As I sat listening to my colleague today fairly hammering the keys of his keyboard, it occurred to me that he had probably learned to type on a typewriter decades ago, and had simply never realised that a keyboard is not a system of levers; that there are no letter heads that have to be whammed against the screen. It's amazing how unadaptable human beings are. Once we learn to write with one hand, we could never conceive of writing with the other. I grew up writing stories in a certain style which is probably wearily familar to those who know my work, and it's not so easy to bust out of it.
Imagine that I'm trying to write a story without irony. Can that be so hard? Apparently it is. It seems to be one of those tricks that you can turn on but can't turn off again. I'm even starting to think that I don't even know how un-ironic people even think. For me, it's an act of supreme concentration to describe any scene or action and not be distracted by the irony attached. I don't think I'm the only one; the Hollywood studios have made us very used to detached and knowing fairy tales, laced with grown up references and jokes. Next to these, traditional stories of the Cinderella type seem masterpieces of focus and discipline.
I once read W.G.Sebald's Austerlitz , and found myself stunned by how little one human being has in common with another. To me, his title character came across as a kind of emotional vampire, hunting for vicarious tragedies and feelings that were simply not his own; and yet I'm quite certain that was not the intention of the author, who was probably going more for the poignant-exploration-of-architecture-and-memory thing. I could not read his novel on the one hand, and, say, anything else on the other, and possibly imagine from their respective tones that the protagonists were from the same planet, let alone the same species. Each protagonist would consider the inner life of the other as different from his own as that of a sea slug. And yet in life, by means of social conventions and skills, we generally get on with each other perfectly well, and possibly forget how different we really might be behind our common behaviours.
Personally, I have little idea how a serious person looks at the world. I admire straightforwardness in other writers, but I struggle to even simulate it. Do serious people know they are serious? I can imagine that someone with that kind of in-the-moment clarity might have an incredible potency and direction, free from the distraction of filigree ironies. Or, that they might be permanently bored.
Everything Will Not Be Better Tomorrow -
3 days ago