you aren’t being offered anything
I was thinking again about how it might be possible to become another kind of writer without becoming the someone else you would need to be to do that. The transitions I’ve made before have always been unenforced, a luxury of choice. They’ve been the result of seeing not how a personal change could be made to catch up and integrate with a social one, but how the one had always been inside the other without me knowing.
This way of describing things, I now see, came out of a pure 1960s terror of scuttling to keep up, rather than having an eye open for what you already know. I saw a lot of the former. That’s the difference between “having an idea for a story” and really, just finding the episteme that was already speaking to you.
In transitional days, when you know you’re not who you used to be, what’s needed is a chrysalis. I’ve made them out of anything, like a caddis larva at the bottom of a pond: physics, politics, philosophy, chaos theory, literary theory, shoe size, rock type, images of the purity of recursion and feedback, the relationship between crossword puzzles and bouldering on gritstone crystal, bits of this, bits of that. It doesn’t matter, as long as you believe you’ve been struck by lightning and are now building something, which is what I imagine the caddis larva to think. Busy, busy, busy.
What goes on inside a chrysalis is liquid. The important thing to remember is that the new contents will be emergent in some sense of unknown chemistry long before they become emergent in that more obvious, less interesting sense in which something expressed as rigid and limiting splits to allow something expressed as just a bit more flexible out into the world. More to the point, by the time you’re looking for a way to breach, it has always already happened. All you need to do is the more delicious, exciting work of describing it by what is now, mysteriously, pure hindsight. Now you can decide who you’re meant to be. Apply a little guidance. Look for the new problems you’re sure you can solve.
This isn’t like that. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel as if anything is being offered. I feel not as if I’m changing (meaning: not as if I am discovering that I have already changed) but as if I’m required to consciously develop a fresh episteme out of a failing one. I don’t like that. I was never built for that. I was built to meet myself coming the other way and tremblingly decide whether to shake hands or not. I was built with a supply of dopplegangers. Maybe noticing this is in itself the beginning of something new? Or maybe I shot my bolt with the last couple of novels, in which, at last, unacknowledged epistemic collapse became the sole subject matter. Maybe there’s no new writer in here this time, fresh-faced, eager and ready to be peeled, finding in its turn an amazing world it seems to have been built with precisely the right organs to navigate.