Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15 2014: Gargantuan simplicity: “To illuminate the human condition.” And how bloody impossible.

That is, there are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise.  . . . non-thinking is even more dangerous.

Hannah Arendt

I have always loved the idea that it is the role of a writer, “to illuminate the human condition.” It is noteworthy for what it leaves out. It doesn’t say, “Illuminate and improve the human condition,” and it doesn’t add the words “through entertainment.”

Hollywood must be shitting bricks (so to speak)!

It just lays out the task in all its gargantuan simplicity.

As far as I am concerned, it’s a task that more than justifies a writer’s existence. It is also impossible for too many reasons to mention—starting with the fact that we don’t really know how another person thinks (except in the most superficial way). 

What we do learn very quickly is that what people say and do are frequently entirely different, that interpersonal relationships are fraught with confusion and misunderstandings, and that the written word—while quite wonderful if used with style, passion, and integrity, is only revealing up to a point.

In short, one of the many odd things about humans is that we don’t have a way of communicating adequately. We make do with workarounds. We are pretty damn primitive in the communications department.

Fortunately, the phrase doesn’t concern itself with degree. A writer’s illumination may be dim, indeed, but it is still preferable to the darkness of ignorance. A little information allows the imagination to go to work—though whether accurately or not is another matter entirely. In truth, the consequences of such illumination may be disastrous. The phrase is entirely non-judgmental. It may open the door to the gates of hell—because the human condition may be just that.

Do I know—after all these years writing? The acceptable response is: “I’m optimistic.” Mine is not. I have no idea.

The consequences of a writer’s work are unpredictable. Arguably, that makes a writer mildly dangerous. Actually, if you consider all the political movements, other causes, and sheer mayhem that have stemmed from the written word, you’d have to wonder why we writers are allowed to walk the streets.

Sometimes we are not.

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