Isherwood on Writing

Very important advice:

“…thinking about writing and getting excited about the wonderful writing that you are going to do is the most dangerous occupational vice of a writer. The thing to do is to get something down on the paper, and then you have something to work on.”

Isherwood on Writing. p. 135

“On the level of human suffering and struggle the novelist obviously has to be involved, engaged. He has to mind that people suffer, he has to condemn the bad and rejoice in the good. … He has to have a moral code. Every writer who really has any kind of vitality has some sort of moral code. … What matters is the intensity with which this struggle on the human level is realized. […]

“He is also the eternal, who looks down upon everything and enjoys it. Because, of course, in the world of art if something is well done it is enjoyable. One has to face the fact that the most dreadful descriptions of agonizing death are, artistically speaking, just as enjoyable as great love scenes or charming scenes of domestic happiness with children. … This sense of joy, of contact with life, of the vitality of life, can be related to any set of circumstances or characters you choose to name. […]

“He has to have, I suppose one can say, compassion. He has to see the just and the unjust as being all his children.

What is the nerve of interest in the novel?, 66.

If the writer has managed to meld human passion and divine compassion, the result is, as he said of Hemingway’s “The Capital of the World”:

… not in the least depressing. It is in fact full of this strange joy in the experience of all these people. (79)


The theater is a box, a place of imprisonment in which the audience is shut up with the actors. The effects are created by means of claustrophobia: you can’t get out. […]

Remembering that the whole point of the play is that the people are in the theater and cannot leave until they have been dismissed by the working out of the play itself, remembering this, think of Beckett’s extraordinary use of pauses.

A writer and the theater, 91 & 93.

The theater is for speech, and the theater is also for character. … What is the film for? The film is primarily for image and for movement. This thing about image, about the actual, visual effect of something on the screen, can sometimes be very disconcerting.

A writer and the films, 101.

The sound in the film should always be, as it were, balanced against the image and not go with it.

p. 106

In addition, Isherwood outlines the role of the writer as a consumate and socially engaged outsider.

He [the writer] must always hold them [shared beliefs] with the possibility of dissent. Without the freedom to dissent, he is just that much less valuable to the community.
…the truly cooperative and social outsider is one of the most valuable members of the community, and a writer should strive to be such an outsider, sometimes assenting, sometimes dissenting, but always, one hopes, in some way illuminating the problem under discussion.

p. 131 & p. 132

Which reminded me….

Trying to understand other people means destroying the stereotype without denying or ignoring the otherness.

But let us be realistic. These ways of understanding the enemy are the prerogative of poets, saints, or traitors.

Umberto Eco, “Inventing the Enemy.” 2008.

From Isherwood on Writing, 2007.

Week in Review 2019: 001 & 002

Read:

  • Dreams from the Witch House, female voices in Lovecraftian Horror. Lynne Jamneck, ed.
  • Buffalo Soldier. Maurice Broaddus.
  • Wasteland, the Great War and the origins of modern horror. W. Scott Poole.
  • People’s Republic of Everything. Nick Mamatas.
  • Isherwood on Writing. Christopher Isherwood.
  • Neonomicon. Alan Moore.
  • Walking Awake“. N. K. Jemisin.
  • “The Medusa” and “Conversations in a Dead Language”. Thomas Ligotti.
  • Conan and the Little People: Robert E. Howard and Lovecraft’s Theory. Bobby Derie.

Watched:

Movies

  • Aquaman (2018)
  • Hereditary (2018)
  • Empire Records (1995)
  • Dumplin’
  • The Fundamentals of Caring
  • [Partial] Lovesong
  • [Partial] You Might Be the Killer

TV Shows

  • The Orville
  • Bull
  • Brooklyn 99
  • The Good Place
  • Deadly Class
  • Black Books
  • Red Oaks
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (2010)

The article by Bobby Derie left me with more questions than answers, mainly: what exactly did Victorian anthopologists think was happening in pre-historic Europe? I have yet to fully understand what Margaret Alice Murray means when she speaks of a “dwarf race which once inhabited Northern and Western Europe” in her book The Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921).

I wonder which aspects of our own scientific presumptions will seem equally as arcane to future generations.

While the article is an excellent survey of the ways in which scientific racism influenced Lovecraft in his view of the world, it was lacking a strong critical voice. Given the present moment, it continues to feel irresponsible to repeat the racist and/or unsubstantiated claims of any past or current thinker without any recognition of its defects. (This was something Poole does very effectively and correctly in Wasteland, which I especially appreciated about the book.)


I have a lot of thoughts about how Aquaman, despite its critique of Lovecraft’s racist attitudes nevertheless bought in to and propagated a number of racial themes which comprise the subtle aspects of Lovecraft’s racism.

But they need a little more time to percolate.


Without getting into all of it, The People’s Republic of Everything was absolutely amazing. The novella Under My Roof which finishes the collection is a hilarious and incisive look at the nature and meaning of borders, nationalism, and citizenship.

It seemed hilariously a propos that I should find the following quote from Isherwood after finishing Mamatas’ book:

…this psycho-nuclear revolution, the invention of the atomic devices, has rendered their nationalism obsolete.

Christopher Isherwood, Isherwood on Writing. 151.

On the topic of nationalisms, I particularly enjoyed the view of an alternate North America as presented in Buffalo Soldier. I struggled with some of the action scenes in the book – my inner eye seems to like action sequences as much as my outer eyes do… Which is to say, “Not much.” But the chance to visit a North America that could have been, one where Western expansion is halted, and where the First Nations have a chance for self-determination was beautiful and heartbreaking.


I don’t want to linger on the topic as most of what I needed to say about sexual assault and Neonomicon has already been said on Twitter. But I had one interesting revelation, nonetheless.

One of the reasons I find the narrative turn from a supernatural, existential horror to the comparatively mundane horror of sexual assault so disappointing is that it is a horror which does not require aliens or time travel or a complete paradigm shift. It is merely someone opening the box of Shroedinger’s ego-death (as effected by a denial of personhood) to reveal what femme individuals have always known: Our sujectivity and agency never mattered, at all. It is not an apotheosis, but an inevitability.


Pulled from the draft pages:

The impossible will always be able to recognize itself. All monsters are kin.

06 JAN 2019