Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The romantic notion of art, once a fixture of the elite cultures preceding the Second World War, has been increasingly transformed by a mass cultural concept of writer-as-producer. On the one hand, writers are encouraged to think of themselves as struggling for ‘transcendent art’; on the other, they are pushed to reach ever-greater word counts, as if they were some kind of Taylorist or Fordist creative factory. Quality is replaced by quantity. We’re all constantly reminded of this by the incessant tweets (#amwriting) and Facebook updates about the number of words our friends have churned out that day....

As a concept, writer’s block functions as the Jungian shadow to this idea of the prolific writer. To have writer’s block is to be excluded from the system of production, to fail to measure up against those peers. If modern capitalism is interested in competition, this is reflected within the culture of writing itself. The productive writer versus the blocked writer are the two halves of a broken and unhealthy whole.

Western society is facing a social epidemic of anxiety: ‘trickle-down distress’ Maura Kelly calls it in a recent Atlantic article. She notes that ‘nearly one in five’ American adults – some 40 million people – ‘suffer from anxiety disorders, the most common class of psychiatric ailment we have’. Many of the same concerns affecting blocked writers – perfectionism, impatience and so on – affect the population in general.

Neoliberal capitalism is no place for the sensitive.

Our individual psychologies are thus also expressions of social problems, and understanding this allows us to understand the space we have to resolve them as individuals. We cannot step out of this culture, but we can critique it and, ultimately, do our best to build something different.

Rjurik Davidson