BOGOTÁ — U.S. poet Allen Ginsberg said he wrote because he liked to sing when he was alone, because he had no reason and because it was the best way to express whatever had come to mind in the space of 15 minutes, or of a lifetime. Italian novelist Umberto Eco said his children had grown up and he had nobody else to whom he would tell his stories. Spanish novelist Juan Marsé wrote for pure aesthetic pleasure. For him writing was a way to feel alive, to create imaginary beings, live a life he could not live, or overcoming, if not erasing, an unhappy childhood. Through writing he could obtain oblivion, or recover certain images or feelings from his childhood. Venezuela's Miguel Otero Silva says he became a writer as he could not be a concert musician nor a painter, lawyer, engineer, sportsman, guerrilla fighter nor indeed a member of the Venezuelan communist party, parliamentary orator or senator. Nature, he said, had not gifted him with the abilities needed for those professions and as a politician he would only think of brilliant speeches once parliament had adjourned.
Brazilian novelist Rubem Fonseca says it was a love of fantasy (dreaming, inventing ideas and telling tales) that first aroused in him a love of reading, which in turn prompted a love of writing and a desire to create all those things he admired. He soon discovered that writing could be boring or frustrating at times, and always tiring. But he persisted, he says, because it was difficult to abandon a job that had required so much time and effort to learn. For Graham Greene writing was a need, while Nigerian novelist Wole Soyinka considers it a form of masochism.
The Spanish poet Rafael Alberti said he wrote to communicate as clearly as possible with his readers or listeners, while the late Mexican poet Salvador Elizondo made this labyrinthine observation: "I remember having written and also see myself as I wrote. And I see myself remembering seeing myself write and recall having seen myself remember that I was writing. And I am writing that I see myself writing that I recalled having seen myself write that I could see myself writing that I recalled having seen myself write that I was writing, and that I was writing that I am writing that I was writing. I can also imagine myself writing that I had already written that I would imagine myself writing that I had written my imagining myself writing that I could see myself writing that I am writing."
Their destiny is to write — inexorable like an explorer of new worlds waiting to be built and conquered.
The philosopher Emil Cioran wrote that "for me, writing is to take revenge. Revenge against the world, against myself. Almost everything I have written was the product of some revenge." Italy's Gesualdo Bufalino explained that one writes to overcome amnesia. But "does one not also write to be happy?" he wondered. You can write as a game, and why not? The word is a toy — the most serious and fatuous, and the most charitable of all adult toys. "I write because I feel I am fulfilling a function I deem necessary for me. If I do not write, I feel disappointment and remorse," said Jorge Luis Borges.
The Nicaraguan Tomás Borge described writing as akin to making love, and writing a first book was like making love for the first time. Nobody, he mused, could bear the temptation to keep doing it until the end of time. The Colombian Germán Espinosa chose to say that he writes to justify himself or that if he were to discover why he writes, he would stop. But in truth, he says, he writes because inside him fantasy trumps reason. Gabriel García Márquez said he wrote so his friends would love him more. The Russian poet Alexander Kushner found pleasure and happiness in writing, and believed the poetic gift is as biological and instinctive in a poet as pollinating is to bees.
Gabriel García Márquez — Photo: El Tiempo/GDA/ZUMA
The Argentine Osvaldo Soriano never knew exactly why he wrote. Yet, he said, taking a risk, that first and foremost come the pleasure and sensuality of the words he picks to open a space of freedom in the universe his text is constructing. That is to say writing for the pleasure of writing, without forgetting that it still generates anxiety. He knows the price he must pay, so he is also writing to share his solitude. Henry Miller compared writing to life itself, a voyage of discovery wherein everything is done for the joy of doing it. He was indifferent to both the common reader and critics, and was delighted as soon he discovered his own voice. That different, distinctive and unique voice kept him going.
Spain's José Agustín Goytisolo said writing helped him live and remain cheerful amid so many disasters and so much moral vileness, mediocrity and cowardice. Writing, he said, is inevitably due to deep-seated needs, to imbalance. Manuel Vásquez Montalbán said: "I began writing because I wanted to be great, rich and beautiful." Leonardo Sciascia said he wrote "because I like writing, because in writing one sees oneself writing, and feels one is living a life beyond existence."
Marguerite Duras said sarcastically that she had nothing to say to the bothersome question and had never given this strange activity a thought. Jaroslav Seifert said one writes perhaps because every being wishes to leave a mark. Peter Schneider observed more cautiously that he had not yet written enough to have reflected on the question. I too would like to say why I write, to end this hunt for quotations with a poem entitled: "Poem"
I love the words
with which I love you,
and I write because I am
in love with the rain,
with the afternoon wind,
with hand kisses
and the caresses of your eyes
that dream of me with your nights
beside me, with your voice whispering,
with your silences when you say nothing,
with your presence when
I have you, with your steps
when we are walking,
with your hair, swayed
by the wind, with your words
like burning embers,
I write to beg you not to die,
not to stop existing and stay
forever in this poem,
in this heart
and in this hand
that forever writes you.
Embarrassed or not, writers and poets write because it is their purest vocation, and they find through language a way to embellish the debased world in which we live. Their destiny is to write — inexorable like an explorer of new worlds waiting to be built and conquered. Language is both the continent to be discovered and a most marvellous instrument that permits them to imagine the most delirious and beautiful tales conjured by their mind, reality and history, which flow through their heart and writing hand. Writing is an exercise of the imagination so exacerbated in nature as to have prompted Albert Einstein to declare imagination to be superior to knowledge.
Writing is not the trade of saying pretty things, nor intended to seduce girls or an exercise in snobbery that allows the writer to rake in money. For we already know that in a society that has no respect for the condition of writer or poet, the writer cannot even hope for any compensation, should he seek to turn words into another product on the market or means of ingratiating himself with the powers, academies or establishment.
The writer's revolutionary duty is to write well, García Márquez said once. But this duty must include his and her literary ethics and aesthetics. Nor is it the work of privileged individuals, though their sensitivity has already marked them out from common folk, for not all men are sensitive to language nor love it enough to want to write. Does one write for love of language, as one loves a woman or life, and does it enthrall and mystify like the most fervent of human inventions? The day anyone is boggled by the power of words is when they become a poet, feeling this power every moment and learning to live and love life poetically.
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