Wednesday, August 13, 2014


This link goes to a brief essay by Nick Mamatas on success and failure for a writer.

Once again I am mining my facebook comments for the blog. Here are a couple of thing I said about Nick's essay:
I used to do a panel at Minicon titled "Psychological Survival for SF Writers," which was about ways to deal with failure. (Exercise, eat well, be moderate in your use of alcohol and drugs, drink tea, find other things to care about... The usual...) I had to give the panel up, because people left the room in tears. They did not want to think about the possibility of failure.

What Nick is talking about is not failure leading to success, but failure leading to more failure. There is a novel by Halldor Laxness about an Icelandic peasant who devotes his life to poetry, suffering poverty, misery and failure. It's titled Heimljos, which means Light of the World. The guy is a bad poet. He is never going to have success of any kind. My sister-in-law gave the book to me, because she found it unbearably depressing. I thought it sounded funny, though I haven't read it yet. Some day when I am up for a really grim joke.
I can't speak to the novel, since I haven't read it. But one of the things Laxness admires about his characters is how indomitable they are, as the same time that they are often absurd. Absurd is not the right word. They have big ideas. They see themselves in terms of the saga heroes, even though they may be peasants just barely scraping by. The hero of Heimljos makes the same sacrifices (it seems to me) as van Gogh did, but he is not a great artist.

Laxness's characters are always (or often) trying to pull themselves free from dire poverty and misery, to live great lives, though they are not -- in fact -- saga heroes or great artists. Not having read the novel, I cannot say if Laxness thinks this particular character is admirable or pathetic.


Blogger Peg said...

One of the best meditations about failure by a writer I've ever run across was J.K. Rowling's commencement speech at Harvard, "The Fringe Benefits of Failure." It's funny and touching and well-thought out, and I keep coming back to it to listen to it again.

6:57 AM  
Blogger Professor Batty said...

The genius of Laxness is his ability to have simultaneous and conflicting emotions play out in his books. World Light is considered one of his major works although it has more than the usual amount of Icelandic idioms and references, making it hard to follow in translation. Very funny at times.

There is a blog covering all of Laxness' translated works:

10:29 AM  

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