The Man Who Suffers And The Mind That Writes

Although T.S. Eliot is most famous for his poetry like the Four Quartets and The Wasteland, or maybe even his plays like Murder In The Cathedral, he was also known for his literary criticism.  Particularly important among his ideas as a literary critic is his separation of the writer of literature into two different personas, the real and somewhat ordinary human being who lives life and goes to the grocery store, and the mind that writes that builds a sense of intimacy with a reader and makes himself into a friend of the audience.  Eliot wanted to divide the author into two people largely because the writer, the real person, is often reclusive and somewhat disappointing and the person that an audience tends to love is not the real and ordinary person with feet of clay and problems communicating, but the eloquent and moving implied author of seriously good writing.

Of course, it should be noted that these two people are really two aspects of the same person.  The mind that writes is the persona, the exterior mask of the writer [1] that interacts with the reader, that reflects upon reality and distills it or, as some might say, transmutes it, into something worthwhile and of lasting value, something that surprises others and that improves their reality.  Alternatively, this persona can build intimacy through text by conveying the inner reality that is often hidden in the conventional ways that we interact with the world around us.  This is the sort of person that people want to know when they get to know a book.  We read a Jane Austen novel and enjoy the wittiness of the narrator, and we feel as if Austen is a friend letting us know about the ridiculous and hypocritical aspects of her own time, someone we feel as if we could appreciate in our lives as a dinner companion.  Is it the “real” Austen?  We cannot know; she was obscure her entire life, she never married, and we cannot know the real her even if we wish, but we know and like, the narrator we meet in her novels.

What does this mean for those of us who are writers ourselves?  Speaking somewhat personally, I am person for whom much of my internal life, including my emotional state, is largely invisible to the outside world.  Being a person of incredible awkwardness and restraint, I am not someone who is readily transparent to those who know me, unless they are remarkably intuitive people.  Most people simply would not know what I am thinking or feeling on a regular basis without knowing my writing.  To be sure, this writing is not the immediate emotional experience, but rather one that is mediated through highly intellectual language.  Yet it is as good as understanding my emotional life is going to get, as I have never been able to speak about the matters that burden my heart very easily–it is remarkable enough that I am able to write about them at all given the unpleasant scrutiny and often uncomfortable repercussions of my writings throughout the course of my life.  That said, as a man who suffers greatly, the need to express that suffering in some fashion outweighs my considerable reserves of caution when it comes to writing, while my caution and native timidity makes it impossible to speak about such matters comfortably and safely.  No doubt different writers have different dynamics, but at least for me, no one would know the man who suffers if they did not engage with the mind that writes.

Is it necessary to wish any acquaintance with the man who suffers to have a sense of fondness for the mind that writes?  I do not believe it to be so.  There are people I have known through the medium of online communication with whom my interactions in person have always been awkward, yet I know that they happen to greatly enjoy my writing, and I consider them people I respect even if we do not hit it off in person.  Human beings are certainly complicated, and we may not always make the best impressions on others.  Those who seem overly brash and loud in person can be people of great if disguised sensitivity, something more easily expressed online or through an epistolary friendship than one conducted face to face.  At other times we must simply feel kindness and respect towards others in our hearts and make the best of what poor powers of interpersonal communication that we have, and deal with whatever shyness and awkwardness we have as people.  Even where we are articulate and insightful observers of the world around us, we remain flawed and imperfect people just like everyone else, prone to disappoint those who expect more of us.  In that light, it is perhaps wise that Eliot separated the mind that writes from the man (or woman) that suffers in life, and from whose suffering art is created.  How many people want to know the real me anyway?

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to The Man Who Suffers And The Mind That Writes

  1. Pingback: If I Were You, I’d Wanna Be Me Too | Edge Induced Cohesion

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