The Tyranny of the Aphoristic Mood…

by rsbakker

To write is to judge.

To write is to fume and to pine, to hanker and to despise.

To write is to hope.

To write is to dwell in contradiction: to be all-powerful within the text, and utterly helpless without. Nothing is so egotistical and frail as the written word. To dictate meaning to another soul. To remain pinned to the page, motionless, while the thoughts you would tether run cruel, cruel circles.

To write is to seize another’s hands with your throat.

To write is to be a forgotten Son of God, more abject than divine. To write is to be the saviour of those who do not even care to crucify you.

To write is to be confronted with your own infancy, to find yourself stranded at your beginning, again and again and again. Either you are a witness to your irrelevance–because the words come when they come–or you stand stuttering, shouldering the indeterminate future.

To write is to continually speak into the absence of having anything to say. The beautiful babble.

To write is to be soundless.

To write is to offer yourself up as tinder so that others might burn.

To write is to be a cynic, laughing at the meek, crying for the bold. To write is to be earnest, to chisel verities into the stone of history–to be a Sayer of What Has Been Said.

To write is to make a parade of your thoughts, a carnival of your bigotries. Ink is your garish cosmetic. Images are your stunts. To write is to explain the aphonia of clowns.

To write is to take yourself way too seriously. You rehearse and revise, rehearse and revise, until you begin thinking in catechisms, speaking in parables. Until your friends begin to fear you…

Second guess the stories you pretend to tell.


Feeling very aphoristic today, if you can’t tell. Don’t get me wrong: I despise the Cult of the Writer. I actually find it difficult watching movies where the main character is a writer: they just seem to reek of vanity. I grew up in troubled household, busting my ass in burning fields. The life I now lead seems preposterous for it’s freedom and ease. I have this abiding feeling that at any moment the productivity police are going to come up to my table and politely ask me not to make a scene.

So why are so many writers heros? Aside from good old human psychology, I blame it on the old ‘Write What You Know’ literary maxim.

Like so many literary maxims it sounds appealing at first blush. After all, how can you be honest–authentic–unless you write ‘what you know.’ But like all maxims it has a flip side: Telling practitioners what they should do is at once telling them what they should not do. Telling writers to only write what they know is telling them to studiously avoid all the things their lives lack–adventure, romance, spectacle–which is to say, the very things that regular people crave.

So this maxim has the happy side-effect of policing who gets to communicate to whom, and so securing the institutional boundaries of the literary specialist. Not only is real culture left to its own naive devices, it becomes the unflagging foil, a kind of self-congratulatory resource, one that can be tapped over and over again to confirm the literary writer’s sense of superiority. Thus all the writerly heros, stranded in seas of absurdity.

Hasn’t anyone smelled this rat before?

Kind of feeling like the lunatic in the wilderness today.