”Ten Indians” and ”Today Is Friday,” and all three are him. Authentically Hemingway because he writes exactly as he is. Sometimes unforgivably so but in those stories he could create the worst excesses–I would still love him all the more for it.
Getting lost also has its challenges. It gives writers, and people, too much freedom. Freedom from responsibility. Perhaps this is why some do their best work ignored. Not because of the lifestyle or misery or something similarly tragicomic. But because the freedom from responsibility is a catalysts for creativity. In this category I would put the French thinker, writer and hero (thank you for allowing me that last word, dear reader) Albert Camus. I remember the most tragic line he ever spoke. “I speak for no one: I have enough difficulty speaking for myself. I am no one’s guide. I don’t know, or I know only dimly, where I am headed.”
What he was reflecting on was his refusal to carry his moral authority, established by his editorials in the post-war publication Combat and his efforts in the Resistance, into the uniquely fragmented (for France as much as the rest of the world) 50s and 60s. He had been lost for so long in the woods that when he stumbled out of them, saw the world’s begging eyes, he simply shut down. Perhaps this has as much to do with the sad reality that he could neither imagine a French Algeria without himself (and those like him) nor an effective policy to create a viable European-Arab Algeria. But in any case I do not think that the reasons were ever clearly demarcated, much less by Camus himself.
Luckily for me, I do not have such responsibilities. No one looks to me. So I can write and hopefully charm. Perhaps just grouse at the world and throw some bitter notes out there. In either event, thank you for reading.