Why am I doing this?
Updated: Jun 8
Ever since I first heard of 'blogging' some fifteen years ago, I have winced at it for the same reason that I do taking 'selfies'. They are varieties of self-promotion that grew up too long after I did. As such, they feel too barefaced, too shameless for me...a middle-aged man who, when young, did not shrink from doing street-theater for change, or when that hadn't worked, sitting down at freshly vacated tables in the street seating of cafes to finish uneaten meals. And now, here I am, having been instructed by publisher and publicist alike that if I want the memoir I have recently finished to be read, I must get myself an author's website and keep it active for the search engine algorithms by making regular entries. Yet, if I am self-aggrandizing enough to have written a book length memoir intended for publication, so that ipso facto, I must believe my life, or some portion of it, has been sufficiently interesting, that several hundred, or thousand, or even hundred-thousand people might enjoy reading about it, then why bridle at blogging, continuing to view it as the illegitimate online offspring of boasting and blagging? My critics, all two of them, are correct. It makes no sense, it is self-contradictory, hypocritical even. But if, instead of asking, why did I want to write a memoir, I ask myself instead, why I aspired to become a memoirist, then...oh then the reason for attempting to write artfully about one's life, whether in brief or at length, becomes obvious.
Two years before I was born, Rene Girard, an obscure French philosopher in his late thirties, published a book entitled Deceit, Desire and the Novel. Its thesis was so simple that it could be summed up in a single example: Don Quixote only thinks he wants to have the Golden Helmet of Mambrino. What he actually wants is to be his chivalric hero, Amadis of Gaul, while what his creator, Cervantes wants,at least while he is writing his story, is to be Don Quixote. To switch to a more modern classic case in point, The Great Gatsby isn't really about Gatsby's quest to win Daisy, or to fulfill the American dream of making it big in order to do so. Instead it's about Nick's wanting to be Gatsby, about his yearning after Gatsby's own hopeless romanticism, which he imitates by telling the story of Gatsby whom he has idolized in death in the same way his hero did with Daisy in the wake of her marriage.
In other words, we believe we are driven by covetousness when, in fact, we are driven by envy. The desire both to read literature and to write it is rooted in being rather than having. My six-month long slog writing The Blue Duck, and my year long one trying to get it published and read, far from being ends in themselves, were instead the unavoidable means to the end of becoming a memoirist in my own eyes. There was I spending decades convinced that I read Sterne's Sentimental Journey through France and Italy or Johnson and Boswell's respective journals of their conjoined Hibernian-Hebridean journeys, or Nabokov's Speak Memory, or Sebald's The Rings of Saturn for the intrinsic reward of so doing when, in truth, they were but catalysts to a longing to try and mimic them that had been gestating away in me for forty years.