There’s a scene in The Fountainhead where the main protagonists are lounging around inside a makeshift shed on a construction site discussing their impetus for continuing on in their art. It wasn’t really going well for them. Sculpting, architecture – painting, laying bricks; acts of creation that stand alone but to a certain degree need others. Not in the “you didn’t build that” kind of way – but due to the nature of market imperatives in our interconnected world. The dialogue around this scene is interesting. Mallory, the sculptor, had almost been destroyed by the world – consuming his talent in hate as he searched for the bottom of a bottle. Roark saved him – not out of pity, a nasty little emotion that; but because Mallory still had something to create, and that creation was valuable to Roark, to improve his own work. Mallory’s need of the outside world was limited. His duty, to his creation, extended out only so far as the satisfaction of his clients. Costs were few, and materials consisted in a slab of marble or granite and a several implements – picks and chisels and buffers and sandpaper. He did not sculpt for others – but he did need others in order to sculpt. Much more “needy” was Howard Roark, who built great buildings. He required investments of huge sums of money – piles of steel and vast tracts of land and great extensions of granite – which in turn required the satisfaction of hundreds of people for him to continue. In community – as kindred spirits – they wrestled with the tension between retaining their integrity and their need to keep working; to keep creating. Across town – Peter Keating (Roark’s witless nemesis) is rolling in money, reconstructing buildings that had been built a thousand times before. His work not an act of creation; but of reproduction. Nevertheless it was easy, comfortable. It’s what the people wanted – which is what really matters, right?
I am reminded of The Moon and Sixpence, by W. Somerset Maugham. A quasi-fictitious portrayal of the life of Paul Gaugin. At the end (spoiler alert – well sort of, Gaugin’s story is well known) the brilliant artist is dying of syphilis alone in a shack on a south-sea island. His final triumph – blind, he paints an epic mural on the walls of his hovel. Then he burns it to the ground. While apocryphal – this scene reflects the tense confidence of a painter, who only needed himself and some colors. He no longer even required sight. Acts of creation of a great creator – his defiance at the world who rejected him came, almost as mockery, in white-hot ash.
I almost stopped writing today. I felt like perhaps I had nothing to say – at least nothing that anybody wanted to hear. Am I just fooling myself; do I think I’m Howard Roark – when in fact I’m just Peter Keating with a better sense of self? I’m certainly not willing to be Paul Gaugin – sacrifice is fine but self-immolation is not my “cup of tea”.
There’s an anecdote about Gabriel Garcia Marquez – that he had to sell his typewriter to afford the postage to send his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude to the eventual publisher (everybody who knows me knows how I feel about that book – but who the hell am I? “One Hundred Years” is a Nobel winning best seller. My books I can’t give away…) Is that courage, confidence, discipline? He had a family; is that just stupidity, vanity, maybe arrogance? He certainly didn’t “give people what they wanted” (at least not at first – exemplified through his eleven prior rejection letters). Is he just a genius that people were forced to accept? And if so, why? And what does that say about me?
I don’t really have an answer to any of this. So, flirting with taking a hiatus, I shrugged and I picked up a copy of Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. It’s shaping up to be a great story (I’m not finished, book review to come later). And as I started to get lost in the nexus between her creation and my comfort, the soothing blanket of a good story – I’m reminded that somehow it is still possible. Because Allende is not Peter Keating – she is a great writer. She is not Gabo – she writes stories that are not good because others say they are good; but because they are enjoyable to read. She is not a great writer because she is popular; somehow she is popular because she is a great writer. Which makes me think that, perhaps, it is still possible to connect – even with a generation as lost as this one.
Hope – and another blank page.