Yesterday I mentioned the temptations of a novelist. The phrase was coined by the late Arthur Koestler, the European novelist who wrote Darkness at Noon. In his essay, The Novelist’s Temptations, Koestler said that writing a novel was like sitting in front of an open window with your feet in a hot water bucket. Koestler borrowed the image from the Russian master Turgenev, who actually wrote his novels by an open window with his feet in a bucket because Turgenev felt the hot water stirred his unconscious.
In his essay, Koestler said the novelist’s temptation were threefold: either to stick their head out the window, shut the window, or peer at the world through a small hole in the closed curtain. He said none of these actions helped the novelist write. Instead what he recommended is that the novelist keep their window wide open to the world so they know what is going on around them. But they stay at their task with their feet in the hot water bucket.
The important thing, Koestler claimed, was that the novelist keep up with what is happening outside his study. He believed that these things didn’t necessarily need to be in the pages of the novel, but they needed to be in the novelist’s mind when he or she wrote their story. According to Koestler, knowledge of the world indirectly informs the novelist’s story, taking it to greater depths of understanding.
Well, I agree. But Koestler didn’t say that sticking your head out the open window is always wrong. He said that in some periods, to care about politics is a temptation for the artist. And in other periods, to not care about politics is a temptation. I believe we are in the latter period where not caring is a temptation so my head is going to go out the window when I see a good reason for it. Tomorrow, I promise, my thoughts on Barry Michels, the shrink who talked about why writers need to be in touch with their Shadow, the Jungian aspect of the personality that is the sum of all the unpleasant qualities we like to hide.