Sunday, June 01, 2008

Finding Your Aesthetic Centre

There's been quite a bit of debate about creative writing courses, after Kureishi's remark that they are "like mental hospitals." I can't entirely disagree (our course had its own tragic death a few weeks in to it, and another student who suffered from panic attacks), but more interesting was his comment that he gives everyone 71%. It feels about right. I can't remember now whether I was just below that or just above... that ballpark. More interesting is why do people go on creative writing courses? I think, simply, the time it gives you to write your novel, has to be invaluable - it certainly helps the prevaricators by giving them a target, and for those of us who were going to write a novel anyway, it allows us to have another answer when people ask "what do you do?" I recall at one of my interviews saying: "I want to find out what kind of writer I am." Oh, the naivety of the thirty year old! It came to mind this week, when someone suggested I should concentrate a bit more on one thing or another. Spreading myself thin. Yet, I'm not sure I am in that I've had quite a lot of consistency over the years - my aesthetic centre, if you like, has broadened, but hasn't changed that much. I was re-reading Motion's biography of Larkin - suitably entitled "A Writer's Life" - and its fascinating to read of Larkin at Oxford, so unimpressed by the Anglo-Saxons and others that he's supposed to read as part of his English course, even noting in the margins of the library copy of Spenser that it's the most boring poem in the language. Larkin, never a good example in some ways, knew what he liked - even as his influences changed from Yeats to Auden, and then went elsewhere - and also what he didn't like. If it came a bit too much of a fixed idea for him, then at least he backed up those limitations with the quality of his work. (Lowell loved his work, for instance, but it was hardly reciprocated, how could it have been, knowing what we know of Larkin's "centre"?) - and railing against a set orthodoxy, can be a powerful way of defining your own art. Whether its music, art, fiction or poetry, I've not changed massively in what I consider important - both in others, and in my own intentions. If I have a dilettante streak, its because I know how difficult it is to actually create an art that fulfils all of one's aesthetic desires. My creative course reconnected me with my aesthetic centre in a way that I hadn't really expected. Ten years on, the importance of having that centre, however wayward it might seem at times, remains critical, I think.

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