Reading is a vital element of the person I have become. I have no imagination yon see, no innate ability to create a reality other than the one I am in. I rely on others to do it for me, and have had the good fortune to meet in print authors who have taken me by the hand and led me to places I would never see, and experience lives I will never live. As a young teen I read a biographic account of a young woman’s experience of working abroad amongst torturers and the victims of war. She was tortured herself, and her graphic description has never left me. She showed me how her life looked, how it feeled, how her faith empowered her. ( The book was Audacity to Believe, and Sheila Cassidy the writer, she was practising medicine in Chile while Pinochet was in power and was caught up in the horror, for a time she became a nun whilst in recovery from her ordeal,) My point is this, that her wriiting created an opportunity for me to comprehend something I would know nothing about, but which would change my view of the world. That is powerful. That is how writing works. One of the consequences of a sensibility lacking in imaginative power is that the present moment is the focus. I am not a planner, nor a traveller, I do not know how to fast forward myself imaginatively into a different context, which has far reaching consequences. Because I am a poor planner , I have developed a reactive personality, I fall into the next moment carelessly, and move across situations with less anxiety than a planner would. That is possibly the advantage of a lack of imagination. It is possibly the only one. To connect, a person has to have empathy, an ability to look at a possibility only imagined, not experienced, and it is through the extraordinary power of novelists and journalists that I have understood this. I know empathy can be learnt, because I had to learn it from the pages of books and the leaves of journals, the text of poets and philosophers writing throughout the ages and across cultures. Not everyone has the cultural background or family circumstances that provides the potential for growth; or the extent of growth that is desired. The hope for them is in the connections made for them by writers of all genres, released into the world and allowed to be absorbed into the core of themselves. Every writer who writes authentically from their own life is giving away the substance of life. Thats why writing is hard, and why good writing is handed on generation to generation. Writing not only records our heritage, writing IS our heritage.
David Foster Wallace lived with the realism, possibly the super realism of the depressive. He was aware of the nuances of his own and others thinking, and this is a difficult landscape in which to build a life. The depressive is not sad, he is dead. That is why Wallace explained that suicide is not a cry for help. It is the rational outcome of a depressives state of mind, the nihilistic understanding that the body continues to function after death of the mind has been experienced, and that is called Hell. What the depressive forgets in the midst of an episode, is that states of mind are generally temporary. They function like weather, and like weather, can only be ameliorated and not annihilated. His was a heroic life, a life where he wanted words to connect, to explain, to give himself some sense of who he was , who he could become, in a world that made no sense. All our lives are heroic in one sense, that we strive to make sense of an insensible, nonsensical world. We try, and keep trying because the alternative is one step too far for most of us. David Foster Wallace chose to die. I respect his choice. I respect his life, his endeavour to communicate. This post began celebrating my early delight in finding a world beyond my immediate experience, and it ends in celebration of all writers who bravely tell us their stories, and reflect our own humanity to us, the flaws, the hopes, the falls and the triumphs.
“Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.”
― David Foster Wallace
We all suffer alone in the real world. True empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with their own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple.”
― David Foster Wallace