Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Angel of Inspiration


I had no sooner posted yesterday's entry on inspiration than I picked up the Winter Fiction issue of The New Yorker which had just arrived in the mail (two weeks late, typical for Hawaii periodicals delivered by mail), and In found in it Orhan Pamuk's eloquent and thought-provoking 2006 Nobel Prize address, "My Father's Suitcase," in which he talks, among other things, about writing in general and inspiration in particular. Funny how things connect sometimes. Some excerpts, with highlights:

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, the image that first comes to mind is not a novel, a poem, or a literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at table, and alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man—or this woman— may use a typewriter, or profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I do. As he writes, he may drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time, he may rise from his table to look out the window at the children playing in the street, or, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or even at a black wall. He may write poems, or plays, or novels, as I do. But all these differences arise only after the crucial task is complete—after he has sat down at the table and patiently turned inward. To write is to transform that inward gaze into words, to study the worlds into which we pass when we retire into ourselves, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy.

If a writer is to tell his own story—to tell it slowly, and as if it were a story about other people—if he is to feel the power of the story rise up inside him, if he is to sit down at a table and give himself over to this art, this craft, he must first be given some hope. The angel of inspiration (who pays regular visits to some and rarely calls on others) favors the hopeful and the confident, and it is when a writer feels most lonely, when he feels most doubtful about his efforts, his dreams, and the value of his writing, when he thinks that is story is only his story—it is at such moments that the angel chooses to reveal to him the images and dreams that will draw out the world he wishes to build. If I think back on the books to which I have devoted my life, I am most surprised by those moments when I felt as if the sentences and pages that made me ecstatically happy came not from my own imagination but from another power, which had found them and generously presented them to me.

Discontent is the basic trait that turns a person into a writer. Patience and toil are not enough: first, we must feel compelled to escape crowds, company, the stuff of ordinary life, and shut ourselves up in a room. The precursor of this sort of independent writer—one who reads to his heart’s content, who, by listening only to the voice of his own conscience, disputes others’ words, and who, by entering into conversation with his books, develops his own thoughts and his own world—was surely Montaigne, in the earliest days of modern literature. Montaigne was a writer to whom my father returned often, a writer he recommended to me. I would like to see myself as belonging to the tradition of writers who—wherever they are in the world, East or West—cut themselves off from society and shut themselves up in their rooms with their books; this is the starting point of true literature.

A writer talks of things that we all know but do not know that we know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader visits a world that is at once familiar and miraculous. When a writer uses his secret wounds as his starting point, he is, whether he is aware of it or not, putting great faith in humanity. My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble one another, that others carry wounds like mine—and that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that we resemble one another. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end, with this gesture he suggests a single humanity, a world without a center.

I write because I have an innate need to write. I write because I can’t do normal work as other people do. I write because I want to read books like the ones I write. I write because I am angry at everyone. I write because I love sitting in a room all day writing. I write because I can partake of real life only by changing it. I write because I want others, the whole world, to know what sort of life we lived, and continue to live, in Istanbul, in Turkey. I write because I love the smell of paper, pen, and ink. I write because I believe in literature, in the art of the novel, more than I believe in anything else. I write because it is a habit, a passion. I write because I am afraid of being forgotten. I write because I like the glory and interest that writing brings. I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at everyone. I write because I like to be read. I write because once I have begun a novel, an essay, a page I want to finish it. I write because everyone expects me to write. I write because I have a childish belief in the immortality of libraries, and in the way my books sit on the shelf. I write because it is exciting to turn all life’s beauties and riches into words. I write not to tell a story but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but—as in a dream—can’t quite get to. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.

1 comment:

bluedevil said...

the other element of pamuk's address that spoke to less directly but to inspiration (especially for high school students) was his ongoing feeling of being on the margins, isolated from the "real" activity happening in the west and elsewhere. it took him a long time to be comfortable in istanbul and in his life as a writer. everyone (especially students) can identify with the frustration of feeling on the edges, and in his case it was clearly a useful spur to write