What Remains in the Quest for Literary Permanence


From Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher:

I am always taken aback when students confide in me that beneath their desire to write lies a quest for permanence. It’s odd but touching, I think, that even during this disposable age, while consigning great mountains of refuse to landfills and to atolls of plastic in the Pacific, these young would-be novelists and poets believe that art is eternal. Au contraire: we are in the business of ephemera, the era of floating islands of trash, and most of the things we feel deeply and inscribe on the page will disappear.

Is art eternal? Surely most of it isn’t. I too have this desire for permanence, which I often describe as legacy but might more cynically be described as ego.

At the same time (“au contraire”), even though most art may not be eternal, surely some of it is. Or if not eternal—for who’s to say what fits that category—at least long-lasting, multi-generational, and enduring.

There’s one more passage I liked, right at the end of the book. This one reads more hopeful:

You and I are both in the business of believing in, and promoting, things that don’t yet exist. The leap of faith: it’s equal parts wishful thinking, vicarious ambition, and bullshit, and yet … I can already envision the moment when I open Troy’s new book and find within it, among the acknowledgments, your name and mine; and we both know how beautiful the book will be, how clearly it will speak to something within us—some previously unarticulated thought or reflection that, once recognized, we will never want to be without again.

So that’s good. Even if your art isn’t eternal, if you can bring that previously unarticulated thought or reflection to life for someone, your labor is hardly unrewarded.

Besides, what else are you going to do with this life?


Image: Maasaki

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