Codrescu: Writers & Preachers

Writing is looked upon as a noble profession, a calling, like the priesthood. In a way it is: sacrifices have to be made. Scribbling is lonely business. But there are degrees: the news writer works by yardage and is expected to be accurate. Your columnist is in charge of something called "principles," mainly detecting the lack of them in the mighty. Writers of fictions are committed only to consensual reality. And poets are an unknown entity that is to be given slack at all times, or room for inspiration, because there is no telling when a flash might rend the darkness. Or when they might bite. In terms of usefulness to society, only the news writers are indispensable. As for the rest, they are to be admired only in regard to the making itself: in the service of art they spend the energy of a childish faith. They worship at their word processors like Manila supplicants at Easter. They can be ascetic and programmatic then -- and fiercely libertarian. But as soon as the poem or story is done they will switch to excess, vice, vulgarity, hedonism, social-climbing, butt-kissing, and the repeated stabbing of their colleagues, just like televangelists. The principal motivators of most possessed people, whether fine writers or crusaders, are the perceived slights they received in their misshapen childhoods at the hands of family, church, and state. In addition to revenge and envy, these people are often motivated by erotic impulses that involve either defilement, abasement, or theft of another's love object. There are countless examples of this, both in the history of literature and that of the church, including murders committed to satisfy some deformed impulse. Of course, most of them are cowards, which is why there aren't more of them on death row. Some clever poets have wiggled out of the hangman's noose with verses flattering to the king, while for centuries the so-called "right of clergy" kept men of god out of it for no reason at all. But if the psychological makeup of the two professions is similar a big difference still pertains: writers actually make something, books, while the peddlers of religion keep making nothing out of one book they never finish reading.

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