On Distinction Between Writer and the Writings
edited: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
By Ganesh K Kamath
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2009
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Does a writer have an obligation to follow the ideas expounded in his/her writings?
Just how much can a reader infer about the nature of a non-autobiographical writer – this distinction exists because autobiographical writers are assumed, by nature, to recite real life events - by merely reading his/her works? Do the works, non-fiction specifically, reflect the experiences or desires of the author? Is it inevitable that a writer expose his/her thoughts, feelings and emotions in the writings? Finally, can the reader rightfully expect the writer to live up the thoughts and philosophies espoused by the author in his/her works? While this is a complicated subject, I assert that readers should make a distinction, a conscious one at times, to separate the writer from the writings, and I shall attempt to provide what I hope will be convincing explanations to support this assertion in the next few paragraphs.
Let us being with the trivial and simple example of a romance novelist – it is easy to see that any writer of this genre has never experienced most or any of the romantic encounters and expressions published in his/her works. However, some of the ideas expressed may be based on the desires of the writer, but this is not always necessarily true . What is true , however, is that the writer is possible simply following a successful formula to keep the books selling, or perhaps writing what comes naturally to the writer. As much as readers may enjoy the works of the authors of this genre, they will be foolish and naïve to expect every author to be a hopeless romantic and make for a perfect lifelong partner. Similar examples could be made of writers belonging to the science fiction, crime, detective and almost any other genre.
Now readers of a philosophy writer are, however, less forgiving of the author’s inability to practice his/her preaching. For instance, if the writer that was strenuously espousing the virtue of vegetarianism were found to be greedily devouring greasy cheeseburgers topped with strips of crisp bacon and all, the said writer would be literally skinned alive by his/her readers. In other words, the readers would make no bones of the fact that the writer was a hypocrite and hold the writer in deepest and most scathing contempt for the rest of the writer’s life. While arguments may be made to support the over-zealous readers - pithy maxims such as ‘practice what you preach’ and ‘walk the walk, talk the talk' come to mind – the question remains whether the writer owes any obligation to the readers to practice the views expressed by the writer in his/her works.
It must be accepted that readers are in agreement with a writer’s philosophies because if they didn’t then they couldn’t care less whether the author followed his principles to the letter or not. The perception of being let down occurs when the readers believe deeply in a writer’s doctrines and feel a great sense of betrayal when they find that the author does not follow his/her own ideologies. Hence there is a correlation between the sense of betrayal felt by the readers, in direct proportion if you will, with the belief placed by them upon the writer’s philosophies. In other words, the less a reader agrees with the author, less the sense of betrayal and vice-versa.
Here is the crux of the matter – if readers are indeed in agreement with a writer’s philosophies, then why should it matter in the slightest whether the writer follows his/her own philosophies or not? The accuracy of the observations made and the philosophies espoused by the author would be valid regardless of whether he/she acts upon those observations and practices those philosophies or not. The readers would presumably be better individuals for having followed the philosophies they assented to, regardless of whether the author does so or not. So where is the loss then? The writer, in short, is a mere human who is no different from the reader in most matters and hence subject to the same weakness and follies as the reader. The chief difference between the writer and the reader is that, while both may have encountered similar experience, uncertainties, questions, phenomenon, etc., the former has perhaps provided convincing explanation or solutions or some rationale that the latter did not conceive, but is in close agreement with.
Perhaps I am guilty of over-simplifying the issue and absolving the writer too easily; certain kinds of writers, particularly those with a theological bend of mind can have, regrettably, a massive influence upon most readers, and any let down demonstrated by such a author would have, and rightly I might add, a profoundly disillusioning effect upon his/her reader/ followers. But this genre of writers is an aberration rather than the norm, for what other category of writers commands their readers to accept without any questions, to take entirely on faith and without any skepticism what is being said as the truth and absolute truth while providing barely any evidence at all? When such illogical ideologies are present as truths and people choose to accept them as such, the outcomes similarly defy logic. However, theology and religion are another matter altogether and will doubtlessly make wonderful and interesting topics for one or more essays in the future.
In conclusion, if one were perceptive enough to distinguish between the writer and his/her writings, one could learn a lot from the wisdom of writers instead of allowing the minor distraction of whether the writer follows his/her own philosophies determine the validity of those principles.