Why we write

The vast majority of the human race drifts without record from conception to extinction. Their lives go unrecorded, and it is only theology which might make us suppose that these individual lives have any previous or future existence, or indeed, during their palpable existence on earth, that they have any identifiable significance. For most, it is a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing; but, most significant of all, it is a tale which is not told. It is only by telling the tale that we create the illusion that there is a tale to tell. The rise of the rise of the novel in literature, which came with a great resurrection in the art of biography, a passion for journals, letter writing, personal confessions and memoirs, all of which happened shortly before or during the lifetime of Rousseau, gave to articulate beings the means of creating a shape, of holding onto words and moments which would otherwise be forgotten, of creating a barricade against death.

A. N. Wilson, Tolstoy, W. H. Norton and Co, 1988, pp. 88 – 89.



7 responses to “Why we write

  1. I have been thinking about this for most of the year, ever since my uncle directed me to it.

    A. N. Wilson’s biography of Tolstoy is marvellous, an exemplar of the art of biography, meticulous, thoughtful, sympathetic to the subject, but not hagiography, and insightful. I recommend it, even if you are not all that interested in Tolstoy himself.

  2. Anthony Hopkins, playing C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, utters a matching quote.

    “We read to know that we are not alone.”

  3. …only by telling the tale that we create the illusion that there is a tale to tell…
    This interests me – makes me think of how writing about something validates it, makes it ‘real’ in the eyes of others. A sort of
    ” if we record it and no one reads it, did it happen”?

  4. Yes. Interesting how the idea of why we write is so often simply glossed over, taken for granted. The beauty of blogging, of course, is that you can know you have people out there reading what you write. But I think I write primarily to find out what I think and feel, because it’s only in writing that my thoughts and feelings achieve any kind of clarity and coherence – an illusion, of course, but good while it lasts. And who knows, other people may find my writing helps them find out what they think and feel too – as well as getting pleasure from the writing itself…

  5. A poster in the English Department at Otago University says: “I read, therefore I think”.

    Following on from Anne’s comment: I think/feel therefore I write and in the writing I – sometimes – clarify the thoughts and feelings.

  6. Response in kind;

    “We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will be just starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure … ”
    Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson

  7. Why don’t we write?