‘This is curious’, said M’sieur Pierre.’ What are these hopes, and who is this saviour?
’‘Imagination,’ replied Cincinnatus
Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading
In an email to a friend last year I wrote: “I’m struggling to move my novel forward. It’s giving me a hard time at the moment. But they always make us pay our dues sooner or later. So this is not really unexpected. After all, I’ve been having a good run with it for quite a while. Now for some deeper probing. The problem with the book is my own doing. I can’t bear to take the material for granted; and having written a draft I have to begin questioning it and erasing it. I don’t seem to be able to do it any other way. I’m not as persistent as Giacometti in erasing my works in progress, but I do understand Giacometti’s visceral reluctance to believe in what he had created until it had begun to shine for him with a kind of light that was not his own. Without this sense of surprise about what we have done there is no mystery in what we do. And I happen to agree with the spirit of Lorca’s “only mystery makes us live.” So here I am again this morning attacking what I’ve done so far with this book as if it were the work of my deadly enemy and I were determined to tear it to pieces.’
. . . .
Inspiration, that igniting of the imagination that enables is to write beyond ourselves, so that our work shines for us with a light that is not our own, is most often an inner response to a stimulus from outside, some trivial event that triggers memory and alters our mood. It is the source of Lorca’s mystery. It is what sustains our interest. But when we consciously go in search of inspiration, it stubbornly eludes us. I’ll let Proust have the final word on this:
. . . one knocks at all the doors which lead nowhere, and then one stumbles without knowing it on the only door through which one can enter— which one might have sought in vain for a hundred years – and it opens of its own accord.
Alex Miller, John Masefield’s Attic, in The Best Australian Essays 2010, ed. Robert Drew (here)