Friday, January 28, 2011

"Flacidity and Casualness" - What Makes a Serious Writer?

Geoff Kloske, the head of Riverhead Books, says in this article on Slate.com: "More, I fear, there is a flaccidity and casualness of style that has come from writing habits born out of e-mail and social media."

Is this true, this charge of "flacidity and casualness?" If so, this blogger who has been blogging and writing emails since the invention of the internet is most guilty. Mea Culpa. What makes a serious writer?

Of late I have become a fan of Twitter and have 251 followers on it. They say it is micro blogging. Journalism is literature in a hurry, blogging is journalism in a hurry, and what is Twittering? Is it blogging in a hurry? Seems like it. I don't know most of the people who follow me but my network is growing. I am told some people have millions of followers. Are they essentially friends, fans, or just followers. How does one define a "follower?" Who is he/she? A friend, a former love interest - someone whose name (at one time) you would carve on your school desk or cut on the bark of a tree -, a childhood friend, a family member, what?

I remember when letter writing was an art. I used to write a monthly letter to my parents who were settled in Kerala. My mother used to collect all these letters. When I would go on my annual holiday I would read these letters and get an idea of my state of mind, my turmoil and tumult when I wrote these letters. Now, after her death, nobody (not even I) cared to preserve these letters. They are lost. I had a printed personal letterhead for the purpose. I still have a personal printed letterhead, but I hardly write letters these days. Letters have been replaced by phone calls and emails.

എഴുത്ത് വരാറുണ്ടോ? എഴുത്ത് അയക്കണം, കേട്ടോ?
पहून्च्तेही चिट्टी लिखना. चिट्टी आ रहा है न?
पाहून्च्ल्याच पत्र पाठवा. पत्र येत आहे ना?
 
"Send a letter soon after you reach," used to be a constant reminder to a traveling relative. "Are letters coming?" used to be another enquiry about a son/husband who has gone to the Persian Gulf for a job. However, now the art of the letter has been lost, and seems irredeemable. When I was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia I used to write to my wife every week. A letter was still a treasured thing as recently as the 1990s. Alas and alack! No more.

One used to put a lot of effort in composing a letter. Those days receiving and reading a letter meant a lot. They would be pored over, smiled over, wept over, and then preserved. It wasn't literature but it was nearly that, the dilettante's effort to imitate the talented writer. We were spectators of the fascinating world of literature. Letters of great people were compiled into books. These days one would rather write emails and spend time on being the writer one admired in childhood. Guess, we have become more ambitious and venal. The thinking seems to be: we have a computer, we know typing (or, pecking), why don't we write a novel, a travelogue, a definitive piece of non-fiction? Today we are participants in the fascinating world of literature, not mere spectators.

Is this a good thing? I don't know. One thing is sure. A lot more people who have laptops are writing novels these days. After all, what does it take? Imagination and typing ability. I felt empathy for a youth who produced a huge tome (he called it a novel) from his bag - he had painstakingly written it and bound it into the form of a book - and called it a "monumental work." He seemed a young chap with a lot of humour in him, but when it came to his, what I may call faux-novel, he was all seriousness. We are all victims of our own deceptions. He doesn't realise that it's them - the apparently unresponsive world so lost in its own contradictions - that should call it "monumental", "seminal" or whatever.

Even I may be misguided in my quest for publishing glory. What the heck, I tried. I will not die without having tried.

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