Stephen Wright asks "What are writers good for?"


Wright explores the power of a writer's blues @ Overland. Well its not like it’s self-evident. I mean if all the plumbers in the world vanished into a parallel universe, things would literally go to shit very quickly. Removing all the fiction writers from this plane of existence and relocating them to, say, the Dungeon Dimensions would probably make very little difference to anyone. If you think about it, being trapped forever in a universe crammed with monsters that have the ability to use the minds of others for their own ends is probably a fiction writer’s idea of paradise.

It’s tempting to believe that there are too many fiction writers in the world. Do we really need an infinite number of novels, short stories and other like objects? In fact, if I travelled back a few decades in the Time Machine I’m currently building in my study, and eliminated all fiction written in English after, say, 1970, would it matter that much? We’d still have Proust, Amos Tutuola, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Tove Jansson. And we wouldn’t have nearly all Booker Prize Winners, Infinite Jest, Stephen King and Possum Magic. Sounding like a better idea all the time, really. You know you want me to do it. I’d better get onto finishing my Time Machine as soon as possible. If Calvin can do it, so can I. So if your copy of Hilary Mantel goes missing, you’ll know I got it to work.

I sometimes wonder if fiction hasn’t given itself a bad name. To construct idiosyncratic stories of our lives has become a kind of premier neoliberal artform. Words are derided except as ways of convincing others that you are what you are not. In other words – and neoliberal words always have other unspoken words trawling behind them – words have become items either of advertising or of propaganda.

In these strange times the value of words is seen in what they can get you. They become part of the arsenal of conviction, where we attempt to convince others that we have what they need, we know what they need or we will bring to them what we say they need. We either lie with words, instruct with words or war with words.

It’s something of a worry, because language is all that we have and in many ways is what we are made of, even if we don’t always know or understand all the languages we speak.

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