Tuesday, June 15, 2010

how old are you?

An article by Sam Tanenhaus of The New York Times asks the question, “how old can a ‘young writer’ be?” The premise is interesting enough to set aside my morning tasks.

Going straight to the point of the article, the author implies, if not argues, that many writers produce and achieve great successes in their writing, which usually stays longer than any other works, when they are young (in the scope of fiction writing). That is why labeling them as “budding” or “promising” is not right; in fact they are at their peak.

Let’s take a trip back to history (taken in its entirety from the article) and see what this is all about:

‘Flaubert was 29 when he began writing “Madame Bovary” (and was 34 when it was completed).Thomas Mann was 24 when he completed his first masterpiece, “Buddenbrooks.” Tolstoy, after a period of dissolution followed by military service, began writing “War and Peace” at age 34. Joyce, who wrote “Ulysses” in his 30s, already had two major works behind him. The late-blooming Proust, his youth idled in Paris salons, was only 37 when he began writing “Remembrance of Things Past.” Even Kafka, the 20th century’s most haunting exemplar of anguished paralysis, was 29 when he wrote “The Metamorphosis” and 31 when he began “The Trial.”

Unsurprisingly, in youth-obsessed America, writers have often done their best work early. Melville was 32 when “Moby-Dick” was published (after the successes of “Typee” and “Omoo”). The writers of the lost generation found their voices when they were very young: Fitz gerald (28, “The Great Gatsby”), Hemingway (27, “The Sun Also Rises”). Faulkner lagged slightly behind. He had just turned 32 when “The Sound and the Fury” was published. Then again, it was his fourth novel.’

The celebrated post-World War II generation was just as precocious. Norman Mailer was only 25 when “The Naked and the Dead,” his classic, and enormous, war novel came out. And James Jones’s even longer work, “From Here to Eternity,” was published when he was 29. The indefatigable warhorses who grew up in the 1950s were also good very young: Joyce Carol Oates (31, “Them,” her fifth novel); Philip Roth (26, “Goodbye Columbus”); John Updike (28, “Rabbit, Run”); Thomas Pynchon (26, “V.”).’

A novel at the age of twenty-four (of which the writing starts at 22!)? Hands down. Even the writers of our own blood achieved overwhelming praises in their early 30s, worthy of argument or not, here and abroad. There’s Miguel Syjuco with his debut novel “Ilustrado,” grand winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. There’s Ian Rosales Casocot, a huge heap of literary merits under his belt. And many more.

The article just got me introspecting: What am I doing now? Sad to say, I am in a rut. I already have something grand in mind, yes, for fiction (none so far for my first love, poetry) but the disease of inevitably thinking of it is a long shot keeps me derailing from the “action,” forever stuck in the “plan.”

“Move on!” Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas told me once in one of my many meta-musings. She is right. While the thoughts are still fresh in the head, young and malleable, move on and write on. This is the simplest route.

Then let’s discuss about our ages next.


The Roadside Reviewer said...

maybe you need a long vacay where you will be abandoned to finishing it.

dabo (or david) said...

from here to eternity, no other novel have unified (at least for me) the greatness of human mind and his worst misery in single line:

"reason is the greatest discovery ever made by man, yet it is the most disregarded and least used. no wonder reasonable men become bitter and disillusioned."

lupit lang mag-isip ni james jones.

gillboard said...

I have a story in mind. Just don't know how to put it in paper and get it published. Probably the reason why it's still in my head.

f. jordan said...

@The Reviewer: Can't have that yet. It's hard. Buti ka pa, Amsterdam na soon! Have a safe trip!

@Dabo: I'm guilty, haven't read that guy. (And a lot of other people).

@Gillboard: That's our problem, we just keep on thinking. Let's move it, move it!