“Someone tells me: this kind of love is not viable. But how can you evaluate viability? Why is the viable a Good Thing? Why is it better to last than to burn?” – Roland Barthes.
Recently, I’ve been feeling very inferior. Somewhat undereducated and woefully under-read, I’ve been writing more and feeling increasingly less confident in what I’m writing. Confessional to a fault and driven rather by the burning need for catharsis than any intellectual desire to impart anything to the reader, my effluence of prose is rarely anything more than a pack of drama-laden words hunting for a point. I cover the same ground over and over, seeking for a way to make it more viscerally real rather than identifying new viewpoints, new ideas. This has been panicking me; but I am determined to be panicked no more.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fundamentally flawed to suggest that the confessional, the experiential is, by its nature, not saying anything more than ‘this is what happened, this is how I feel’. The greatest joy of conversation is (or, more accurately, should be) the connection that we make to other people. Performative conversation is a fascinating thing; two people peacocking knowledge is inherently competitive and can be as stimulating for the external viewer as any real-life cock fight. Intellectually, these conversations stimulate me, but they are not the ones I remember with any bursting warmth of feeling. Instead, it’s the conversations I have in the half dark, one bottle of wine in, where secrets are revealed and you feel the reaching out of another’s soul to yours. I feel the same about literature.
Yes, I seek out intellectual stimulation, but it is the books that have kept me up until 3am, awash with tears that I return to again and again. The dismissal of emotive novels as ‘women’s literature’ is often founded on the fact that they are perceived as falling into this latter category. Ultimately, can the outpouring of emotion, so often seen as a feminine trait, ever have the same value as the perceived-masculine intellectual? If my writing is more interested in touching your heart than engaging your head, is it inherently lesser? As I’ve said, recently I’ve been increasingly concerned that it is.
Today, however, I’ve taken a bit of time to actually think about it, without any outside influence, and I’m a lot less convinced. The argument that the intellectual is more worthwhile than the experiential doesn’t hold any sway with me. There is plenty of literature, mostly written by dead white men, to be discussed in pubs by boys who only smoke Marlboroughs, only wear black, and self-confess to being ‘dead inside’. These are not the people I write for, they have enough literature for their disappointing experience. They have the privilege of smugly transcending the experiential – our whole society is geared towards their experience of the world.
Instead, I write for me. I write for the girl that is huddled under her covers, setting the duvet on fire with the bedside lamp, and crying with relief that someone else has experienced what she’s going through. I write for the girl checking out books she isn’t allowed to read from the library and covering them in a different dustjacket. I write for the first heartbreak, and for the strength that is in the softness to let it keep happening. I write for the determination to think what you like, and the enormous triumph that is when you don’t have the privilege of encouraged freedom of thought. I write for the woman that girl will become. I write for the intellectual awakening that occurs through the experiential awakening. For myself and, if it touches you, for you.
Certainly, my writing has something of the teenage obsession with strength of emotion, but I’m not convinced that this in itself is a weakness. I don’t write as a performance, to make people wonder at my enormous intellect, at my ground-breakingly spurious mental somersaults. I write so that just one person can say: that helps, that touches my soul. After all, as one eminent dead white man said – why is it better to last than to burn?