A dispiriting blank side

Like you, when I read two mentions of the same concept within a few days, I exclaim in a voice hearty enough for all to hear, “That’s a blog post!” I am barely tolerated by the librarians. The cause of today’s inappropriate exclamation is the tyranny of the blank page.

Cormac McCarthy seems to like empty pages, more than he likes holidays anyway, as he tells the Wall Street Journal:

Your future gets shorter and you recognize that. In recent years, I have had no desire to do anything but work and be with [son] John. I hear people talking about going on a vacation or something and I think, what is that about? I have no desire to go on a trip. My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That’s heaven. That’s gold and anything else is just a waste of time.

Douglas Adams — currently quoted on 17.8 per cent of web pages — was ready to square up to a sheet of A4, however hard victory might be:

Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds.

Philip Pullman, quoted on Rodcorp’s How We Work, sidesteps the messiness of an oozing brow by never allowing an empty sheet to hold him up:

I write three pages every day (one side of the paper only). That’s about 1100 words. Then I stop, having made sure to write the first sentence on the next page, so I never have a blank page facing me in the morning.

Artists must also cope with the teasing void, and the cause of this post, the cause of my exclamation, the cause of the librarian’s wagging finger, is from Vincent van Gogh, quoted in the London Review of Books:

To be good — many people think that they’ll achieve it by doing no harm — and that’s a lie, and you said yourself in the past that it was a lie. That leads to stagnation, to mediocrity. Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.

You don’t know how paralysing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerises some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

Life itself likewise always turns towards one an infinitely meaningless, discouraging, dispiriting blank side on which there is nothing, any more than on a blank canvas.

But however meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something, doesn’t let himself be fobbed off like that. He steps in and does something, and hangs onto that, in short, breaks, “violates” — they say.

Let them talk, those cold theologians.

That’s a quote and a half. You can’t be good by doing no harm. “However dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, and who knows something … He steps in and does something.”

Go on.

30 Nov 2009 at Twitter

  • 02:22pm: @russelldavies VMWare Fusion or Parallels, to let you run Windows on a Mac when required?
  • 02:25pm: Chilly part of the day now requiring five layers. Centrally-controlled heating operators must get a cut from North Face, Icebreaker, etc.