Why write?

A conversation about writing books, from the book ‘Summertime’ by J.M. Coetzee:

‘Do you really believe that? That books give meaning to our lives?’
‘Yes. A book should be an axe to chop open the frozen sea inside us. What else should it be?’
‘A gesture of refusal in the face of time. A bid for immortality.’

There’s more: though it drags a little, I like the way it ends (after the break)


‘No one is immortal. Books are not immortal. The entire globe on which we stand is going to be sucked into the sun and burnt to a cinder. After which the universe itself will implode and disappear down a black hole. Nothing is going to survive, not me, not you, and certainly not minority-interest books about imaginary frontiersmen in eighteenth-century South Africa.’
‘I didn’t mean immortal in the sense of existing outside time. I mean surviving beyond one’s physical demise.’
‘You want people to read you after you are dead?’
‘It affords me some consolation to cling to that prospect.’
‘Even if you won’t be around to witness it?’
‘Even if I won’t be around to witness it.’
‘But why should the people of the future bother to read the book you write if it doesn’t speak to them, if it doesn’t help them find meaning in their lives?’
‘Perhaps they will still like to read books that are well written.’
‘That’s silly. It’s like saying that if I build a good enough gram-radio then people will still be using it in the twenty-fifth century. But they won’t. Because gram-radios, however well made, will be obsolete by then. They won’t speak to twenty-fifth-century people.’
‘Perhaps in the twenty-fifth century there will still be a minority curious to hear what a late-twentieth-century gram-radio sounded like.’
‘Collectors. Hobbyists. Is that how you intend to  spend your life: sitting at your desk handcrafting an object that might or might not be preserved as a curiosity?’
‘Have you a better idea?’

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