Thoughts on a new doc: N M Browne
|Flowers and Prosecco from my sister!|
I think I might have a Phd. I mean I’m not sure because I haven’t worn a weird hat or been given a certificate, but I have been congratulated – a lot. It’s been lovely. I’ve drunk Prosecco and people have said nice things and I have demurred. ‘It’s only in Creative Writing,’ I say, as if that makes it worth less, as if writing doesn’t matter and being creative is something to be embarrassed about. Why do I do that?
OK, so am the kind of person who wouldn’t want to be in any club that had me as a member. I also tend to think that if I can do something then it has to be easy. I am in awe of people who can do the many things I can’t. I suppose that’s a personality thing but more than that I find myself colluding with the view that ‘soft’ subjects are for the intellectually feeble. I don’t argue when people talk of ‘Mickey Mouse’ subjects, when they denigrate those things that can’t be measured, weighed and scientifically valued. What am I thinking? Why does it have to be one or the other? Respect for the sciences should not involve contempt for the arts.
I’m sure I’m not the only writer to have internalised this value system. I could blame the patriarchy I suppose (I am inclined to blame it for most things.) I can’t blame my actual father as he was an artist and valued creativity both in the abstract and in his children. I could blame my education where those of us who were academic were steered away from anything remotely practical or creative: clever people don’t make things; they just criticise the things other people have made. It’s certainly true that we often pay ‘consultants’ advisors, critics etc more than those who do the work. Those who are most highly regarded in our society rarely demean themselves by getting their hands dirty. Too often creativity is only valued if it yields large sums of money, and as we all know, the most lucrative work may or may not be the most creatively successful
Perhaps as a society we are right to be wary of creativity. It is subversive, potentially radical, disruptive and challenging and exactly what we need right now. When the arts are under attack, when Classics, and Art History, Archaeology and Creative Writing are no longer available at ‘A’ level, when libraries are closing down and librarians sacked, maybe all of us practitioners, writers and artists, need to stand up for our subject and be prouder of what we do.
Another glass of Prosecco? Don’t mind it I do.
But if you can 'only' figure out what's wrong with a car and fix it, or cut someone's hair perfectly, wire up a house or build a wall that'll keep the weather out for fifty years, then you're just a 'hand' and probably a bit dim and - let's be blunt - lower-class, even if you do sometimes earn as much as the professors and accountants.
Why can't we, as you say, except that Science and Art, mind-work and manual work are all equally valuable and necessary?
My cousin tells me that it is so in Switzerland: that accents count for nothing and a brick-layer or car mechanic is seen as the equal of the doctor. But I don't believe him.
That said - congratulations on the doctorate! They're hard to get and nowadays you can't get a uni appointment without them. And teaching creative writing in academia is one of the few ways writers can earn a living.
One of my friends is a distinguished retired neurosurgeon. We were at an illustrated talk by a composer who had completed an unfinished work by Vivaldi (I think) and he spoke so engagingly and excitedly about how he'd gone about it and the decisions he'd taken. When it was over, my neurosurgeon friend turned to me and said,'When I hear someone like him I feel that I have wasted my life.' I nearly fell over. He felt humbled. He thought that his own considerable skills were eclipsed by the creativity shown by the composer.
Many years ago I collaborated with a colleague on the writing of a book about teaching fiction in Middle Schools. In his first draft, my colleague said 'To write a novel is one of the highest and most significant achievements of humanity.' While we were still writing the book I had my first novel published. I noticed that in his second draft that sentence had disappeared. Was that when the rot set in?