Enough of a Reason

I have been thinking again recently about Jonathan Franzen's essay Why Bother? in which he explores the experience of writing in a world where the audience has become so small or so remote that literary purpose is paralysed.

Franzen found his way out of this depressing state when he met a linguistic anthropologist, Shirley Brice Heath, who was conducting research on why people read serious fiction. Heath had discovered that the most dedicated readers were those for whom literature represented membership of an imaginary community. Such people draw from their reading what is tantamount to religious affirmation. To quote Franzen quoting Heath ‘This is… what readers are saying: reading fiction is like reading a particularly rich section of a religious text… Reading makes me a better person… [It] enables me to maintain a sense of something substantive – my ethical integrity, my intellectual integrity.’ Franzen drew hope from his encounter with Heath and found the strength to carry on in a world that is largely indifferent to literature.

I have been wondering if I might draw similar consolation. I think not, on the whole. It is always nice to find people who like what I write and especially gratifying to feel that they found my work life affirming, or some such. That doesn't seem as if it ought to be either a necessary or sufficient reason for doing it, though. As a committed Teapot Buddhist, I am deeply suspicious of connecting the results of creative endeavor with the motivation for doing it. Next thing you know you are working in order to achieve that result and Presto! you have become an educator or a religious guru. No, no, I say. Let's not confuse the function with the need. Let's stick to the essential principle of uselessness. The joy is in the making, no more.

12 September 2008

All these crackpot buddhists ought to be committed, for sure.

And, of course, we might be more impressed if he had any success to renounce.



© Chris Else 2008