Time to Burn Some Books

I know some brilliant writers. I know some brilliant, talented, insightful writers.

As a pointless drifter of an Arts major, I’m constantly asked about what I want to do with the rest of my life. Originally, I used to tell them the truth: I want to be a writer.

“What, so like a reporter? Or like a technicalm writer?”

“Nope. I want to be a writer. Novels, scripts, essays…just be a writer.”

I used to get a lot of funny looks. They looked me up and down and all thought the same thing: What the hell do you have to write about? Hell, what makes you think you can write at all?

So now I tell them I’m going to get my Masters. It’s easier than trying to explain.

Every generation of writers in this century, from the Modernists to the Lost Generation; to the Beatniks and the Absurdists to the Postmodernists all share one thing in common: a burning desire to do better then those who came before them. To revolutionize writing, to experiment and create something new and fresh, while pointing out the flaws in those writers and artists who came before them. They were all gloriously arrogant and brilliant, driven by the urge to tell their stories: not satisfied with books by old people yearning for the past. Writing was the game of the young, the revolutionary, the ambitious.

That is, until you get to our generation.

Thanks to English courses throughout our schooling, we are completely immersed in the genius and glories of the old masters in everything from poetry to fiction to drama. We associate writers with old men, sitting in library-like houses, stroking their beards and pompously worshiping their own genius. We are told about their subtleties, their imagery, their mastery of the language as the pinnacle of literary achievement. These men and their great works have become intimidating monoliths standing on the horizon: Intimidating and terrifying, defying anyone who would try to rise to greatness the way they do.

But I think that it’s time we start trying.

As I’ve said before, I know a lot of very talented writers, and most of them are in either English or some other Arts program. As writers, they are usually well-versed in the great works of writers who came before them. But instead of looking at their works and saying, “Now it is time to create our own stories,” they cower, refusing to beat their fists at the old tombs. We, as a generation, have become one of the first in the Twentieth Century to swallow what we are told by the older generation. From the endearing popularity of old, dead rock stars and thirty year old movies, we’ve been told that perfection in the arts has been achieved, and that everything that comes after it is merely some sort of tepid afterbirth, a vague attempt at imitation. Writers today, though in their heart of hearts know that they have to write, that they have no other choice, are too intimidated to actually stand up and say “I am a writer. I will be a writer.” They dance around it, talking about teachers college or getting some sort of office job, not wanting to admit to the files upon files of their own work they know should be published.

So it’s time. Time to stand up, mount the spray bottles of gasoline on our backs, march into the library, and start to burn. We’ve got to burn the canon like so much kindling. We have to pull down these great works brick by brick, and erect our own.

It’s time to tell our own stories. It’s time for the writers to write.