As I read the latest edition of The New Republic which featured remarks about three writers — FranzKafka, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Virginia Woolf — I concluded they all agreed that writing is work. Kafka struggled deep into the night so that he might labor without distractions to experience, “a complete opening of the body and soul.” (“The Particularity of Genus,” by Cynthia Ozick, The New Republic, April 2014, pg. 38.)
The second point on which all three authors concur is that to find truth one must escape the entrapment of ordinary life. Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, explains that “to create literature of lasting value, a writer must try to carve out a freedom from the strictures of society, to stand outside the realm where consideration comes before honesty.” (“The Man Who Wrote too much,” by Evan Hughes, The New Republic, April 2014 pg 34.)
For Kafka truth was found in the solitude of near madness. For Virginia Wolfe it was observed objectively and written down “calmly and completely” without wasting talent on “fears, discriminations and hatreds.” (Virginia Woolf on Women,” remarks by Louise Bogan reprinted from a review written 12/18/1929 on Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, The New Republic, April 2014, pg. 2) For Knausgaard, it is to write without thinking of the consequences. (Ibid, pg. 32)
But, like Socrates, I am inclined to ask if artists of any medium can be trusted with Truth? Their truth, like anyone else’s, is the product of their experience, extended a little by imagination. That being the case, then objective Truth is delusional. The quest for reality becomes a fool’s errand. How any author can speak about Truth strikes me as curious. Yet the general view among these three writers is that art must cut to the bone, banishing, as Woolf counsels, all softness and sentiment. (Ibid. pg. 2) Yet in what way does sentiment and softness error? Are they not as true a part of human psychology as rage and fear?
Though not a writer of talent compared to these whose judgment I question, I remain unconvinced that truth must always lie near the jugular. That is too narrow, too macho a view. In my world, truth can be found in the creation of a simple flower arrangement.
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