June 16, 2008

Another way of living

The Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, in his essay, Parable of the tapeworm, included in his book, Letters to a Young Novelist, writes:
Your decision to claim your literary leanings as your destiny must lead you into servitude, into nothing less than slavery. To put it graphically, you've just done what some nineteenth-century ladies, concerned about their weight and determined to recover their slender silhouettes, were reputed to do: you've swallowed a tapeworm.


The literary vocation is not a hobby, a sport, a pleasure leisure-time activity. It is an all-encompassing, all-excluding occupation, an urgent priority, a freely chosen servitude that turns its victims (its lucky victims) into slaves. Like Jose Maria's tapeworm, literature becomes a permanent preoccupation, something that takes up your entire existence, that overflows the hours you devote to writing and seeps into everything else you do, because the literary vocation feeds off the life of the writer just as the tapeworm feeds off the bodies it invades. As Flaubert said: "Writing is just another way of living."
There's a lot more I could quote from the essay - especially the parts where he argues that "the source of the literary vocation, for inventing beings and stories" is rebellion.
I'm convinced that those who immerse themselves in the lucubration of lives different from their own demonstrate indirectly their rejection and criticism of life as it is, of the real world, and manifest their desire to substitute for it the creations of their imagination and dreams.


What matters is that the rejection be strong enough to fuel the enthusiasm for a task as quixotic as tilting at windmills -- the sleight-of-hand replacement of the concrete, objective world of life as it is lived with the subtle and ephemeral world of fiction.
But I better stop here... the essay is best read and enjoyed in its entirety. On to essay # 2, which is intriguingly titled: "The Catoblepas".

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