Wednesday, 23 August 2017 / Leave a Comment

People often ask: Why do writers’ write? (or painters’ paint or sculptors’ sculpt, for that matter.) In my own narrow experience, I think writers’ write in search of meaning and understanding. For instance, Hubert Selby Jnr wrote The Willow Tree to try and understand the true nature of hatred, not just what compels people to commit evil, hateful acts (be it the Nazis in World War II or the violent street gang of the book) but what that hate can do to the victim, instilling in them dangerous bitter impulses – revenge being the most prevalent - how a person has to forgive, to let go of that hate before it consumes them whole, turning them into even more evil, hateful figures than the original perpetrators of the evil, hateful act. If not, where would it end, where would we find ourselves if every calculated or random act of hatred and violence was met with the same hateful and violent force?

In Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky asks the question: Is one person’s life more valuable than another person’s life? Is a grubby, exploitative money-lender’s existence less important than that of an impoverished but no doubt kind and worthy student, a man of promise and integrity? If said student Raskolnikov takes that money-lender’s life but redeems himself in later years, performing countless good deeds, could he, in some very significant way, absolve himself of that greatest of all sins: murder?

In Lolita, Nabokov tries to understand the mind of a predatory paedophile, a man infected with a dangerous, sickening obsession, perhaps he tries to understand the nature of obsession itself, a mono-mania far more destructive than Ahab’s pursuit of that famous white whale, and the devastatingly ruinous impact that can have on the lives of everybody involved.

Hemingway wrote Death in the Afternoon not (perhaps unwittingly) to chronicle the drama of the bullfight, the glorious bravery of the matador, man against fearsome almost mythological horned beast, but more the essential degradation of existence, the sadistic, unnecessary cruelty we inflict upon each other in our everyday lives. And how, like the sharks attacking the marlin fastened to the fishing boat in another of Hemingway’s tales The Old Man and the Sea, there are dangerous parasitic forces at work in life, and all we can do, like the noble spiked bull at the culmination of any bullfight, is endure our pain and suffering with as much dignity as possible.

Did Kafka really write all those incredible stories – Metamorphosis, The Trial (to name just two) – to try and understand his relationship with his domineering father? Did the sense of alienation, his smallness in front of this monolithic patriarch, really make him feel like an insect, did the father/son relationship really make him feel as he were being accused of a crime he didn’t commit (perhaps the crime of being born itself).

Then we have a counter-, not so much argument, but -point. Why does anyone do anything in life? Why, since time immemorial, have we as a race of people strove to subsist, create, invent? Why have we attempted to exit the Earth’s atmosphere, walk on the moon, inoculate against disease, drop the atomic bomb? Why do writers’ really write? – because they want to express themselves, or because they want money, fame, recognition, to be seen as all-knowing geniuses, gods, immortals, far superior to any other man or woman on the street? Has, over time, the purity of expression itself, for whatever number of reasons – capitalism, the rise of the individual – become as corrupted and profit-driven and cold and calculated as any branch of science or medical research mentioned above, as any field of human endeavour.

The point, counter- or otherwise, that I’m trying to make is this: are there actually more destructive, forces in creation now than we really, truly appreciate? – power, domination, greed, envy, vanity. Why do people exist if they endure so much without ever really understanding why?

Neil Randall’s latest novel The Girl in the Empty Room is now available. Click on the link below to purchase your copy of the book today:


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