Sunday, October 08, 2017

`Keep Writing Dear Man'

The anger is obvious and much noted. What’s less obvious about Twitter is the oceanic tide of self-pity squeezed into droplets of aggrievement. I don’t Tweet but I do follow the accounts of several people who treat 140 characters with the same wit and dignity they would an essay, review or poem. I also see Tweets quoted in news stories and other writing, and the casually naked expression of id on display is embarrassing. No one is immune to self-pity, at least on occasion, but we keep it to ourselves or share it with a trusted friend. And we might blunt it with humor. That was Philip Larkin’s strategy, as in this 1979 letter to Kingsley Amis:

“Sorry you are feeling lowdown; I sympathise. I don’t know that I ever expected much of life, but it terrifies me to think it’s nearly over. I mean there can’t possible now be any good bits like going to Corfu with some busty ex-Roedean girl WHOSE FATHER GIVES HER LOTS OF MONEY and who loves being pocked (‘it’s better every time, oh darling’), or being a novelist.”

The second sentence might almost be pulled from a Larkin poem (“nothing more terrible, nothing more true”). By 1979, Larkin had known Amis for almost forty years. They shared a language spoken by two. Neither would have simply gushed to his friend. They had expectations of themselves and the other. Larkin performs for his friend. Not to do so would be a sort of betrayal: “For God’s sake keep writing dear man, for life’s unexciting.”

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