The responsibility of writers
I’m often asked if there is something I think writers ought to do, and recently in an interview I heard myself say: “Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”
Needless to say, no sooner had these perky phrases fallen out of my mouth than I thought of some more recipes for a writer’s virtue.
For instance: “Be serious.” By which I meant: never be cynical. And which doesn’t preclude being funny.
And . . . if you’ll allow me one more: “Take care to be born at a time when it was likely that you would be definitively exalted and influenced by Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy, and Turgenev, and Chekhov.”
The Guardian has published the full text of an essay by Susan Sontag, extracted from the book, At the Same Time, which will be published by Hamish Hamilton on April 5. Sontag discusses the task of the writer, both traditionally and in our own time. This is essential reading for anyone who seriously wants to write fiction.
Every notion of literature, even the most exacting and liberating, can become a form of spiritual complacency or self-congratulation.