Friday, September 28, 2007

The problem of individuality and the group

Now here is a peculiar problem, which I have named as such but must think has another name, a name that is scholarly and contemplated and carrying all the fabulous goods and trinkets which over time become attached to such a problem. But I do not know that name or those arguments and shall therefore give it a new name and make my own little argument.

To begin at the beginning I must discuss myself. As a particular person with a particular eccentricity about me I cannot bear to be excited by those fads and sub cultures, which so often tend to inflame the world. If it is a common thing, and a recognised thing, such as an apple or a particular philosophy than I may love it. But if it is something personal, such as a television show or a book, than I have difficulty reconciling my personal love of the thing with its greater popularity. I feel that I am being shallow in loving it, for if I were to be more informed I would certainly have better loves and I do only love such a thing because it has passed into the sphere of popularity.

At some point in time I encountered the idea that originality had dead, struck from the face of the earth and most wholly gone, a hopeless thing to recover or to save. Which is, of course, a very good and noble way to view such things. Clearly it is hopeless to entertain such vulgar notions as the ability to create anything of merit, use, or beauty in our so prominent modern age. The argument follows of course by numbers: how could something possibly be produced when there are so many writers in the world, (a student of Probability might argue that this actually increases the chances, but we don’t allow them in these discussions so that point is null.) Problem represented is the overwhelming amount of writers in this world who desire recognition. The suggestion is to discourage writers from writing; to decrease the numbers to a select few aristocracy gifted enough to speak. The right to speak may not be an invitation but excuse me if I find this just a little bit absurd. Yes, tell those struggling writers that they should not even bother, all our writing is crap anyway so what’s the bloody point?

The point is, I might argue, that if those writers want to write than they should be writing. The number of writers increases in equal parts with the numbers of educated and imaginative people. The number of writers increase nearly equal to the number of people who love books. Those who love stories, who love poetry, and who adore the drama. Those are the people writing our books and our poetry and our drama. It seems that were we to discourage a writer we would also discourage a reader.

Let us take the example of a small fishing village off in the mountains, many come there for some creative pursuit, some have lived there for their entire lives, and others take advantage of the first two groups by selling them such frivolities as toothpaste and milk.

Population =50

Writers who read = 80%
Non-writers who read = 25%

Non-writers=40 (Who read= 10)
Writers=10 (who read=8)

Readers=18

Though these numbers are a bit elevated from the actual data one cannot think them as any less correct than any other survey of tastes, there are a great many pockets of readers and writers even when a general member of the population might not read. From this we might conclude two things:

1. Our population and education are great enough to support our growing population of writers
2. Older writers encouraging younger is a guarantee that another generation of readers to read their books will be born.

And henceforth we see that in our own rich and dynamic world to have fewer writers than we do would not be a blessing but in fact a shame. These numbers show not an increase in the sub par through corruption of media, but a spontaneous one encouraged by an increasingly civilized world (never mind what I really think of ‘progress’, literacy will always be dear to me).

But there is a failure in this romantic view, a personal one. The logical part of my mind creates rational and encouraging ways in which I might meet a writer at every bus stop, in every job, and in every course I pursue at university, but the logical part of my mind does not reign. Every where I turn I meet someone who writes, many of whom tell me they want to take a writing class. Now, being thwarted in my own attempt to do so I may be thought of simply as bitter, but I am not at first a creature of logic.

I believe in the community of writers, all striving and writing and reading and glorying in a shared art. I am a great lover of comradery, saying not ‘I shall stand alone’ but ‘I shall stand with all those like me and together we shall triumph.’ This is where there must be bitterness. I was deprived of that community when I did not take the writing class, I could not feel allied to the writing group I joined, and when I meet another writer I do not feel that we are the same sort of creature. (Though that may be because they do not write fantasy and henceforth cannot share with me the—ahem—true joys of writing). In fact I do not believe I have quite often encountered a fantasy writer, and I know quite well that we are not uncommon so this makes me wonder. But I digress. My point is that meeting another writer does not give me the glory of a cultured and clever society, but instead makes me ashamed. Writing is absurdly personal, and when I see so many pursuing something I hold dear it makes me question whether I have chosen well in my choice of loves. If the world and half is writing why should I? With so many writers in this world what could I, low as I am, contribute? This of course has been answered. I know it well; there is always room for more writing and henceforth more reading. But it is a question of individuality. When I rally writers as a group, than we are no longer individuals, but when I encounter writers I – as an individual – have the same reaction as any other.

So why should I bother? If writing is such a common thing why am I wasting my time there instead of taking a true challenge? Making an obscure and worthy pursuit? My dearest love of course consoled me by saying that ‘they could not possibly be as interested as I’, but that is not an argument that I can make. Degrading another writer is not only an unhealthy way to win esteem, but it undermines those theories of group and individual I might entertain. No, I cannot say that I am better than these people, and henceforth I am forced to very writing as a fad, as a thing that is personal and popular and yet a thing which affects the very nature of a person.

I could argue that I wish to be the very best (and be in danger of imagined existentialists questioning my ability to even know what best is) or I might argue that for me it is not a fad. But all think that, there are very few who say ‘I follow this because I am shallow and it was the first thing to catch my interest’. So where am I left? I am left in disgust of myself, but unable to even admit it without insulting those I should call my comrades. If I say that my loves are low and common things, I call their loves low and common. If I say their loves are low and common, whereas mine is true, I undermine my sense of honour and shame myself.

And there we have the problem of the individual and the group. I cannot become a part of the group without denying my individual love; I cannot be a proper individual without accepting the communality of my love. Clearly the solution is denial. I shall be in denial from now on.

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