The usual 20 km cycle ride in the morning happened. It has been setting a calm and easy pace to the days. Later in the day, I read a short piece by Bill Morris with a rather loud title – Please! Hold Off on That Novel Coronavirus Novel! He wrote about coronavirus literature that is already getting published and in his view, prematurely. His concern is with the rapidity and urgency with which coronavirus writings are coming up. Should we not take some time to let our impressions, understanding and views on the pandemic and its effects to get refined or, to the least, get confirmed? I see that as a writer’s independent decision. Some are driven by an urgency, some prefer writing like a stream of consciousness patterned continuous relay of events as they happened while some prefer a patient, deliberated writing. All of these are fair methods and have their own kind of audiences. For instance, among the works I have read I see Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and more recently, Knausgaard’s Some Rain Must Fall as examples of the urgent feeling, relay of thoughts. In the same league, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest has been a struggle to finish.
But, there’s an important question raised in Morris’ piece in the process of examining the trend of coronavirus literature – about the blurring content of diaries and journals that people are busy writing (I have been writing a diary too since the lockdown began). He writes –
Far less promising is the coming glut of personal accounts, whether they’re fiction, poetry, diaries, or journals. Exhibit A: the ongoing “Pandemic Journal” series in The New York Review of Books, which features writers all over the world sending in personal dispatches. These accounts blur after a while because they swim in a soup of sameness and lack the specificity that brings writing to life. When everybody in the world is doing the same thing, just how unique or interesting can it be?
The phrase ‘soup of sameness’ is a hasty thought. That it is responsible for the blurred and uninteresting personal accounts of the pandemic may not be entirely appropriate. This is where I began thinking about accounts of days that people have been living, their personal journeys even as everything else in the lockdown looks the same across the world. I thought about these more than ninety entries I have made on this blog. Surely, on some aspects the entries have floated in a soup of sameness. There are observations on the city, changing soundscapes, changes in working style, details of working from home… all these are likely to be common, universal experiences at this point of time. Yet, is it fair to test every urge to write and every piece of writing on the criteria of sameness? It reflects a lack of understanding about the nature of sameness, to assert that sameness has little value. Moreover, does a commonality of external conditions mean that the situation’s effect on people will be the same? I hope this belief is limited.
I am defending sameness. It must not be dismissed or rejected based on a vague notion of intelligence, interest or promise. Writing is also a self-serving act. If the writer finds a purpose (or satisfaction, for heavens!) in a particular writing style then by all means it must be done that way. Intelligence, worth and all that be damned! Besides, every day of the lockdown has been different and rather unique for all of us. These are not the times that anyone living has familiarity with. Beyond the common context, every individual who is writing has a unique narrative of their own. In those narratives the writer is at the center. The experiences of every individual is unique in many ways. The urge to abstract those multilayered personal accounts into ‘key points’ and see if it applies to the entire village is an appalling perspective on why we write.