- "All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity-- it is to destroy it. Leave this to the moralists, my boy. History is made by men, but they do not make it in their heads."
So this evening I was reading "The Secret Agent" by Joseph Conrad and this sentence jumped at me. It prompted me to think at writing and editing and publishing. There is a growing pressure and a wide-spread consensus in the US to idealize things, or at least to cut away all the stray and uncomfortable limbs of thought...so much that more and more people who'd otherwise be free spirits are often censoring their thoughts and especially their words.
Let's say I finish a manuscript and I hire a private editor to line edit and proof it. These stray uncomfortable limbs of thought go first. The unspoken message is: Let's play it safe. Let's not confuse the readers with unneeded complexities. (As if this amazing country with the highest numbers of smart people can't handle this!) Most of the times I put these bits back in, they're part of who I am, part of my style, but I always second guess myself when I see that agents will pass my manuscript, and then, later, I go to Barnes and Nobles and see piles of colorful books that are almost all respecting "the code." It makes me wonder whether I should continue writing in English, whether I should move back to Europe and write more freely, less encumbered by market consideration, secret codes to fit in, the pressure to deliver the two-pound brick hardcover that follows the formula to the teeth (while, in best case scenarios, also dresses it in beautiful prose). Such is the holy grail wanted by most agents and editors.
I love writing slim, free spirited books. Many great American writers used to do it. The French still do it all the time: Modiano, Beigberger, Duras, even Houllebeck; Barnes is doing it, too, in the UK. Of course, when you become Barnes, you can publish whatever the hell you want, one agent once told me. Besides, if I move back to Europe, I'll have a better chance of getting published in the New Yorker:-) As a regular New Yorker, not so much. It should be renamed, The Elitist Globalist.
Last week, I was strolling around a lake with an old childhood friend who shook me up: "You took the hardest path," she yelled at me. "You write books in English as a second language. Are you nuts? Besides, you write about things germinating today, with critical thinking, and America hates that. Once everyone gets the memo that so and so is the new norm, having different views will ruffle feathers. You shouldn't even have opinions, you should have stories. Opinions are "tell" and you are supposed to deliver "show." To be taken seriously, in what passes today as "serious literature," you need to write about the compulsory grim catastrophes and atrocities. You need a shocking crime at the end of a spare unsentimental book, or a catastrophic event at the onset of an ornate search for redemption and undoing its dire consequences." True. Writing about reality, without "idealizing" it with an extreme crime of sorts or at least with an extreme chain of disasters, is seen as women puff lit. Put some thoughts too, and it becomes even loony.
All the signs point to me that I ought to go: The future doesn't look any better. After a decade in the baking, this trend of cutting away the complexities and idealizing reality is now swallowing the last bastion of unfettered free thinking: the student campuses.
I wrote about this crisis of free speech (that gets taken seriously) a decade ago in "Dream Junkies", later and more self-deprecating in "My Life on Craigslist", and most recently in "Brand New Americans," where I allowed myself to say, to hell with all the market consideration and any other literary constraints, just do a book for your soul.
The degree of expansion of the "coddling of the American mind" is rather Orwellian, a dystopian scenario happening too close in time and space to notice: right under our noses, while we've all became victims of the best possible intentions. And it has finally caught up with mainstream media, as in this recent controversial article in The Atlantic:
In this context, my native Romania is a God blessed, forgotten pocket of free spirit with brash impetuosity and a beating pulse; one that this politically correct bureaucratic monster called the E.U. is still letting loose as it has bigger fish to fry.
Should I just give up the American dream and return to Bucharest to pursue my personal dream?