06 December 2021 13:42
from a young age I have been a passionate reader, while trying to try my hand often and willingly also with writing. Is it my need to write that pushes me to read, or is it the passion for reading that goes beyond its natural boundaries, necessarily leading me to pour this overrun into writing?
your letter reminded me of the first pages of an old book by Elaine Scarry, On beauty and being just. When we are in the presence of a handsome boy, a flower or a bird, Scarry wrote, something very special happens to us. We don’t just watch. That perception seems to incite, or even require, an act of reproduction. “Wittgenstein says that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it. Beauty gives birth to copies of itself “. This generation is incessant:
Beauty, as confirmed by both the Symposium both Plato’s daily life stimulates the conception of children: when the eye sees someone beautiful, the whole body wants to reproduce the person. But it also stimulates – as Diotima tells Socrates – the conception of poems and laws, the works of Homer, Hesiod and Lycurgus. (…) Thus the beauty of Beatrice in New life it forces Dante to write a sonnet, and the writing of that sonnet stimulates the writing of another sonnet.
And so on, endlessly. The right answer to your dilemma, therefore, is probably the second: it is the reading of beautiful things that instigates your desire to write. The Latin motto dear to Nietzsche, either children or books (either having children or making books), often cited to suggest that the two vocations of parent and writer are poorly reconciled or even mutually exclusive, it could be reformulated in a less tragic way as either children or books, without making it a fatal crossroads. Not only can children and books be created, but the two forms of generation have the same impulse at their root, which is to bring copies of beauty to light.
Sure, babies are all beautiful by definition (or we have to pretend to believe it anyway), but what if your book comes out with a scrawl? The answer can be found in the opening words of another essay, Seminar on clichés by Francesco Pacifico:
I have been copying pages of novels that I love for at least ten years. Rewriting them, they pass through my fingertips for a moment and end up on a computer file as if they were my own. In some ways, it’s the same feeling as playing the riff of Johnny B. Goode O Day Tripper. The difference is that to copy a riff you have to know how to play the guitar, maybe even well, so you have earned a bit of the feeling of omnipotence. On the other hand, copying a paragraph from Flaubert is a pure self-gift and gives you the feeling that you have suddenly become a real writer. It doesn’t turn you into Flaubert, but it leaves something. Your fingers can start to get pissed off if you go back to your squashed phrases. Something is held back, and by continuing to steal from the classics by copying beautiful pages, maybe your writing improves.
The difference between books and children, if anything, is another: I know of writers tried for plagiarism, but no one, seeing your daughter, will accuse you of making a miniature copy of your wife.
The bibliopathologist replies is a post column on cultural perversions. If you want to submit your cases, write to [email protected]