Most writers live in their own little utopias. I suppose that’s what differentiates a good writer from a mediocre one – the good writer builds a world for himself where he’d rather be; drama and passion and violence and purpose when his life might be full of excessive misery or even just an immense tedium. He writes from a place of suffering.
I’ve often wonder why Russian novels are so remarkable – and why Russian novelists are so famous. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn. And I suppose it’s for this reason.
The ideological left is better at novels than we are; they say it’s because they are dreamers and we are more practical. Perhaps it is exactly what makes their art better – more inspiring – that also causes the epic failures of their political projects again and again. The appeal to creativity; the dreamers and hopers – those who can create in their own minds wonderful worlds independent of the individual wills of other humans. But who can never seem to get the humans to cooperate, when it comes time to laying pipe and mortar. The suffering of their souls expressed in their motivations that more practical people reject as unwanted or unneeded.
What I do know is that I find my own little utopias to be quite livable indeed; and I often go back to them in moments of stress or on days like today when I’m just a little sad. They are usually faraway places, and grand – my utopias are. In “The Lieutenant” it’s an idyllic beach-village where the residents drink rum all day long as they fish, and all night they fry their catches and tell stories of significance; where the rum does not inebriate and there is no hunger. In “The Burning” it is a quiet monastery hidden away high in the Andes, where priests of a past age wait patiently for their visitors – where the ale is sweet and dishes clean themselves; in “Misrule” I suppose it’s probably a lush valley in the High Atlas Mountains when all the protagonist Aliuf has known is desert, heat and suffering. And in “The Camps” – which I haven’t released yet – it is a quiet tented lodge away from the maddening poverty and the violent pursuits of the ruffians.
Yes, if I were to be honest with myself I would admit that I too am somewhat of a Utopian. Each of these places I describe in my novels exists beyond the laws of supply and demand which in our world makes life livable, tolerable – but in our novels just get in the way. Who wants to read a story about fitting pipes together, drilling wells or shucking oysters? It’s exactly because I don’t have to stress about how the luxury is provided; who pays the bills, who builds the rooms and cooks the food and cleans the bathrooms and generates the electricity; that the power is held.
Entering into the mundane destroys the magic.
In our world, we do certainly need them both, don’t we? The novelist who can conjure a glistening village clinging to the tops of jungle trees in the Amazon, who can create a Djinn to preserve ancient Islamic works of philosophy and who can summon an exotic village and perch it in perpetuity on idyllic sands; and also the businessmen who plan their enterprises, the accountants who make the figures add up, the plumbers to assure the pipes don’t leak and the bricklayers who make the wall stand.
Nevertheless in this world there certainly appears to be more of a place for the latter – when the former are relegated to poverty if they aren’t locked away in the darkness.
I’ve been a little disappointed lately in the world – as I’m sure you’ve figured; or at least can understand. Because it seems unjust (not unfair – the term fair is one I don’t accept); it seems unjust that those with so much to offer humanity must undergo such a rough time of it. Eight years in the gulag for Solzhenitsyn; similar time for Sharanksy; hell, Leo Africanus was enslaved on a pirate ship for five years.
Maybe it’s essential, I tell myself. Perhaps it is just this type of stress that molds so great a character – the process of natural selection killing off the imperfect talents. Perhaps this is why American literary landscape has become such a barren place; occupied as it is by the stories of those who have never had to suffer, strive or fight or create utopias to escape their misery or defeat their monsters.
Wealth without work. A following without skill. Bad books crowding out the good ones.
My writer friends, those who are honest and real, know exactly what I’m saying; those who don’t, well I suppose they are the problem.