Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why Buy A Scrawny Chicken When They're Giving Away Steak For Free?

Rabelais never had to go toe to toe with Cervantes, nor did Hugo ever have to duke it out with Twain. And while the Greek playwrights of antiquity certainly had their competition, they never had to contend with Shakespeare. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s hard to be a writer nowadays. Oh, I’m not whining, just trying to make a point before stating my case. You see, I’m trying to justify my existence, need to prove that there’s a reason for me to write, if only to myself.

Nowadays, not only does a writer have to compete in the same arena (that arena, let’s face it, is more or less Amazon) as the greatest writers of all ages, he has to compete on an uneven playing field. Click on Amazon, and you will find many of the world’s great books available as e-books. Furthermore, they are available at the click of a button. Even worse (for a modern day author, that is, certainly not for the human race), most of these books are available for free! Look, here’s Othello. Go ahead and take it: So why would anyone want to pay to read my works when there is a lifetime supply of great literature available for free?

You may think me arrogant for even mentioning my work next to those of such giants. I should be more humble. The contemporary take would be for me to say that I am doing something different. Or else, I am giving people what they want, even if what they want is crap. See, that way it’s not my fault for writing crap. Somehow it seems to be en vogue to pay lip service to the great writers while at the same time not following their spirit. And if one dares to say that one is attempting to write serious literature, one is immediately labeled a pompous ass.

So let me be a pompous ass. But it is not my ego that makes me attempt to scale such mountains, it is the genius of those who have inspired me that cause me to do so. It is they who have shown me what humans are capable of, and it is in their eyes that I would feel shamed if I were to attempt anything less. To think that I stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats would be arrogant, but it is not arrogance to make the attempt of climbing the same mountains they have climbed. If I fall, it is only myself that I injure. I do not say I will succeed, I merely make the attempt. Even if I never ascend to anywhere near their heights, I at least have raised myself somewhat from the muck where I began.

Is it arrogance to try to attempt to make great art? I feel it is greater arrogance to give to readers anything less than the best of what I have in me. Again, I know I’m not Shakespeare, but I’m not going to try to limit myself because of it. It’s not my job to evaluate my work, I merely need to bring out the best that is in me to the best of my ability.

But the original question remains: why buy my books when the works of the greatest writers of history are not only eminently available but for the most part free? Because none of them can address life as it exists in the 21st Century. I would like to believe that I can take much of the knowledge and vision of the writers I have read and apply them to the rather unique time in history in which we are living. Even though I believe myself to be rooted in the past, it is in the present that I live my life, and the present shapes my writing as much as the authors who have influenced me.

A lot has been learned in the sciences in the last hundred years, much of which alters the way man sees himself and his relationship to the larger universe. The great writers were able to intuit much of what science has borne out. If Nathaniel Hawthorne had access to all of the knowledge of modern day psychology, he couldn’t have written Young Goodman Brown any better. But the modern world has given us many different perspectives, many new pieces to the puzzle we call life. I hope to make use of those pieces, to fit them in with the puzzle so many before me have been working on assembling. And while I would never assume to be so arrogant as to believe I could stand shoulder to shoulder with literature’s luminaries, I am perhaps egotistical enough to think I might yet stand upon their shoulders to some small degree. It is at least my obligation to try.

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