I find myself feeling irritated by my experience within the blogosphere of late. Endless arguments about the nature of writing. It’s my own fault. I bring up a topic and then others come in with counter arguments. I do not object to counter arguments by and large but I find myself increasingly irritated by a tendency I detect within the blogosphere to emphasize the good and the lovely, to steer clear of the negative and for some to read my writing as though I write in absolutes.
I’m as bad as the next person. I try hard not to insult people and I write comments of praise here and there to all manner of people whose work I appreciate. It is not this to which I object, it is more the emphasis on writing that does not distress or surprise. This troubles me.
It probably hits on a raw nerve. I think of a paper Jane Adamson presented several years ago in which she talked about the poet, John Keats. She talked about the way Keats valued an openness of mind. It was Keats who coined the term ‘negative capability’, the notion that ideally we seek to approach our work without expectations or desires, that we keep an open mind.
Keats tried to practise this in his poetry but it was more difficult in his personal life. There was a chap by the name of Charles Dilke. Keats despised him. We know this through correspondence in which Keats berates Dilke for his closed mind, his rigidity of thinking. The paradox is that in his considerations of Dilke, Keats himself was doing the very thing he railed against.
I see this tendency within myself. I rail against the ‘sweetness and light’ I find throughout the blogosphere and yet I do it myself. I try to be friendly and sociable and I do not enjoy carping comments anywhere. I want appreciation and good will, too.
Given my interest in life writing and the desire for revenge there must be something of these impulses within me, and with which I must grapple. I own up to this. Millions I suspect would not.
I own up to wanting to see my enemies suffer, but it stops there. I do not spend my time in pursuit of my enemies, seeking to bring about their downfall. I make a point of avoiding the people I dislike. It seems the best way, the safest way and if the feelings are mutual and we stay clear of one another then all goes well.
At the Freud conference in Melbourne last week, Salman Akhtar talked about the way we invite certain people to our dinner parties. We invite those we love. We invite those we like and we also invite those we hate - those we hate are typically married to those we love. Akhtar meant this as a joke.
We invite those we hate, he said, because after they have left our dinner we can feel relieved and virtuous.
‘Phew, thank goodness, they’ve gone’. And then we can talk about the ones we hate behind their backs and we can feel good.
I think this is my struggle within the blogosphere – the effort to integrate all three aspects - the loving, the liking and the hating - both internally and externally given my suspicion that these elements live within me as much as I experience them outside of me.
If my world - internal and external - were populated by only one or another of these elements, if it were all love, or liking or hate, it would be a dreadful world indeed. Boring and/or destructive.
Too much love is like treacle – you get stuck in it. Too much hate is like quicksand – you drown, your mouth filled with dry gritty bits of earth. Too much liking and life becomes a sort of blancmange – all of the one sickly sweet consistency with nothing to get your teeth into.
This then becomes a sort of plea to allow for more robust and healthy ‘hating’ in our lives. Healthy in the sense that we can know about the feeling - even speak about it in our writing - without necessarily acting upon it.
One of my brothers once kicked me. His foot landed on my pubic bone. It landed with such force that I fell over. He was angry about something. I’m not sure that even he knew what he was angry about. Perhaps I had provoked him, little sister that I was. Perhaps he resented the circumstances of the moment. We were about to get into the car, all nine of us – the two oldest had left home by then – in any case the car would have been full.
One grey station wagon packed with nine bodies, adults and children alike. We four in the middle, aged between eight and twelve, squeezed into the back section of the car, the place where these days most people put their dogs or groceries.
There were no fixed seats. We sat legs out in front and leaned against the rear side windows, my sister and I on one side, my two brothers opposite. My brothers’ legs were longer than ours, and there was never room enough. They needed to bend them and hold onto their knees to fit. My sister and I irritated our brothers by stretching out from time to time. They did the same to us.
We knew to keep quiet about any disagreements about who took up too much space. My father in the driver’s seat did not tolerate noise. My brother kicked me before we climbed into the car and I forgot to keep quiet.
My brother’s punishment, my father’s sharp tongue, a slap across the face, was worse than any kick I had received.