True it is, I suppose, that Johnny can't write because he doesn't much want to. Nothing really worth reading, after all, ever went out and just wrote itself.

It's not something easily done, excelling at this word game, when you think about it (and I'm sure you have; otherwise you wouldn't be here, in this writers' place).

One thing that good writing requires, certainly, is practice. We wrote daily, in longhand, throughout the entire twelve years of my primary and secondary education. Teachers dedicated to the arts of penmanship and clarity of thought, to the crafts of sentence structure, spelling, and vocabulary, to the magic of ideas made real through the logical application of technique, dedicated themselves to TEACHING us an appreciation for READING that somehow transmogrified, with care, into writing well.

Kids don't read any more. Not for fun.

There was no video in the classroom back in the fabulous day. The only music, likewise, we heard was that which we made ourselves (and I note, too, that music programs are no longer ubiquitous in our seriously under-funded American public schools). The only screens present were opened in the spring to let the day in. We wrote in ink, our fingers stained with false starts, mistakes, and inspiration.

After a while it actually became fun.

I cannot speak for the rest of the world of course, but in America, and especially in California, the most valuable classroom activity today—so far as the students themselves are concerned—MUST be the task of learning to be consumers. It's what we really do well in America these days, now that our biggest national exports are war and entertainment.

But what do I know? I'm just an amateur who plays at a keyboard, flinging virtual mud at a screen, hoping something sticks. What follows are the thoughts of a real writer, a bona fide genius who made his living at his typewriter, the British critic and essayist, Cyril Connolly.

He's thought a lot more about why Johnny can't write than I have, and he expresses himself here, in this excerpt from his masterpiece, The Unquiet Grave, in a manner that can only be termed breathtaking.

I am endebted to my friend ern, for introducing me (and thus, many of you, I suppose) to one of the world's foremost thinkers, a true lover and purveyor of literature.

He died, along with the novel, he would have us believe, near the middle of the 20th Century.

Why can't Johnny write? Read. This is important stuff:


The triple decadence: Decadence of the material; of the writer's language. The virgin snow where Shakespeare and Montaigne used to cut their deep furrows, is now but a slope flattened by innumerable tracks until it is unable to receive an impression.

Decadence of the myth, for there is no longer a unifying belief (as in Christianity or in Renaissance Man) to permit a writer a sense of awe and of awe which he shares with the mass of humanity.

And even the last myth of all, the myth of the artist's vocation, of l'homme c'est rien, l'oeuvre c'est tout, is destroyed by the times, by the third decadence , that of society.

In our lifetime we have seen the arts advance further and further into an obscure and sterile cul-de-sac. Science has done little to help the artist, beyond contributing radio, linotype and the cinema; inventions which enormously extend his scope, but which commit him more than ever to the policy of the State and the demands of the ignorant.

Disney is the tenth-rate Shakespeare of our age, forced by his universal audience to elaborate his new-world sentimentality with increasing slickness. There may arise Leonardos of the screen and microphone who will astound us but not until the other arts have declined into regional or luxury crafts, like book-binding, cabinet-making, thatching or pargetting.

Today an artist must expect to write in water and to cast in sand.

Yet to live in a decadence need not make us despair; it is but one technical problem the more which a writer has to solve.

--Cyril Connolly
The Unquiet Grave, 1945

And then came Everything2...

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