Tuesday, 10 February 2009

On Graham Greene: 'The End of The Affair'.

Consider the following two passages. They are written by the same author, in the same book and as the same narrator:

"When young one builds up habits of work that one believes will last a lifetime and withstand any catastrophe. Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical and when my quota of work is done, I break off even in the middle of a scene. Every now and then during the morning's work I count what I have done and mark off the hundreds on my typescript. No printer need make careful cast-off of my work, for there on the front page of my typescript is marked the figure- 83,764. When I was young not even a love affair would alter my schedule. A love affair had to begin after lunch, and however late I might be getting to bed- I would read the morning's work over and over and sleep on it...It needed Sarah to upset my self-imposed discipline... When she left the house I couldn't settle or work...But if love had to die, I wanted it to die quickly."

(Graham Greene, The End of The Affair, pp.24-25)

Then contrast this passage:

"The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem to be aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and no one other. But happiness annilates us: we lose our identity...The act of love itself has been discribed as the little death and lovers sometimes experience too little the peace. It is odd to find myself writing these phrases as though I love in fact what I hate."

(Graham Greene, The end of The Affair, p.36)

What an apparent contradiction! The first passage indicates that the writer is able to write in most circumstances and that this only became disturbed when he began to hate his lover Sarah. Only when he wanted the relationship to end, did his work pattern become disrupted. The second passage says something different. The argument here indicates that it is only through pain and hatred that one can press one's identity, that in love one becomes lost at sea, dissolved in an almost religious moment of loss.

Yet as one who has been trained in scholastic method, I am not willing to leave it there. Can one, reach a 'higher' understanding that does not make these two positions contrary to each other?

Certainly, the first passage speaks more about 'work' and 'habit.' It focuses on the formal aspect of writing, of the excerise of a technical ability. The second passage deals more with the content of the art. What is written about can become clearer when one hates or wants to assert one's identity. It might be a stretch to far to suggest that this is an outcome of the authors reported bi-polarity. Rather, what it demonstrates is that for great work to exist, there needs to be several sittings on the one peice, so that these two aspects can become entwined. When one swings to the technical extreme, the raw material of words is produced. Then at the other end, something more beautiful is produced when the content of the work can become visible. Surely this an indication that great writing- and indeed great art, cannot be the outcome of one brilliant moment of divine intervention. Instead, different treatments need to be considered and worked upon. Only then, can the masterpeice become possible!

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