A nice profile in the FT, of a writer that I’d never come across, Denis Johnson, who died last May. Sounds like his stuff is worth a try, but I’m quoting his description of a writer’s life here. A lyrical ode to his modus operandi. Sounds kind of fun, and blogging is, perhaps, its pale imitation:
“Writing. It’s easy work . . . You make your own hours, mess around the house in your pajamas, listening to jazz recordings and sipping coffee while another day makes its escape . . . Bouts of poverty come along, anxiety, shocking debt, but nothing lasts forever. I’ve gone from rags to riches and back again, and more than once. Whatever happens to you, you put it on a page, work it into a shape, cast it in a light. It’s not much different, really, from filming a parade of clouds across the sky and calling it a movie — although it has to be admitted that the clouds can descend, take you up, carry you to all kinds of places, some of them terrible, and you don’t get back where you came from for years and years.”
Illicit pleasures, whatever they are – drugs, sex, you name it – pall rapidly, but they often continue for extended periods, even lifetimes, because of the difficulties of physical, mental and emotional addiction, and sometimes the sheer logistics of breaking free.
Licit pleasures though, can fade too, becoming drab and humdrum, sometimes more quickly than with forbidden fruit: music, for example. When I first heard Beethoven’s astounding Emperor Concerto, I played it again and again and again. I couldn’t get enough of it. That was years ago. In this consumer driven world I have to admit that I probably have about 15 different recordings of it, impelled partly by an urge to recreate that original buzz from back in 1984. I never have. I can still enjoy it, but the thrill is gone.
We’ve probably all experienced that ennui or hollowness in relation to something we previously couldn’t get enough of.
What is that about? Is it really just the old cliche that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’? Actually, it’s not that I no longer admire/respect/love the work, it’s more that it no longer satisfies. Consumers – myself included – spend a lot of time and money on trying to recreate that initial feeling.
…let it not cleave too close in love to things through the senses of the body. For they go their way and are no more; and they rend the soul with desires that can destroy it, for it longs to be one with the things it loves and to repose in them. But in them is no place of repose, because they do not abide, they pass, and who can follow them with any bodily sense? Or who can grasp them firm even while they are still here?
Our fleshly sense is slow because it is fleshly sense: and that is the limit of its being. It can do what it was made to do; but it has no power to hold things transient as they run their course from their due beginning to their due end.
That was St Augustine, the most modern of the ancient writers, in his Confessions (Sheed translation – recommended) who would I think completely understand the vicissitudes encouraged by technology and easy access to all sorts of media and entertainment in the 21st century. He was in part referring to his failure to cope after the unexpected death of his closest friend, but he applies it equally to our material treats and desires.
You might think, being a saint, that he automatically turned to God and religion. Not so, he held off for as long as he could (hence his most famous saying), and he describes it with a degree of reflection and wit that means, like Beethoven, he’s one of those figures from the past who is ‘contemporary forever’.