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Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sarah Perry: what good are books, in a situation like this? | Books - The Guardian

The Essex Serpent author has been filling her days with sewing, baking and music - but not writing. How can you find meaning in work that feels useless? by Sarah Perry.

‘As lockdown continues, I find my imagination has not faltered against this hard reality, but has itself grown harder’ ... Sarah Perry.
Photo: Julian Simmonds/REX/Shutterstock
Some months ago I stood in the pulpit of Lancaster Priory and spoke on the virtue of art. What do we mean, I said, by “a good book”? I proposed that literature had use beyond pleasure, and that moral purpose was intrinsic to any book worth the cover price: the only way is ethics. I quoted Aristotle; I burnished my halo. My duty, I said, was to write good books, and this was an act of love. Well, a haughty spirit comes before a fall, and I tripped on a virus, and fell into believing that literature was useless and I’d wasted my life in its pursuit. Even before the lockdown began I could not write. It baffled me that I’d ever done such a trivial thing. I have a banner hanging on my study door: “L’amour c’est tout”. It bloody isn’t, I thought. I never went in.

This is not to say I have been unable to create at all. With the privileges of comfort and time, I sew patchwork quilts, make bread, play the piano. This is common: “Everybody is feeling the same thing,” wrote Virginia Woolf of Londoners in the second world war, “therefore nobody is feeling anything.” Social media has become a village hall for the display of sourdough loaves and cross stitch samplers: fear and love sublimated into all the things we think our mothers did. What else can we do, inhabiting a place of present or anticipated grief?

But these are crafts, which distinguish themselves from art by their utility. A quilt will keep you warm; a book can do so only if you burn it. What I felt when I looked at my shelves was not consolation, but contempt. What good were books, in the end?...

In her poem “David’s Boyhood”, Adrienne Rich writes: “Lying against the throne-room wall, / Let David play the harp for Saul”. I put these verses where I see them every day. David played for the consolation of the king, and in due course wore the crown himself, and in this way the music did the rounds and comforted its maker. So I am going to tune up my harp, I’m going to keep my hand in.
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Source: The Guardian