An Audience of One

In last week’s post we considered the issue of being misread and some responses or attitudes that a writer could take towards that particular prickly pear. In thinking about being misread though we might miss the larger picture, which is being read at all. That, we must never forget, is a luxury and the furthest thing from a bygone conclusion. Our situation today has charitably been described as one in which there is simply so much of quality available that getting any attention is a great honor (a caveat: that was written specifically in reference to contemporary research articles in philosophy), and I would agree with that. There is also, of course, so much of everything available – of quality or not – that it daily overwhelms us. Busyness in all imaginable areas seems to be rule, and even just opening one’s email inbox can be daunting. Given all that, is writing still worth it?

Obscurity is the norm, as any academic will tell you. We are required to conduct and publish research, and so we do. Yet when one’s evaluated and ranked job performance, and the commensurate life-sustaining pay that comes with it, hinges on such quantitative data as publications count, the clear choice is the more the better. Churning out articles equals workplace security, production is king because easily quantifiable by bureaucrats and administrators. Competition for spots in journals thereby increases, publishers see profit potential and the number of journals increases, and the whole ball keeps spinning madly out of control with the only declining factor being readership. Who has the time for it? It’s a funny world.

The suddenly-famous Slavoj Žižek is said to have labored in obscurity for a quarter of a century before he was “discovered”. The man’s work has been there all along, and as far as I can tell has been following more or less the same trajectory of concerns all along (as is fitting for a specialist), what happened for him to have been dubbed “philosophy’s rock star”? He even has his own associated conspiracy theory, namely that he is a false prophet meant to seduce and then mislead leftists who might otherwise pose a threat to the status quo. True? Who knows, but such can really only increase his exposure. He gets read now where he never did before; does that mean that we too might have some hope? A glimpse of a brighter future?

Hope is a dangerous beauty. There is a reason, after all, that hope was the last element to escape from Pandora’s Box – and it isn’t the flighty good reason that is often assigned. No, I think sensibly we can count on nothing, and certainly not on winning the lottery. Our labor must become our labor for reasons other than receiving recognition and kudos, reality’s harshness will teach us that whether we like it or not. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna instructs Arjuna that he is to do his duty (his work) not for results but for the thing itself – how many of us can think that way? It’s a struggle to be sure, but it is one that will almost assuredly be forced on every person engaged in individual artistic creation.

There is no ultimate point to writing, nor to painting, composing, sculpting, drawing, dancing, performing, etc., etc. All are a passing of the time, acts of self-expression in a universe that is vast and silent. Purpose must come from within, but can appreciation? I think that if it cannot then we really ought to throw in the towel, for down the road of hope, down the path of “definitely better this time” lies only disappointment, pain, suffering. Down any path of expectations lies suffering, and the world’s philosophies and faiths are filled with remedies for this condition – take your pick.

If you’re a writer, you write, and it’s as simple as that. If there is anything you write “for” then it’s for the craft itself, for the honing of skill. In the end it won’t amount to much, even if we are blessed or cursed with fame, with a comparatively long legacy (because all legacies eventually disappear), with a name left behind. Yet along the way will be all those moments, and some quite beautiful. They will be your moments, maybe too shared here and there, but mostly yours. Is that enough? Does that make it worth it? You tell you. Be your own best audience.


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