Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Actually, Some Thoughts on Biographies and Creative Writing Graduates

I keep starting this piece and then deleting it again. Because it's blindingly obvious, but I'm going to say it anyway. It follows on from the beginning of the last post. And the German article that refers to is now online here.

We don't want writers to be bland people. We want Bukowski and Kerouac, we want addicts and victims of tragic deaths and people who claw their way up from the gutter. We want JK Rowling writing in cafés while her kids are at school. We want rock stars like Patti Smith and spies like John Le Carré. We want Annemarie Schwarzenbach with her permissive aristocratic background and her opium habit, we want Kafka with all his failed engagements and his consumption, we want Hilbig drinking himself to death, we want Walser with that last insane walk in the snow, we want Irmgard Keun going off with that crazy drunk Joseph Roth and then forgotten for years, we want Fallada drinking himself to death, we even still want Grass with his self-denial and his eight kids with four different mothers. We want a narrative of desperation, we want to kid ourselves that writers lead more exciting lives than we do so that not only their books but also the imaginary backdrop to them are part of a cathartic experience for us. Suffer, will you, so I don't have to.

And then they go and get a degree in creative writing and they come from stable family backgrounds because who else would study something as unpromising and whimsical as that. And they do, they really do lead perfectly normal, conventional lives, and the men get married to younger women they met at university and wait a sensible period before having children and buy homes in up-and-coming areas and they probably even have cleaning ladies for all I know. It's a terrible disappointment, I know, and I wish they wouldn't do it. I'm not even being sarcastic. It makes my life look so messy in comparison, even though on a scale from one to Irmgard Keun, my life is at the tidy end.

But they do it, and that means all the writers who don't fit into that dull mould get the more interesting details of their lives splashing over into reviews – exile, prison, exotic past jobs (for exotic read: jobs that journalists would never consider doing). I'm hoping, however, that even the sons and daughters of doctors and teachers will become more interesting as they get older; maybe get divorced from the younger women with the stable jobs, maybe pick up an addiction to gambling or ritalin, maybe start painting or playing music on the side or go in for polygamy or some of those other mid-life distractions. And perhaps, just perhaps, some of them are already doing some of these things, only very discreetly, and it has no influence whatsoever on whether their writing is good or not.

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