Why Writers Are Miserable, and Often Cowardly

Yukio Mishima
“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality…”
T.S Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”
“Words are processed life, the detritus of living: the existential equivalent of shit.”

Life is always in motion.   The world is spinning.   The body is pumping blood.   Dead things may be decaying but then they are not really dead, are they?  The universe, I suppose, is expanding.   This state of movement can be overwhelming.  Nothing is certain in movement.    Nothing can be coerced into permanence or self-containment.   Nothing can be possessed, only rented.   This is scary because oftentimes what we want most in this life is certainty.   We want stillness.  Because stillness –– the state of calmness and understanding –– is bliss.   But this is not how life is.   Life is moving, and moving means speed, blurriness, uncertainty.

It is for this reason that writers (also computer programmers, lawyers, collectors, historians, photographers, pornographers, archivists, gamers etc.) are often wretched people.  Writing is the art of structuring the existential world, of trying to slow it down, sharpen its focus, and take the edge off uncertainty.   In many ways, then, writing is a task for the neurotic and moronic; the writer is a coward, a coward in the face of reality — and consequently he flees into the stable, plastic world of words.   Socrates bemoaned writing because he considered it a bastardization of speech. You can go further and bemoan it because it is a bastardization of life itself. Words are processed life, the detritus of living: the existential equivalent of shit. (Writers and their writing can sometimes be healthy, but the underlying impulse stems from disease and castration. The best writers, few and far between, are aware of this or suffer from it to such an intense degree that their work becomes fantastical and jaw-droppingly exotic.)

This is the message of the great Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s memoir Sun and Steel. Traditional writing, Mishima says, “holds chaos in check” and offers the writer a bunker from the violence of ceaseless change.   Mishima, a full on writer (and reject), courageously set out to shed his “sickly” writerly self.   He did this through weightlifting and tanning: the strain of steel and the burn of the sun.    In these activities, he found real living, for strong muscles and lustrous skin “perish with blossom.”  Thus they confront (rather than shun) the tyranny of change, death, and instability.

Finally, Mishima formed his own private army with several young men and staged an assault on the Japanese government.   He committed seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment.    A very writely thing to do. TC mark


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  • statusandapager

    cool. could have been longer, but cool

  • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

    “He committed seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment. A very writely thing to do.”

    Funny, true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    eliot has said that the poem is an extension of a stable subject/// however william carlos williams said that a poem is a site of construction – not an expression of the poet. life is not stable – “life is always in motion,” so in theory, we cannot ever write a poem according to eliot. life is not uniform, life is not clear. i think your explanation would be more valid through a williams point of view, as opposed to eliot's.

    it is very PM of you to express yourself in words isn't it

    • http://twitter.com/ariez Ariz Guzman

      what is PM? O___o

      • champ

        post-modern nigga

  • Hanksingle

    You act like art is a choice and not a symptom.

  • http://heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com/ tao


    haven't read any mishima yet

    • http://popserial.tumblr.com stephen

      i read and enjoyed “the temple of the golden pavilion” and “the sound of waves” just fyi

      • http://missmollymary.tumblr.com missmollymary

        “patriotism”! very intense, very 'sexy,' very…patriotic.

  • http://twitter.com/ariez Ariz Guzman

    “Our actions and what is said ‘now’ becomes a ‘then’ immediately as soon as ‘now’ happens.” I think i butchered a delillo quote…. but what i'm trying to say is how writers try to capture a “now”. O___o

    what is said or done ‘now’ tends to dissappear immediately unless you physically record it. even spoken language goes kapoot…. when the guy talking dies before he pass on the information.

    remember that guy shakespeare?
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
    (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 )

    i dont think a writer hides from reality…. i think writers just try to make reality…ideas…and meaning tangible…. because we can actually touch or see it… in the computer screen or on paper. writers makes reality physically last longer…. or something like that.

    i think if you didn't write this…. or if no one wrote about Mishima or Socrates…. they'll go
    kapoot? =P

    “So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

    i'm sure somebody is archiving this website…. and that would mean what you just wrote will last longer than your experience in this reality. O__o unless theres like an electronic bomb or something that wipes out all the data in the internet.

    writing turns ideas into things when put on a medium. and maybe i don't know what i'm talking about. O________o

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      i think you are talking the transient ability of language

      • http://twitter.com/ariez Ariz Guzman

        yeah. that one… =) transient ability of language or something. but i think i was writing specifically more about the written medium as something that last longer than spoken language. O____o that's my defense for writers.

        but anyways. i shouldnt have posted a defense of writers. his post is supposed to be funny. wheeeeeee. because he wrote it. and he's writer too. so it's part of the discourse now.

        i think this post is like joining a group called “I hate Facebook groups” in Facebook. =) I joined one too. wheeeeeee.

    • sweetpea

      You made my point.

      Even if you are wrong, words last longer than muscles or a tan.

  • Daniel Coffeen

    This is gorgeous, truly. I wonder, however, about another sort of writer, another sort of writing, that ushers in madness, movement, delirium. I think of Burroughs, of course, but also a strain of Pynchon, Nabokov's unwieldy Ada, Guattari's polyvocality. Writing is often precise and stills the world. But it can put everything — everything — in motion and spin us into a different kind of bliss: the bliss of becoming.

  • Hugh Lilly


    I like that the URL of this post belies the fact that, in its title, “cowardly” at some point in time replaced the descriptor “moronic”.

    • Hugh Lilly

      “betrays” — i meant “betrays.”

  • Gus

    “existential world”

    not sure “existential” makes sense here… existentialism, as a philosophy of existence. what do you mean by this? inherently meaningless or something?

  • NS.

    Lol, the author of this article has absolutely no clue what he's talking about.
    1. Quoting TS Eliot: in his article “Tradition and the Individual Talent”–this article literally has NOTHING to do with what you've stated here.
    2. Not all authors are men, thanks. (“and consequently he flees into the stable, plastic world of words”)
    3. Read Jacques Derrida and try to quote Socrates again.

    • Guest

      NS, why should an epigraph necessarily demand that what follows relates to the text it was cherry picked from? I don't think it's necessary to be so prim all the time. Who cares if Eliot's “Individual Talent” meme wasn't in sync with what CL was talking about in this article? Why do you need conformity at this level of relations with dead authors?

      • Guest

        “Who cares if Eliot's “Individual Talent” meme wasn't in sync with what CL was talking about in this article?”

        Was this a joke…?

    • Punam

      I just wanted to second the “not all authors are men” part. “Castration” blah blah blah. No1curr.

    • doobedoo

      dude. derrida.

  • Cassandra

    I'm bothered with the double space after the period. That is all.

  • Josh Mosh

    while you could argue that suicide is a cowardly act, i would say it was pretty brave to form a small militia and attack the government. that's not very “writerly” according to the article.Pr

  • MW

    This weak argument also depends on the assumption that the act of “writing” is somehow isolated from the rest of reality…

    • 787

      No it dosen't. CL dosen't say it is isolated. He says words are to reality what shit is to food.

      • MW

        OK, so it'd be better to just eat and never shit. Sure? But one balances the other. To say that shitting is cowardly is isolating it from eating; living, writing.

      • 787

        think you're taking the analogy too literally now

  • Mr. Guest

    Greenberg, the blog post.

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/writings/the-last-acid-trip-damned-by-god-by-brian-mcelmurry/ Brian McElmurry

    You know when Mishima “committed seppuku, ritual suicide by disembowelment,” he actually didn't do it right, so his “second” tried to cut off his head, but didn't do it right. So he had to do it again. It was cooler in concept than in reality.

  • Ed

    “Dead things may be decaying but then they are not really dead, are they?”

  • Oliver Leon

    Everyone finds their safety from the chaos of life somehow, be it by watching television, swimming, knitting, dancing, or perusing blogs on the Internet. Some people seek calm through writing, that's all.

  • http://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-koh/2014/08/18-yukio-mishima-quotes-about-life-and-writing-to-challenge-your-everyday-beliefs/ 18 Yukio Mishima Quotes About Life And Writing To Challenge Your Everyday Beliefs | Thought Catalog

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