Sunday 5 March 2017

Conflicts Unresolved

The Romantic notion ... is that life is so horrible that it is the artistic duty of a man of higher sensibility to spurn its vulgar attractions, to subvert its possibilities, and in general to get it over and done with, making as few concessions to normality as possible. 'Art' (and the word is baleful in this context since it adds a spurious nobility to the process of avoiding Nature) will be the goal of the life-hater. Writing may thus be seen as a form of conversion hysteria.
'Sick Servants of the Quill' (1981), Soundings
It was the sad and desperate determination of Baudelaire, Jules de Goncourt, Flaubert, Maupassant and Daudet to regard the act of writing as the justification of an otherwise unlived life. This it was. But they did not believe, as so many non-writers believe, that writing was a therapeutic exercise.
Haffenden: You make your novels sound like a sort of self-therapy.
Brookner: Well, if it were therapy I wish it had worked. It doesn't work that way, which is why I have to keep on doing it. [...] It's a very perverse energy which has gone into the novels - conversion hysteria, I would say.
John Haffenden, Novelists in Interview, 1985
... I have changed. Now I write because I enjoy it. Writing has freed me from the despair of living. I feel well when I am writing; I even put on a little weight!

Art as a compulsive activity, related to sickness; art as perverse, a failed form of self-therapy; and yet art as a vindication for an unlived life; art as an antidote to despair: contradictions and hesitancies are everywhere evident in Anita Brookner's utterances on the subject. They are probably attempts on her part to make sense of a largely unplanned and unexpected second career. That career would continue over many years, eventually producing a substantial body of work. And what did it mean? What did it amount to? As Brookner says at the end of 'Sick Servants of the Quill', 'the only cure for the pains of living that writing brings about is the most final cure of all'.

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