Monday, May 22, 2006

Eudora Welty Must Crusade

Dear Eudora Welty,

I have read something. Two things really. First I read a critique. Then I read the real thing. That is backwards I know, but I found the real thing through the critique, so perhaps the procedure is forgivable. “The thing” is your essay entitled “Must the Novelist Crusade?” You wrote it, from what I can tell around 1965. I must say that the essay helped me put together some other ideas that have arisen in my head while reading some of your other work.

May I vent? Then let me ask questions.

Truth is an elusive thing. It is absolute and unchangeable before fading into the mists and transmogrifying into an apparition. Beauty is seductive. It is appealing and glorifying before eroding into silence and transforming into an ogre.

Yet truth and beauty are constants, coming and going in the human heart. And we know they are, without knowing what they are precisely. The writer and the artist are caught in the webs spun by truth and beauty, fated to look upon the captors that enslave and finally consume them.

The artist, speaking here of painter or musician, is lured by beauty, and though truth may suck some of the blood out of them, it is beauty that drains them I think. The writer on the other hand is enticed by truth and though beauty takes its toll, it is truth that bankrupts them.

So how is it that a writer might deny that liability? Or how might a musician deny the light that inspires? Perhaps the writing technician might, the fellow who plots means of filling pages for purposes of selling toothpaste or describing irregularities on the surface of granite. Or maybe the musical practitioner could, the woman who creates the chord structure that lazily leans behind the action of a soap opera or increases the tempo to chase the coordinated end of a sentence in a TV drama, but not the artist.

So what is it that might drive you, Eudora Welty, to deny your muse? Do you fear the very power that you command? Do you wish to play with the angels and demons of truth and believe that you are not tempting eternal glory or damnation?

But I think that you are (terribly) responsible for the glories and damnations that you create. It is that very heaviness, the very weight of your authority over the written word to compel truth that makes you great. You are doomed no matter how vociferously you may try to deny it.

Oh, dear. Surely I have offended you. And I must stop for now. I will write again, and perhaps ask questions that can actually be answered and that may eventually shed some light on our disagreement on this philosophical point. I intend to correspond with Richard Wright on this subject also.

Sincerely,

Betsy

2 comments:

Prof Fury said...

I like the "must" here if I take it to mean that she must crusade even when she doesn't want to, intend to, or know that she's doing it--that loving beauty and loving justice are sorta kinda the same thing and so she's crusading even if she thinks she's not.

brd said...

Exactly. The artist/writer, engaging in the dialogue with beauty and truth is dialoguing with justice. The hammer has already fallen.