Carlo Gébler: writing matters so it should be venerated, not devalued

‘Writers have a huge responsibility because, quite literally, albeit incrementally, the things they write, once they’re read, change the character of their readers, for ever’

Carlo Gébler: “writing is alchemical: it alters the substance of a reader’s personality. That process should be venerated, supported, respected and cherished because via that process changes of incredible value are wrought in individual psyches and eventually in the collective unconscious”

Carlo Gébler: “writing is alchemical: it alters the substance of a reader’s personality. That process should be venerated, supported, respected and cherished because via that process changes of incredible value are wrought in individual psyches and eventually in the collective unconscious”

 

Lagan Press holds the Dublin launch of Carlo Gébler’s new memoir, Confessions of a Catastrophist, on Friday, March 20th, at 6.30pm at Books Upstairs, D’Olier Street, Dublin 2. Carlo will be introduced on the night by Gerald Dawe.

The Confessions of a Catastrophist is a memoir. It’s partial, biased and highly partisan. Right – that’s the health warning done.

So, what kind of animal exactly is it? There’s no living or existing model but if one were to exist it would be prickly, feral, nocturnal and almost impossible to domesticate. Imagine a hedgehog crossed with an ant-eater crossed with a bat crossed with an eel and you’d be halfway there.

The foundation stone of this book is my personality. I am a pessimist of the deepest, blackest variety. I expect things to go wrong and my life experience has confirmed that I am right. They do – not always as I expect of course but they always do.

Ah, but that’s just how you see the world, you want to shout back at me at this point.

Please, save your breath and take it from me, the expert, who knows of what he speaks. Things always go wrong, always. Exclamation mark. Now, all together, repeat after me … Things only ever get worse.

If you expect failure and disaster at every turn you will have a hardish life. That surely is self-evident. But then, if you do something as stupid and reckless and imbecilic as try to make a living by writing, well, you are guaranteed to have a very obtuse and awkward time because as everybody knows, catastrophes in the arts and especially on O’Grub Street, where the Hibernian scribbler plies his trade, are commonplace.

So, the lives of writers have mostly been miserable, haven’t they? Yep, absolutely right, they have. But as a fully paid-up narcissist I have to confess that though I am happy to acknowledge the unhappy fates of the scribblers who have preceded me, I am only really interested in my own melancholy fate and those difficulties peculiar to me and it’s these that are the subject of this book.

Yaddy yaddy yaddy, you may wish to shout (or actually are shouting at this page at this point). Here we go, you are saying, here’s another writer blathering on about himself and his woes. Boring, boring, boring.

Well, yes, guilty as charged, it is my woes of which I speak in this book (hopefully – lightly, deftly and even wittily though I say so myself) but my solipsism, I would propose, is not entirely self-serving and not entirely irrelevant to the culture and even to you, dear irritated reader of this Irish Times posting.

Literature matters. It’s informative, it passes the time, it’s entertaining, and so on and so forth. Yeah, all true. But it’s also something that alters human beings at their core and that alteration is profoundly important and for the most part beneficial.

It’s like this. When you read, you are involved in a private transaction between, on the one hand, you, and on the other, the book and the person standing behind the book, the author.

The act of reading brings two separate energies together. One is the text which is made by the writer, and other is your personality into which the text is imported. Reading merges you and the text together and once that union has been effected it can never be undone. The two are meshed.

And the reason I lay such stress on this process is that the act of taking words off the page and bringing them into your psyche will necessarily change you for ever because every time you read, you see, the words you ingest get added in or on to your personality, so when you finish a text you are not the same person that you were when you started.

This means writers have a huge responsibility because, quite literally, albeit incrementally, the things they write, once they’re read, change the character of their readers, for ever.

And that’s what I do as a writer. I seek to change you. I do change you. In the nicest possible way, of course, and entirely for your benefit and in a highly ethical manner. Yep, that’s what I do and indeed I’ve already changed you. You didn’t realise, did you? But I have. You, now, dear reader, are no longer the same person you were when you read the first sentence of this piece. Yep. I’ve got my words into your head. Yep. And they’re going to be in there for ever. FOR EVER. Henceforward there will be a little bit of me (or my words) that will be for ever you. Isn’t that a marvellous thought?

So writing is alchemical: it alters the substance of a reader’s personality. That process should be venerated, supported, respected and cherished because via that process changes of incredible value are wrought in individual psyches and eventually in the collective unconscious. Obviously, you’re saying yes now, while nodding sagely. You knew that. Of course you did. After all, we all care about literature, don’t we?

But what has been happening in our culture, at least over the last 30 years that I’ve been a writer – back to me, sorry, and now I’m really in my catastrophist stride – is the reverse. Instead of being venerated, supported, respected and cherished, literature has been knocked, denigrated, downvalued and undermined and among the many things that have done literature so much damage I would include the abolition of the Net Book Agreement (Google this if you want to know what it is, its too complicated to explain and I haven’t got the time either as I have to get this piece written and into the Irish Times pronto and by the way, since you ask, no, they will not be paying, I am writing this for free), the triumph of discounting, the closure of at least half our bookshops, the decimation of our libraries and the death of proper criticism. This, by the way, is just the abridged list – if you want the full list of horrors, read my book, of course. Available from all good book sellers.

 

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