To him again: tell him he wears the rose of youth upon him


Since when did being a writer become a career choice, with appropriate degree courses and pecking orders? Does this state of affairs make any difference to what gets written?

At school we were taught two opposing visions of the writer as artist. He might be a skilled craftsman bringing his talent to the service of the community, which rewarded him with recognition and possibly money. This, they told us, was the classical position, as might be found in the Greece of Sophocles, or Virgil’s Rome, or again in Pope’s Augustan Britain. Alternatively the writer might make his own life narrative into art, indifferent to the strictures and censure of society but admired by it precisely because of his refusal to kowtow. This was the Romantic position as it developed in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (…)

As we know, T.S. Eliot rather complicated matters by telling us that the writer had to overcome his personality and find his place in a literary tradition. (…)

Still, none of this prepared us for the advent of creative writing as a “career.” In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed.

{ NY Review of Books | Continue reading }

photo { Tennesse Williams by Richard Avedon }

related { The digitization of over five million books has created a huge dataset of cultural interest. Now researchers are beginning to tease it apart using powerful number-crunching techniques. | Culturomics and the Google Book Project }