February 06, 2011

On Becoming Immortal

The writer put down his pen and made a fist, cracking the joints in his hand and feeling the dull ache chase up his arm to the shoulder. ‘To publish a book is to give birth to a child that never dies’, he mused. That wisdom is as old as the hills; perhaps older. In these days of ‘think it, publish it’ he wondered if it remained so.

He took up his pen once more and wrote:
Of course, the ethereal ephemera of our age is really only the pulp nonsense of yesteryear writ large. Of things published we remember less than a tithe. We should be wary of easy roads to living forever: even Aristotle’s works have been partially lost, and nobody is really sure who Shakespeare was. I used to think that writing a book was my chance to leave a timeless legacy of myself to the world. Having written one, I might be forgiven for concluding that I have merely added another unread block of bound paper to the dead weight of the world’s libraries. Writing in our age is the production of ever smaller needles for the stocking of an ever larger haystack. I am given to reflect: a writer needs a reader if he is to achieve immortality, and the reader must be so impressed as to ensure the dissemination of the work. He must not be a mere pleasure reader, for many millions have read J.K. Rowling and Dan Brown in this vein, and we can forecast quite credibly that these authors will not be remembered. The reader must be serious and thoughtful, and also influential in those two capacities. Note to self: find a patron.
Leaning back in his chair, feeling the burn in his neck and the cramp across his shoulders, he noticed that he could no longer feel his legs, and he struggled to his feet. He paced the room impatiently, awaiting the descent of his blood to his feet. As he gasped at the return of sensation, he lamented the bygone times of the Medici, the Court of Friedrich the Great, the English aristocracy, and the conspicuous nouveau riche of America’s gilded age. There were stupid people in abundance, with more wealth than they could ever spend, eager to add, vicariously at least, human importance to their social value. Under such a system the cream rose to the top. To be sure, they made compromises in their art for the sake of the paymaster, but then, the paymasters were often too simple to notice that their prescriptions only made the artists crafty.

The writer traced a finger across a dusty bookshelf and stopped at Milton’s Areopagitica. He thumbed through it until he found the page he wanted, and then folded himself back into his chair, found a blank page, and scribbled:
Milton says: ‘Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them’. I am morally compelled therefore to write, or I risk losing that which I am. But it must not be lost. It must not be mere memoranda, but live in the memory. Write the damn book. But DO find a patron.
The writer looked at his watch. It was 16:44. With renewed purpose, he continued to write out his soul.


  1. Beautiful writing. Writing books is a funny thing, le husband is about to publish his fourth, it's a strange solitary pursuit although less something that ones pursues, I think writers are driven to it by unknown forces. I could never manage to write a book.

  2. Thank you Tabitha. When one's drive fails one discovers that it is being chased by guilt, which soon catches up. One's will to continue is therefore a drive from, rather than a drive to. Or at least, so it is for me. My next two books will have to be written, for I cannot dislodge them from my head otherwise than by committing them to paper.


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