The Means (3)

The question of creating – or recreating – difficult (or merely peculiar) circumstances in order to achieve greatness is, of course, a thorny one. In my last post I seemed to praise Jean-Pierre Sertin for setting himself challanges: for imposing deliberate (and carefully managed) restrictions on his literary freedom. I might have cited other writers: Tosca Calbirro, for example, whose last novel was written on a dress, or Laura McLarne, who recently sealed herself into a stone coffin in order to pen a collection of sonnets (Letters from the Grave; Inkspot Books, 2010).

One might argue, however, that more than a smatter of self-indulgence surrounds these projects. This is not to say that they aren’t interesting. Who can blame Calbirro for giving a dress a go? I, for one, admire his pluck. The more literature looks beyond the covers of the common book the better. But doesn’t part of us still wish that he had done this not because he wanted to, but because he had to? To put it another way – was Calbirro’s project driven  by eccentricity or necessity? Did he choose the dress because there were no other conceivable options, or because it was something that no one had ever done before? Do we read Laura McLarne’s poems differently knowing that she actually spent time in a stone coffin? Did she write them differently? Could other writers have done a better job imagining the experience than actually living it?

Some people are sticklers for authenticity. They like their artists to have been through real, not imagined (or, more often, manufactured) difficulties. We write of authenticity’s stamp – but does it have a stamp? Does the mark it leaves represent a significant advance on that left by less authentic methods? I hesitate to provide an answer to this question: I’m not even sure that there is one. The means by which one creates an effect will always raise questions – but it is the effect, the final effect, that we must judge, ultimately. The question, then, is whether the means should have any bearing on the effect.

The rest is a deliberate silence.


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