From author Cynthia Ozick via The New York Times:
Old writers are taken to be as nonessential as old magazines that long ago expired: they are repetitious and out of date, they fail to be of interest even to themselves, they are worn out. A very few have been known to admit to this crisis of confidence or exhaustion, as when in a burst of self-extinguishment as shocking as the unforeseen resignation of a reigning monarch, they submit to abdication. Admittedly, old writers tend to be cut off from their desks mainly by dotage, disability, or death; they do not voluntarily accede to unnatural stoppage. Such instances of self-erasure are rare, and may apply only to those old writers who own the immaculate status of literary popes. More typically, the banishment of old writers derives almost ritually from external sources. How do old writers learn that they are, after all, old writers? By being told, named, classified.
Yet it has long been a credo among old writers (and perhaps among old readers too) that the idea of generations is facile and false; that yes, old writers are either remembered and read or not, and that the young in their turn must begin again the inborn progress of will under pressure of rapture. What unites writers (or so old writers believe) is not a common time frame — a contemporaneous cohort — but an affinity of temperament, an affinity that defies the present and the local, and can journey across the borders of time and geography; and is, most particularly, unconcerned by the imaginary moat touted by birth certificates.
. . . .
Aspiration is not the same as ambition. Ambition forgets mortality; old writers never do. Ambition wants a career; aspiration wants a room of one’s own. Ambition feeds on public attention; aspiration is impervious to crowds. Old writers in their youth understood themselves to be apprentices to masters superior in seasoned experience, and were ready to wait their turn in the hierarchy of recognition. In their lone and hardened way of sticking-to-it, they were unwaveringly industrious; networking, the term and the scheme, was unknown to them. In their college years, they might on occasion enroll in courses in “creative writing,” though unaware of the vapid redundancy of the phrase: courses presided over by defeated professors who had once actually published a novel and were thereby rendered reverential, but afterward were never heard from again. Old writers were spared (by the nonexistence of such things) the institutionalization of creative writing M.F.A. programs in the universities, taught by graduates of M.F.A. programs — a cycle of M.F.A. students becoming M.F.A. teachers teaching M.F.A. students who will in turn become M.F.A. teachers: a Möbius strip of job-manufacture. Old writers in their youth were resolutely immured in their first novels, steadfastly enduring unworldly and self-chosen isolation; they shunned journalism, they shunned coteries, they shunned parties, they shunned the haunting of magazines for review assignments, they shunned editorial work, fearful of being drawn into the distracting pragmatism of publishing — magnetized instead by the lure of the Ding an sich.
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Young writers, meanwhile, bring to mind those magically endowed characters in the fairy stories whom the youngest son meets on the way to his future: the man in the blindfold, the man with his ears tightly bandaged — because otherwise sight so powerful will see too unbearably far, and hearing so sensitive will be assailed by all the sounds of the earth. In the bottomless force of their seeming immortality, young writers are mercifully lent these blindfolds and ear muffs, and why? To shield them from what old writers have come to know: how things turn out. Old writers have the eyes and breadth of biographers, even when they are not literally so: they are witness to the trajectories of entire lives, the early flourishing and the latter-day fizzling, or else the unpromising seed and its surprising fruitfulness. Old writers have seen and heard the howls and wounds of the madness that failed recognition confers, and they have seen and heard the triumphal parades that the madness of great reputation allows.
Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Bill for the tip.
Here’s a link to Cynthia Ozick’s books