The Author’s Duty

As a writer for more than a quarter century now, it was not until reading Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We that I gave the idea of the author’s duty, or the writer’s responsibility, more than a passing thought. More often than not, a literary text in any genre is first off perceived as a work of self-expression. Only secondarily is it spoken of as having and presenting a message, revealed through the story, for all texts, even those of history and criticism, tell a story, for humans live and operate through narrative, that which structures and sets an order to (read, imposes) our personal lives and the life of our communities, society, and nation. That message is for the reader, and it is here the question of the author’s duty and responsibility comes into play. If the work is creative and personal, the author’s responsibility is to himself, for the goal is to express his self, his truth, in the context of the particular work being penned; and his responsibility is to the reader in the form of telling the truth. In fiction, for example, the writer should be invisible, but entertain and instruct; the message should be conveyed through the lives, words, and actions of the characters that inhabit the imaginative world of the work. In nonfiction telling the truth is paramount, alongside a fluid narrative that makes the subject accessible and the text a pleasure to read. I believe the author’s responsibility, whether it be a poem, fiction, or a work on a historical period or one of literary criticism, is to create a revolution, one that begins in the heart and mind of the reader and ripples outward in actions that represent the change wrought in the character of that reader.

But what about the author’s duty to art itself? Naturally, not every work of literature is a work of art; most texts do not attain that pristine beauty by which Romantics such as myself characterize that which we call “art”; art is that which embodies the human and divine at once, that raises the former, even in its most tragic state, yet keeps the latter out of its reach, forever transcendent and permanently unattainable while man resides in the flesh, and fills him with the agony and ecstasy of the realization of that experience, aiding him in embracing this truth despite its terrible nature.

Whenever I leave the world of history and politics and write a poem I do so hardly ever with a message in mind. In writing I am attempting above all else to set down an instant of experience, a quaking that rolls through me like the tide, bringing to the shore of my mind that which is far below in the depths of my soul. The wall of resistance that is created by the habits, chores, and routine of daily life has been set against as with a battering ram by the divine spirit, and I must capture the flux of this deeply felt pulse of unity with the spirit of creation I call Life, always present, but raised to the surface by my soul-consciousness in this and countless other brief moments throughout my life. This ecstatic episode, this epiphany that must be recorded before it is too late, temporarily shatters any semblance of tranquility and order to my existence, illusory in itself because all is temporal, with this newly shared inner knowledge, which is always there but more often than not never sought. My art, my writing, is a poorly rendered expression of the experience of the fleeting kiss pressed upon my lips by the creative spirit of Life, the fluid infinite consciousness that permeates all that lives and breathes.

For me, Art and Love are the truest forms of this spirit, bringing us closest to knowing what it feels like to be one with this vast, endless reservoir of eternal force of life that never ceases creating, even when in the vibrant, stifling throes of decay. Art is political only because we make it so; we deliberately create a work of art to have a political message and resonance, and sometimes we see it as being so when it is not. We are trained by the media and the questionable arbiters of culture to see and think that a specific artist or work of art is engaged in political discourse when that is often not the case. Those who actively create art with a political significance are not worshiping at the altar of Art. Most certainly the political messaging with which artists imbue their work strives to be and is often universal, transcending the history of the period, and reaches toward the summit of Art’s greater purpose, but few I imagine are these works of art throughout the grand sweep of Time as manifested in the wonder of human culture and civilization.

Art is confined, its power curtailed, only by our own limitations of vision as artist and audience. Art, at its core, is as infinite as the divine spirit that condescends to descend to manifest itself through the vessel of the human who produces it with his vulgar material instruments. It is the artist, and not the work of art, that must be judged, for as an expression of the divine spirit of creation Art has not the boundaries of the human. It must suffer a corruptible material form because while clothed in the body the soul has no other, better recourse in terms of how to make visible and knowable the grandeur and glory of Life to our weak flesh and finite minds. I believe that the author’s and any artist’s fidelity must be to creating a work of art that captures and embodies, keeping in mind the limits placed on it as a material object made using material implements, the essence of the infinite nature, the ceaseless ebb and flow, of the spirit of creation.

The purpose of Art, simply put, is to mirror and represent that which is greater than ourselves, that which has brought us into existence as a part of itself, and like death enacted upon the stage in a Renaissance revenge tragedy, will remove us when our act is done, both as individuals and a species. The objective of Art is to show us the spirit within that unites us not just with others across the spectrum of humanity, but with the cosmos and the divine spirit that has ignited all of creation into being, that has made it so that all life, all creation, dances to the rhythms of Nature written into the arc of the seasons, and to the harmonies of the music of Time, even when they are disguised as tumultuous tides of discord.

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