sir pump and sir brazil
The first piece of literature that really got to me was the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner. Being eight or so, I didn't understand where the undercurrent of melancholy was coming fromof course, now that I've had six years of college-level training in literary analysis, I can say the subtext is that Christopher Robin is finally growing up and leaving behind Pooh & everyone else. Endings.
They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by and by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the forest called Galleons Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it. Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor of the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.
"Pooh, promise you won't forget about me, ever. Not even when I'm a hundred."
Pooh thought for a little.
"How old shall I be then?"
"I promise," he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw.
"Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if Iif I'm not quite" he stopped and tried again"Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"
And then, when I was eighteen, I read John Gardner:
To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write with the assumption that one out of a hundred people who read one's work may be dying, or have some loved one dying; to write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on. This is not to say, of course, that the writer who has no personal experience of pain and terror should try to write about pain and terror, or that one should never write lightly, humorously; it is only to say that every writer should be aware that he might be read by the desperate, by people who might be persuaded toward life or death. It does not mean, either, that writers should write moralistically, like preachers. And above all it does not mean that writers should lie. It means only that they should think, always, of what harm they might inadvertently do and not do it. If there is good to be said, the writer should remember to say it. If there is bad to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living. The true artist is never so lost in his imaginary world that he forgets the real world, where teenagers have a chemical propensity toward anguish, people between their thirties and forties have a tendency to get divorced, and people in their seventies have a tendency toward loneliness, poverty, self-pity and sometimes anger. The true artist chooses never to be a bad physician.
I need to believe that some moral good inheres in the process of writing, because the insular and introverted existence necessary to this vocation is exposing me to all kinds of moral dangers: narcissism, selfishness, self-obsession. If none of this results in any benefit to the worldif personal fulfillment or (minor) literary celebrity are my only hopes in doing thisthen I ought to throw in the towel right now and go devote the rest of my life to feeding orphans or something. I am trying to figure this out. I had the start of a dialectic going:
Q: Would it have been a greater benefit to the world, had Joyce or Yeats abandoned writing and devoted their lives to feeding orphans?
Q: Am I Joyce or Yeats?
Q: Does one need to be on a par with Joyce or Yeats for one's work to have a definite moral good? If not, where is the cutoff? How do you know?