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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the solitude of uniqueness

Again I find myself staring at this screen, wondering what to write about.

What's my problem? I'm a writer, aren't I?

I might be "a" writer, but I am coming to feel that what I'm working on is something that is outside the bounds of normality, even by writing's standards. I feel a bit like someone who's brought a plesiosaur to a pet show. What events do I enter it in? What category to I put it in? How do I fill out my entry card? There is a sense of the grotesque, and a general feeling of what's he doing here? That my very presence, in some sense, is spoiling everyone's fun.

No, of course I'm not spoiling anyone's fun. But gradually I feel myself taking on more qualities of alienation: that my experience and my effort are taking me beyond the bounds of what other people can really grasp.

I think about the survivors of the true-life story that was the basis for Melville's novel Moby-Dick. In a rare display of fury, a sperm whale really did turn on a whaling ship in the South Pacific and stave in its hull, sending it to the bottom. The surviving crew were left in two lifeboats more than 1,000 miles from land. They became separated, and one boat was never heard from again. The other boat eventually beached on South America with a few survivors, but only after an excruciating ordeal that involved being baked alive under the sun, the madness induced by drinking sea-water, and cannibalism.

Who could ever really understand the extremity of what those men went through?

The alienation of an extreme experience is perhaps just a metaphor for life. Naked and alone we arrive on planet Earth for our journey; naked and alone we depart. Alienation, perhaps, is our basic condition, and all of our societies, our pet shows, are just so many efforts to cheer ourselves up.

No, I'm not depressed. But I am feeling a new and greater sense of the solitude of uniqueness.


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