To Embody The Moment Without Trying

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-06-10 17:00:00 No comments

With so many of us glued to the TV right now, I'm going to do my best not to repeat what you're likely to get about all that here. Instead I'm going to revisit something I've talked about on and off in the last several posts: Whatever kinds of work I'm being driven to write, the chaos of the moment is shaping me to do it, but not in a way that might be obvious.

Every day I have to fight the impulse to just squirrel away somewhere and write things that are untouched by my moment. "Pure" fantasy, "absolute" escapism. The problem is twofold. One, I know that's not possible. Back in 2017, after the election dust had settled, I remember reading an article about some contemptible schlub who went out of his way at absurd length to avoid hearing any news, because it upset him. (I don't know what happened to him, but I don't think he was able to seal himself off for long.) There is no life that is sealing-away from life, because that is the beginning of death, and maybe it is in fact just death itself.

The other problem is, I know full well the only truly interesting work is possible when it's done as a product of your experience in this world, whether nourishing or painful. You cannot turn your back on the world and produce anything that has genuine merit, anything that is designed to return to the world and make it a fractionally better place with its presence. All you can do in such a place is write longingly about what never was or could be, or write elegies for what once was and never can be again.

Maybe Tolkien was capable of such a hideaway act. His response to the atrocity that was the Great War was to lose himself in his scholarly work, and to use it as the wellspring for something that was the product of pure imagination as unmoored from modernity as possible. But to me the result was not so much a transcendence of modernity as a repudiation of it, an embodiment of the idea that the turning of time cannot be anything other than lamented, something that for me hangs heavy over ever page of his work even at its most spirited.

We're creatures of our moment in time and space, and there's only so much we can do about that. This should, however, not be an excuse for quiescence. It's just a recognition that you don't need to force the hand of influence on yourself. If you're good and mad about the state of the world, and you want to embed that anger in a work, I can't stop you, but I will say that you may only end up embedding the anger and not much else. And people can get that anger anywhere. Maybe see what else you have to give them.

Tags: creativity these troubled times