Monday, May 9, 2011

Carlo Gébler on Writing

Exerpt from Gébler's 'A life in literature, or, what you may lose by becoming a writer' in Some Blind Alleys.

I am also bitter. I hope it doesn’t show, but I am. I am so fucked off with how the world has gone to the dogs and in particular that little bit of the world I think I care about most, which is the Kingdom of Literature: for on top of the abolition of the Net Book Agreement, all sorts of other deleterious developments have worsened the lot of writers (at least in these islands) over the last fifteen years, among which, and in no particular order, are the following: the rise of branding; the enslavement of publishers to media endorsement by celebrity presenters; the obsession with the physical appearance of writers which in turn has meant publishers demand ever younger, ever more photogenic authors; the decline of the editor in publishing houses in order to save money; the abandonment by publishers of the idea that writers have lifelong careers and that given the right support over a lengthy period they can develop; the failure of payment for literary endeavour either to keep pace with inflation or to reflect the actual amount of labour involved in literary production; the atrophy of community (writers have never been more marginal and their enterprise more quixotic and ridiculous); and, finally, the eclipse of literary forms that once helped writers to survive, such as the short story, especially the short story broadcast on radio.

I know this is just the way things go. I also know others have it worse than me, and their reasons for embitterment are more convincing than mine. Perhaps the greatest loss I have experienced by becoming a professional writer is that I no longer care about others, that I no longer want to hear their reasons. I give very little time (actually, no time) to those who are in trouble like me, whether fellow writers or fellow citizens: I’m blind to them: no, all that I see are the writers in front of me, the writers more successful than I am, those being reviewed and rewarded, féted and praised, loved and stroked, fluffed and fellated, and so on and so forth. I am filled with covetousness. I am enraged by their success. I watch these success stories obsessively and I judge myself against them; I measure myself against them. I do this all day, every day. I can’t stop. It is pointless and harmful: what I learn with monotonous regularity from these comparisons is always this: they are doing better, and I am doing worse.

I tell myself that these writers are competitors, and I try to reassure myself that while they may be successful – some of them, of course, deserve success; I have not lost all common sense – they are not as good as I am. But the reassurance is meaningless because no matter how often I assert this, it won’t and doesn’t change anything: they’re still ahead and I’m still behind. Nothing is going to change. No one is listening. There is no god listening to me and offering to pluck me from the rear of the field and pop me down at the front. That isn’t going happen. I am where I am and there I stay.

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