Writers and their Professions v1

The compulsion to write is, in any case, a mysterious one. Borges claimed he was prouder of what he had read, than of what he had written. That, of course, like Benjamin’s sophisticated utterances was easy for him to say. In order to write, one needs a conviction of inevitability. That what one writes, needs to be written—let alone read 1. Even Johnson’s pecuniary imperative rings as hollow affectation, as Boswell, part-scandalised, part-condescending his subject, rightly notes. There are easier, more pleasurable and less uncertain ways to earn a living. If you can read and write—and many of our writers can—you are fit for most jobs in our service economy.

The other ostensible motivation—“Because I am otherwise unemployable”—is also a gross affectation. If Goethe could work as a diplomat, Shakespeare as an actor, Dante as a schemer, Chekhov as a doctor, Chaucer as a, Sterne as a, Levi as a, Eliot as a, Kafka as a, etc. Even though publishers fashionably stack their writers’ biographical blurb with spoof jobs—chicken rouster in Malaysia 2—as if to reassure the reader about the fatal inevitability 3

This is all to impress upon us the happy circumstance of the writer’s birth. That by a happy coincidence, thanks to a successful attorney father, or perhaps the welfare state, he enjoyed Florentine patronage.

Just as children play with Bob the Builder, presumably in the same spirit that middle class children play with Bob the Builder. That the present volume was typed by hands unsullied by (manual) labour, just fashionably distressed, like designer jeans.

The advice, “Don’t write if you can do anything else” is a rewording of the same sentiment. You’re of course still expected to be there by the end of the article, or talk, or workshop. Still among those burdened by fate with this dreadful mission.

Cf. In The Moderns, What did you do in the War, Mr Joyce? I wrote Ulysses, what did you do?


Cf. Speaker at HKW, “poets are supporting themselves via visual art” Hilarious on so many levels. Like a struggling accountant supporting himself through musique concrete. (Not exactly, but that’s funny. Reminds me of Raymond Roussell, circuitously.)


  1. 1by others
  2. 2get some actual ones, Adam Thirlwell, for instance, a zoo caretaker for ten years
  3. 3taut.] of the writer’s vocation because surely no one was put on this earth to roust chickens in Malaysia. (These jobs never reflect the social background of the writer. They are Veblen jobs, the jobs of people so socially secure that they feel immune to what their job contributes to their identity. They are, in their own way, “free to wait tables and shine shoes”.) That this writer did not simply take up the pen one day, but that there was a Marxian-Hegelian inevitability (In fact, it is in the world of vanity publishing that the writer’s useful day job is emphasised, as if to justify the author’s having no time to enter the world of legitimate publishing.)[What is this “rousting”?
  4. 4See Emily Gould, Brett Harte quotes in Instapaper highlights.