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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, April 18, 2008


Something within me has changed in the last few months. It's hard to pinpoint what it is. It shows up in my attitude to various things.

One is my novel and would-be novel series. I feel a deeper sense of seriousness and uniqueness in what I'm doing, along with a reduced feeling of confidence about how to execute it. Maybe this is, in my own field, an instance of what Joseph Campbell felt to be the spiritual story of the modern Western person, the image of which was given in the Grail romances: the questing knight, plunging into the forest right where it was thickest, away from any existing track. The idea was that one's adventure would be unique, unprecedented, and entirely one's own.

Every created work is a combination of the familiar and the new. The proportion of the two is one way in which its uniqueness is expressed. But then there is the mark of quality in all artistic creation, which can be summarized as "making the familiar seem strange, and the strange seem familiar." If the artist can do this, then the whole work, in every detail, will have the feeling of freshness and originality.

I think I'm becoming uncomfortably aware of how, in the past, or up until now, I have consciously or unconsciously borrowed methods and ideas from other works, maybe in the hope of "fitting in" or being accepted. I'm feeling an increased desire to get away from that--and also a certain anxiety about how to do so.

In this blog too I feel a new uncertainty. Maybe this is like being in the Arctic, when, if you get far enough north, your compass is no good, pointing more west, say, than north--or maybe even just wavering ambiguously here and there. With your compass out of commission, which way do you go? What guides you?

Whatever it is, you're not taking responsibility for it--you can't blame your compass. So with the blog, I'm just typing what comes to mind. I feel a lack of direction, and that sense of waiting or nervousness before a new direction shows itself.

In my worldly outlook, I find myself becoming politically radicalized. I don't mean a turn to communism or anarchy or anything like that. Rather, a sense that the world situation, particularly with regard to climate and the environment, is in crisis, and in crisis a merely incremental approach is not appropriate. Vision and boldness are needed: deep, confident change. If ever there was a time for political radicalism on a worldwide scale, it is now. Nationalism, the Black Plague of the 20th century, may finish us off in the 21st.

So there you have it: a serious set of thoughts. The writer is morphing...but into what? Into himself.

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