More wisdom from the desk of Nicolás Gómez Dávila at Don Colacho’s Aphorisms:
“Literature does not die because nobody writes, but when everybody writes.”
Why do people write when they have nothing worthwhile to say and are unable to say it? The same reason we sing in the shower, when at least we have the courtesy to keep the door closed.
“The writer cannot pride himself on the successes he attains, but on the mistakes he avoids.”
Writing is mostly culling. Most of it ought to be erased before we presume to inflict it on others. That way, in Beckett’s words, we “fail better.”
“To live with lucidity a simple, quiet, discrete life among intelligent books, loving a few beings.”
Who can imagine a higher calling?
“Without dignity, without sobriety, without refined manners, there is no prose that fully satisfies. We demand of the book we read not just talent, but also good breeding.”
Clarity is courtesy. Muddle is ill-mannered.
“When the desire for other places, other centuries, awakens in us, it is not really in this or that time, in this or that country, where we desire to live, but in the very phrases of the writer who knew how to speak to us of that country or that time.”
Montaigne, Ben Jonson, Samuel Johnson, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Christina Stead. How often, across a life, do we encounter an essential story, essay or poem, not to mention an essential book – that is, one’s whose absence would diminish us?
Finally, read these non-consecutive aphorisms by Don Colacho:
“Journalism is writing exclusively for others.”
“A genuine vocation leads the writer to write only for himself: first out of pride, then out of humility.”
And keep them in mind as you read this passage by Yvor Winters from his introduction to The Quest for Reality: An Anthology of Short Poems in English (1969), edited by Winters and Kenneth Fields:
“Our best writers live fully in the knowledge that language is at once personal and public; they know that only by precisely controlling the public medium of language can they realize private experience. For each of us language is the essential intermediary between the isolated self and the world of others; rather than trammeling the mind and affections, it sets them free, giving them proper objects.”
[All of the passages cited above are taken from the section of Don Colacho's Aphorisms titled “The Art of Writing.”]