The Erudite and Earnest Proceedings of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers

 

By Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

April, 2022

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2022. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

At eight o’clock pm sharp on a Thursday evening in the Spring, Paul Robertson, English professor for over a decade in South Korea, called to order the weekly meeting of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers. Seated around a long table in the back of Go to the Coffee, one of the innumerable coffee shops located in the Sajik Dong neighborhood of the city of Busan, South Korea, were the group’s core membership of expatriate English professors and English teachers. Once again, Paul, the society’s founding member and organizer, was tasked with the necessity to admonish the assembled participants to leave off from the incessant gregarious socializing which invariably occupied an exceeding amount of the group’s time, much to the dismay of the more serious intellectuals present. Paul understood that the genuine writers and thinkers of the society were counting on him to convince the socialites among them to cease and desist from the endless banter, in order to guide the discussion and conversation toward the more substantive issues the more serious literati looked forward to each week.

 

The expatriates present for the weekly meeting and discussion hailed from a variety of faraway countries of origin. In attendance on this particular evening were Paul from Chicago, Raymond from Melbourne, Australia, Nahid from Tehran, Adriana from Los Angeles by way of a rural farming community in Idaho, Kurt from Portland, Oregon, and Franklin from Toronto. These six were the core members of the society, the serious ones who Paul could depend upon to never miss a weekly meeting, and who were always fully prepared and ready to engage in serious dialog after dutifully completing the required reading Paul assigned for each week. Aside from these more serious writers, poets, thinkers, and philosophers, were a number of less committed and dependable attendees more interested in socializing and networking than in the serious discussion that was the aim of the heavy weights who were forced to endure patiently the effusive chatter of these considerably less intellectually inclined dilettantes. Although it was true that a few of the neophytes harbored real ambitions of being accepted as true peers of the society’s leading contributors, as yet most of them were far too young and inexperienced, novices in fact, and most of them gansas or institute and hogwan teachers without the years of study and writing under their belts required to measure up to par and plumb the weighty depths and significance of the topics of interest to the society’s core members.

 

Paul, as the society’s founder and chief organizer, made considerable efforts to enable all in attendance at the weekly meetings to feel welcomed and appreciated. Consequently, he tolerated the presence of the novices, and even encouraged the more experienced heavy weights to likewise endure the inevitable annoying inconveniences the amateurs imposed on all present through their inability to keep up with the big boys and girls, who viewed these inexperienced beginners as a real nuisance, when what the heavy hitters desired was to immediately plunge into serious discussions of substantive issues of intellectual depth and import.

 

After everyone ordered their dinks, treats, and desserts; lattes, ice americanos, green teas, small slices of cheese cake, waffles covered in whip cream, peanut butter cookies, and all other manner of Korean coffee shop favorites, Paul once again bid the gregarious members of the society to come to order so that the meeting and discussion could commence. The agenda for this week’s meeting was to focus on the analysis and discussion of a chapter out of the unpublished novel of Adriana from Los Angeles by way of Idaho. The week prior to the present meeting, Adriana had e-mailed pdf copies of the chapter to all of the members of the society, and everyone was required to read the chapter and come to the coffee shop for the current meeting prepared to discuss and critique the work, and to offer helpful and thoughtful suggestions for revisions, re-writings, and improvements to the chapter. In this manner, the society’s proceedings mirrored closely the format and approach used in the kind of workshop-based classes which were the mainstay of most university writing programs, and which more than a few of the members of the society were intimately familiar with from their prior experiences with this popular format for the study of writing in academic settings.

 

Adriana had been working on the same novel for many years. The work was a coming-of-age story of a young lesbian from a rural area in Idaho who moves out to the West Coast in order to escape the stifling intolerance through which she had been traumatized during her childhood and adolescence, and in order to experience the comparatively more free, open, and tolerant attitude toward her lifestyle predominating in that region of the country in and around the city of Los Angeles. At the present time, Adriana was attempting to use a literary agent to pitch the novel to a major publisher, and she harbored fantastical hopes of securing a sizable contract with a traditional publishing house, complete with movie rights and the promise of the spin-off of a Netflix series based upon the book. The problem Adriana was struggling with was that her literary agent, though employed by a well-known and highly regarded New York agency, consistently gave Adriana the cold shoulder and run around. The agent only rarely responded to Adriana’s persistent e-mails and phone calls, and on those infrequent occasions when she did respond, which were few and far between, all of her answers to Adriana’s request for information about the status of the agent’s attempts to find a publisher, all of the sparse communications from the agent were invariably vague, indeterminate, and so short and abbreviated as to be considered terse and downright rude. On the whole, all of the agent’s obfuscation left Adriana feeling completely dissatisfied and downright depressed, as Adriana hungered and thirsted for any sign from the agent which might provide the writer with any reason to maintain a small sliver of hope for the seemingly remote possibility of success in securing a contract from a big-time publishing house. Even Adriana’s requests for some practical advice from the agent concerning how she might revise and rework the novel so as to make it more marketable were left unanswered and completely absent from those infuriatingly brief and brusque e-mails sent from the pithy agent perhaps once every seven or eight months, if even that frequently.

 

Some of the other writers in the group assembled at the coffee shop in Busan, asked Adriana if she would consider that it might be time to give up on the New York agent, and find a home for her novel with a smaller, independent press outside of the big New York firms. Obstinately, Adriana adamantly refused to heed this well-meaning and well-intentioned advice, convinced that someday her dreams and ambitions of publishing with a big-time press would be ultimately realized, even if she had to wait nine more years in addition to the nine years she had already spent trying, unsuccessfully, to pitch the novel and shop it around.

 

“Adriana,” asked Paul as the group’s moderator, “Have you heard any good news from your agent lately?”

 

“Not a word, not a peep regrettably,” Adriana responded. “She does not answer my e-mails or return my phone calls. I have attempted to find another, more responsive New York agent, but as you can imagine, that is easier said than done. Nine years I’ve been trying to publish my novel, but it seems like I’m making no headway. Still, I refuse to call it quits, and deep down I firmly believe all of my patience will pay big dividends down the line when I finally land a handsome contract.”

 

Franklin from Toronto asked Adrian whether she thought it might be time to lower her sights and set aside her ambitions concerning the big contact with a conventional New York publishing house.

 

“Don’t you think it might be time to consider an alternative route toward publication, Adriana?” Nine years is a long time to shop around the same book. Perhaps you would be better off and more realistic if you settled on a smaller press, or even considered self-publication via Kindle, a hybrid press, or a print on demand publisher.”

 

“If I go that route Franklin, I might be able to sell a few hundred copies, maybe a bit more, to my circle of friends, family, and perhaps also to my students. One really is required to go with a big-name firm if one wants to make real money in this business of writing.”

 

          “There are other reasons to write than for money or profit, Adriana,” Franklin advised her. “Keeping your book hidden away in a drawer for another nine years while you wait endlessly for that e-mail or phone call from the agent who refuses to give you the time of day might be a terrible mistake. Sure, you won’t make the big bucks or name for yourself if you settle on a more realistic path toward publication, but do you really intend to keep your novel, the product of so much time and honest dedication to the art and craft of writing, concealed from the eyes of the world for another decade or even longer?” Consider the strategy Paul pursues with his writing. He puts it all out there for free on his website, and he thinks nothing of contracts or royalties. Paul has not made a dime from his writing, but he has in fact made something of a name and a modest reputation for himself, at least in expatriate circles here in Asia, and his work is especially appreciated among the literary minded and highbrow literati we all aspire to be. Many people here in South Korea have heard of and read the stories and essays on his website, and a substantial body of his more academic work has now been published on online journals. Paul’s modest reputation here in South Korea is an enviable goal to strive for, and in the final analysis, a more realistic one as well. Give Paul’s strategy and approach some serious thought. You worked hard on your novel. Now, don’t you want people to be able to read it? You can reach your niche audience and readership through all of the new technologies currently available to publish and promote your writing. This is what I intend to do, once I amass a substantial body of work to put out here for the world to see, like Paul already has.”

 

          “I refuse to just give it all away the way Paul does,” countered Adriana in a stubborn refusal to heed Franklin’s counsel. “Thank you for the advice, but I believe self-publication is like spitting into a well. Writing for money is the only reason to write, in my opinion. All else is mere vanity.”

 

          “Who gave you the idea that what we are doing here tonight, meeting to share, discuss, and hopefully improve our writing, constitutes a vain endeavor?” asked Paul. “I see nothing vain about the sincere creation of literature for the intrinsic value of creating art, and I see nothing to criticize or scoff at in the determination to share our creations with others, whether for money or without any concern for pecuniary gain.”

 

          “My friends who are legitimately published writers back in L.A., and especially the more consistently employed screenwriters among them, they have always told me that the only reason to write is to write for money. These same friends are doing quite well for themselves, so why can I not do the same? I intend to continue to adhere to their advice, even if it means I have to wait for another nine years to see my novel in print. You are asking me to simply throw it all away for nothing and I refuse to do that, not after I have poured my heart and soul into my manuscript for nine years.”

 

          “You must be aware by now, Adriana, of the grim statistics regarding the book publishing industry,” said Franklin. “Approximately ninety-eight percent of all published books sell less than 1000 copies, and it is clear from the data, readily available online, that less than one tenth of one percent of all published books sell widely enough to generate the kind of revenue and royalties you are dreaming of. Now that is just my point, that you are indeed dreaming and that you may as well play the lottery as count upon this untenable business of writing if your true ambition is to earn the kind of money you are hoping for. It is my view that we are, all of us here at this meeting, genuine and legitimate thinkers and artists, regardless of whether or not we profit monetarily from our efforts when we write. When it comes to writing, my opinion is that intrinsic motivation should always take precedence over extrinsic motivation. I think you are fooling yourself if you believe that good for nothing agent giving you the run around is the ticket for you to riches and notoriety as a writer. Nine years is a very long time to wait for an illusory dream that the data confirms is most likely beyond your grasp, and you are not getting any younger, Adriana. Try to be more realistic about your goals as an author and why you chose to write in the first place.”

 

          “I am a legitimately published author,” Nahid the Persian PhD chimed in. “Although I have not published a novel, or any fiction whatsoever, I have published almost two dozen English language textbooks and reading guides back in Iran. My books are very popular with the English language professors in my home country, and the royalties come in at a consistent and reliable pace. I accepted my colleague Paul’s invitation to join this society because I was curious to discover what it would take to venture into the writing of fiction and literature. My success as a textbook writer back home is proof that one can in fact generate a sizable income from writing, so perhaps Adriana’s ambitions to actually get paid for her writing are not so farfetched, as Paul and Franklin contend, they are.”

 

          “What I really want to do with my writing now is to transition from the writing of textbooks and dive right in to the writing of literary fiction. My textbooks sell quite well in Iran, because as a Persian scholar I have access to a substantial network of English professors in Iran who routinely utilize my textbooks as required reading for their courses. The number of students required to purchase my books each semester figures in the thousands. Of course, textbooks, as we all know, are generally speaking quite dry and uninspiring from the perspective of an aspiring writer of great literature like myself. Ever since the earliest days of my childhood, and throughout all the challenging days of my adolescence, until the current period of my career as an academic, I have always fantasized about writing a novel of the kind worthy to be considered on par with the works of the great writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Melville, Jane Austin, The Bronte sisters, Faulkner and the other great authors who produced the timeless literary masterpieces which make up the canon. My country too, also has its share of literary giants whose profound works and examples of the literary life fully lived are what I seek to emulate. You westerners often speak of your ambitions to write the great American novel, or the great Canadian novel, and so on. I joined this society of writers and thinkers in the hope of finding the inspiration and motivation to write the great Persian novel.”

 

          “What exactly would be the theme and spirit of such a work of literature,” Paul asked Nahid, with an encouraging enthusiasm in his tone of voice. Paul was pleased to hear his colleague speak so honestly and openly of her dreams and intentions as a writer. “What kind of story and topic would qualify as an apt one for the great Persian novel?”

 

          “As you know Paul, Iran is not an open and free society like the United States or Australia, or even South Korea. We Persian artists, writers, academics, and intellectuals must contend with the necessity to reign in our creative inclinations and spirits in order to conform to the conservative expectations of the theocratic regime governing our country. Our homeland is also situated in a war-torn region of the world, where political violence committed by both the state authorities and non-state actors is an ever-present reality for all the people living there. This unfortunate situation places severe limitations on the extent to which we can freely express our true and heartfelt ideas, thoughts, and beliefs through our art, literature, and other works of the intellect. I am living and teaching here in South Korea now, so for the time being while I remain here, I experience considerably more freedom to engage in genuine, unrestricted artistic and literary expression than I would if I were living back home in Tehran. So as not to squander what for me is a singular opportunity, I fully intend to let it all come out without any form of self-censorship when I do in fact write the novel I hope to write here in Korea. Such a terrible shame it is that I had to leave Iran in order to write with true honesty about my homeland, but this is the reality I must contend with. To write anything controversial enough to offend the authorities and censors back home is to accept the real risk of facing severe consequences such as prosecution and even imprisonment in Iran. For the sake of remaining true and principled in my quest to produce great literature about my homeland, I am willing to take such a not insignificant risk.”   

 

          “Do be careful Nahid,” Adriana cautioned her with great concern. “I would hate to see you fired from your academic posts in Iran, or even worse yet, imprisoned based on anything you might write and share with us in our little society of writers and thinkers. Please do not do anything rash enough to place yourself or anyone close to you, like your family members, in danger.”

 

          “At this point I am not overly concerned about any risk I might be taking by writing freely here in South Korea. True, my textbooks are well known and highly regarded back home in academic and university circles, so much so that I have achieved a modest reputation and name for myself there. In reality however, I am still kind of a small fry when it comes to any kind of a significant literary reputation I have yet to establish for myself, or any kind of notoriety as an intellectual and thought leader. To tell the truth, my reputation in these areas is virtually non-existent, so at least for now, I doubt anyone back in Iran will feel threatened enough to bother with me, even if I do make a splash here in Korea by writing a controversial novel. At present at least, I am no Salman Rushdie. Yes, I do have to think about the controversy surrounding his writing and the reality of theocratic censorship and retribution he faced, but realistically, I’m currently a nobody in the literary world, so I do not think anyone back home is going to make any kind of a fuss about an inconsequential new voice in literature like me, someone just embarking upon her very first attempts to write anything of substantial literary merit.”

 

          “You might be small fry like the rest of us are here Nahid,” said Adriana. “But as a fellow woman who harbors the same kind of literary ambitions you hold dear to your heart, I admire you for your courage and fortitude in embarking upon this path writing and intellectual work, even if the real risk to your well-being and freedom remains as remote as you say it does. As a lesbian, I too feel a sense of risk and the stretching of boundaries concerning the acceptable and possible in my writing. My sexual identity positions my lifestyle and my writing about this lifestyle outside of the mainstream of American culture. While I won’t go to jail for writing about my alternative kind of life, I do face more than a little flak from those who continue to reject my very identity as immoral, sacrilegious, and an affront to common decency. I sympathize with you Nahid. I admire your courage more than you can know.”

 

          “It all comes down to identity,” said Franklin from Toronto. “We all realize we are living in the age of wokeness and identity politics, and writing about one’s identity can pay big dividends artistically, creatively, and in a literary sense. So many intellectuals, artists, writers, and of course academics are focused these days on all the issues related to identity. Nahid wants to write about her native Iran and what it is like to have to live abroad in order to write freely about her Persian roots. Adriana writes about her alternative lifestyle and the sexual orientation from which it is derived. Paul has written numerous stories about the expatriate experience here in Korea and Asia. I too am focused on my identity when I write. I appear to be obsessed with writing about the legacy of my difficult childhood and adolescence, and how that experience shaped me and followed me into an adulthood full of inestimable challenges. I am the product of a broken home, damaged goods so to speak, due to witnessing my parents split up when I was just ten years old. In middle school and high school, drugs and fast times were my coping mechanism for the grief I was enveloped within watching my parents tear themselves to pieces over the dissolution of their marriage and a bitter child custody battle following their divorce and lasting for years. That is what I write about. I am fixated on that period of my life, my youth and adolescence, which I believe was the source of the long struggle with substance abuse following me into early adulthood, until one day, at the age of thirty-two, I looked at myself in the deepest, most fundamental way possible, and I decided I had to give up on the drugs before they killed me. There is much pain in these recollections still haunting me today, but also much fodder for fiction. I believe that is what all of us here are doing, using our own lived experiences and identities as the wellspring for our creative efforts.”

         

“But don’t you see,” interjected Kurt from Portland. “This is precisely the core problem with your writing. This is what is holding you back, blocking your true creativity from taking the fore and playing center stage in your work. So much of what you write, and I say this especially about Paul’s work, is no more than thinly veiled autobiography. Instead of creating something entirely new and original, so many of you in our society of writers and thinkers return continually to the same familiar topics over and over again. All you write about is your own lives and your obsessions with those elements of your lived experiences and personal traumas which for some reason you are unable to grow out of and leave in the past where they belong. As a result of your fixations on your own necessarily limited experiences in life, your writing comes across as hopelessly repetitive and self-absorbed, as you rehash time and again the same familiar topics and themes.”

 

“I write in an entirely different fashion. My purpose as a writer is to forge new paths wholly untied to and restricted by my own past and identity. I strive to make my writing entirely the product of my creative imagination, to make the unreal appear real in the most literary sense of the words created, imagined, new, fiction. Frankly, I am growing somewhat bored of reading your work in which you again and again echo the same worn-out topics and themes and your tiresome preoccupations with yourselves.”

 

“I feel called upon to interpose my opinion here,” said Paul, who was after all the moderator of the group. “I took a few courses in narrative writing back in college all those decades ago. One of the most important and lasing pieces of advice I received from the successful authors teaching those writing courses was their admonition to us students concerning the most appropriate topics for our fiction. I clearly recall how they all urged us to write about what we know. That is to say, they told us to write about what was closest to us, what was most important and meaningful in our lives, what truly moved us. They advised us to write about those subjects concerning which we held the strongest and most emotional and passionate opinions. In essence, the counsel I received all those years ago as an undergraduate was to write about what I know. So that is what I have been doing all of these years as a writer, and that is what I intend to keep on doing.”

 

“I have always believed that the best fiction emerges primarily through the unassisted imagination, as opposed from our lived experiences,” countered Kurt. “The best writing emerges from the inside, the fundamentally internal locus of our inner consciousness operating as a uniquely inspired source of the new, imagined thought produced by our creative selves. The best writing and the best art are born of this profoundly original inner voice which is impossible for a true artist to ignore when it calls upon him, urging him, requiring him, commanding him to set aside all else and indulge the imagination for the time it takes to write a story or a poem or a novel. I say it all comes from the inside, not from the outside which handicaps the work of so many talented and potentially great writers who find themselves unable to produce anything more than your thinly veiled memoirs.” 

 

“Kurt,” said Paul. “What you are proposing here is premised on a false dichotomy, your assumption that there is a clear and certain distinction between the inside and the outside when it come to the creation of art, and literature as the form of art we are all interested in here. Your implicit distinction does not actually exist in reality. You contend that the best writing emerges from some purely internal locus of creativity and imagination. What your theory neglects to apprehend is the fundamental and eternal dependence of the inside on the outside. Far from separate and distinct spheres and sources of conscious thought, the inside and outside exist as one intertwined entity in a fluid interconnected continuum. I urge you Kurt, and all the rest of you here, to read the classic work on the philosophy of art and aesthetics, Art as Experience by John Dewey. This book, which I read first while in graduate school, has profoundly influenced my approach to both the reading of and the writing of literature as art.”

 

“According to Dewey, all art is ultimately derived from the lived experiences of the artist. In order to paint a picture of a tree, an artist needs to have actually viewed and closely observed, to have carefully studied in fact, an actual real living tree perceptible in the tangible world of sensory experience. This tree, the object of sensory perception, that is to say the real tree existent in the corporeal physical world, becomes internalized withing the painter’s consciousness. There, on the inside so to speak and to use Kurt’s terminology to understand this phenomenon, the perceived image is transformed and transfigured in a crucial manner through the unique creative faculties of the artist, before this same image re-emerges into the outside and the external, physically visible world as the painting itself. The real existent tree in the real world, and the reproduction of this reality in the painting, while not identical one to the other, are inseparably linked and tied to together through that flowing continuum that runs from the reality perceived through the senses, the internalization of these perceptions in the consciousness of the artist, and the final re-emergence of the painting into the real world as a work of art and product of the artist’s imagination – the painting itself.”

 

“I purposely adhere to the same procedure when I write, and I contend the rest of you may very well be doing the same without being fully aware of it. Instead of painting a picture with oils and pastels and watercolors or what have you, when I write my task is to paint a picture with words and create literature as art through the medium of language. The external world I observe and study ever so carefully, consists of all of the great multitude of interactions with all of the people and objects I encounter in my life – friends, family, colleagues, students, all of you here the assembled members of our society, the man I saw walking his dog in the park this morning, the old lady on the bus overburdened as she struggled to carry several large shopping bags overflowing with traditional foods from the market – everyone and anyone I encounter as I make my way and travel through this “real” world of people, places, and things. All of these objects are the sensory stimuli which then become internalized within me as they enter my consciousness and imagination, becoming enmeshed within the worlds of thought, feeling, emotion, passion, understanding and misunderstanding and all that exists in the realm of the mind. This process of internalization of the outside into the inside never really ceases. It even occurs during sleep when the sensory stimuli derived from reality find expression in the mystical mystery of my dreams.”

 

“Now, when I write, I seek to access this rich wellspring of ideas undergoing the transfiguration and transformation deep within what is inside and internal to my mind, and I aim to bring it all to the outside again by painting a picture of all of it composed of words and language. The inside which was formerly outside becomes outside once again in the form of my stories. Such is the process of artistic and literary expression as I understand it, and I always heed that advice I received from those writing professors in college so many years ago, to write about what I know. Call it thinly disguised autobiography if you will. I beg to differ and prefer to call it quasi-fiction or creative nonfiction, which are after all perfectly legitimate genres of literature much studied and avidly perused by countless students in the plethora of writing programs at universities and colleges around the world.”

 

Directly after Paul concluded his explanation of his theoretical approach to the writing process, Raymond from Melbourne, Australia felt called upon to respond.

 

“You spoke quite eloquently just now Paul, and I admire you for your determination to delve into the depths of the human mind as you attempt to describe the writing process as you understand and experience it. I, on the other hand, approach writing from an entirely different perspective. Unlike you, I never try to over-intellectualize matters when I write. Too much labored philosophical and theoretical justification, a kind of meta-cognition concerning one’s thinking about writing or any other form of art, the striving for consciousness about consciousness, only serves to ruin the best writing by making it far too erudite, dry, and ultimately uninspiring for most readers.”

 

“When I write, I write straight from the guts. My words, my language flow directly out of my deepest animalistic passions and feelings before I even begin to think about them in the kind of academic sense of overbearing self-analysis which I believe might be hamstringing your writing Paul, and preventing you from producing a more truly authentic kind of work. As you all know by now from our discussion of my stories here among our society, I have a proclivity to examine the dark side of life in my writing, the dirty and filthy reality of suffering and pain I see all round me as I make my way through this world of sorrow and almost indescribable grief. This is what I mean when I say I write from the guts when I focus on the raw futility and senselessness of the human dilemma, where the best we can hope for in this world is to try to make a go of it in a cold dead universe that simply does not care or take any notice of how we must suffer. To authentically depict the inanity of reality, this is the only justification I offer for my approach, and I possess neither the inclination nor the desire to delve into any hyper-intellectual, dry, academic philosophizing inherent to Paul’s approach to writing and his constant harping that we all need to read Dewey, Plato, Aristotle before we can even begin to dream of writing great literature. My notion about great literature is that it comes into being only when I vomit it out from my spleen as I authentically portray the filth and misery I am forced by uncaring fate to observe in this dead universe empty of all purpose and meaning. The poverty, the abuse, the addictions, all of the oppression and repression, the pointlessness of human life when there is no God to care about what happens to any of us trapped here in this word and forced to endure a ludicrous existence in a hollowed-out universe where there is nothing real but the void. The God who does not exist cannot care about any of us, but I do care, or at least I feel moved and compelled to focus on these themes in my writing. I need not follow Paul’s example as he writes from the safe and secure confines of his ivy tower intellectualism. I intend to express what I feel when I see the world for what it really is and am overcome with the need to vomit out and expel through words and language, which are really all that are left for me, in order to release my sense of rage at the futility of life with my version of impeccable honesty.”

 

“Such a dark picture of the world and our lives in it,” said Kurt. “You are enclosed within the prison of your base nihilism from which the only escape is a meaningless death to follow upon a meaningless life. Nothing to believe in, nothing in which to find solace, comfort, or hope, no reason to love your fellow human beings or care about anyone’s welfare or spirit. Dark my friend, very dark indeed, and I honestly fail to see how you find the will to keep on living if it is actually true, as you claim, that there is no purpose to life.”

 

“I believe my purpose,” retorted Raymond, “is to faithfully and honestly, with laser sharp accuracy, depict the suffering and pain I see all around me. We sit here in comfort, sipping our lattes and mochas, indulging our egos through our high-minded discussion of the meaning and purpose of art and literature. Meanwhile, in Ukraine this very moment people are being slaughtered by the thousands and an entire nation is being uprooted and forced to suffer unimaginable pain. The same can be said of Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, the Uyghurs in China, the millions trapped in miserable poverty in Africa, the politically oppressed in Latin America, and the suffering and slaughter in many other places in this sick and ruthless world which imposes anguish and death on countless other innocent people who have done nothing to deserve their tormented fate. My purpose as a writer is to honestly depict the pain I see and sense all around me. There is no time and space in life, as I see it, to comfortably recline in the pursuit of the kind of hyper-intellectualized and overly sophisticated, fundamentally inauthentic kind of writing some of you in our group are so smugly devoted to. Heal the pain. Expose the criminal despotism that weighs down the countless millions. This I contend is the only path toward true authenticity as a writer. I’m not writing in the style of a Faulkner or T.S. Elliot. My loadstars are not the hyper-sophisticates who play games with language while they bask in the illusory and wholly unreal and created beauty which only serves to conceal from themselves the true sorrow of human existence. I’m writing about life out there on the streets and other places distant from the comfortable salons of urbane respectability. I hope to emulate Bukowski in his rejection of all excessive, obfuscation and inauthentic, sophisticated ornamentation. Call me a nihilist if you will. I concede such an appellation is an accurate portrayal of my attitude toward life and consequently my views concerning the purpose of art and literature. I proudly accept and embrace the label, hoping against hope that by writing with unconstrained honestly and authenticity, I can achieve the creation of some small, fleeting, but still sufficient purpose in life and reason to keep on living and writing.”

 

“A powerful depiction of your reason for writing, Raymond,” said Kurt. “Still, I am convinced you are trapped within the confines of your philosophical nihilism. I personally, and I think that at least Paul here shares my views on this matter of the reason or purpose for writing, I find the source of my creativity from an entirely different wellspring. I agree with you Raymond, that there is far too much suffering in the world, but my muse resides without the enclosures of your universe of despair and hopelessness. Above all of the swirling chaos of pain there lies our solace and hope, our faith and belief that a just God rules the universe. This God, while not completely knowable to we imperfect human beings, is the God of supreme love, hope, justice, forgiveness, and unsurpassable compassion. My devoted and unbending faith in the existence of this omniscient divine force for the good fills my life with a kind of joy and hope, enabling me to believe that there is indeed a purpose in life for all of us on this earth in spite of all the pain and suffering surrounding us. My primary motivation as a writer is to bring others, and by this term others I mean my readers, to fully embrace the sense of mission I feel at every conscious moment of my life as a true believer in the ubiquity and power of the divine presence, the only force existent in the universe capable of saving us from ourselves in our irremediable and all too human imperfection.”

 

“Paul, I know, is more of a philosopher and theologian than am I. Perhaps we should turn to him for a better and more logically sound and comprehensive elucidation of the justifications for the sense of faith and belief enabling us to wake up every morning full of a conviction that life does indeed hold an ascertainable purpose for all of us.”

 

“Thank you, Kurt,” said Paul. “I stand in agreement with most of what you said just now. I would only like to add to it my perspective on the relationship of language, and thereby our purpose as writers operating through the medium of language when we write. As a religious person, I count myself as among the true believers like Kurt here. I believe the divine entity which created the universe, our world, and our very selves as part of this universe and world, whether you call this entity God as Kurt and I do, or whether you know the transcendent by another name, I believe a crucial characteristic of this entity is that it is the entity which created all of the distinctions accessible to us through language. This force for good has distinguished between the sacred and the profane, the clean and the unclean in the most spiritual sense of these words, the dark from the light, the good from the evil, and therefore also the permitted from the forbidden, and all the other moral and ethical distinctions a religious person must be continually cognizant of in order to walk in the ways of the divine presence. Out of an inexpressibly deep love for humanity, the transcendent divine gifted us by granting us the succor of language. Human beings, after all, are the animals that speak, the only creatures capable of writing, theorizing, philosophizing, and the participation in all other purely human endeavors made possible for us through this divine bequest of language. Indeed, it is the complexity and sophistication of our language, primarily, which distinguishes us from all the other creatures and animals with whom we share our world. It is essentially language which makes possible the deep and abstract thinking that is the prerequisite for our encounter with and examination of all moral and ethical questions and ideas. Language enables us to comprehend the most serious philosophical and theoretical questions, and our engagement with these questions through language permits us to become conscious and aware of the fundamental moral and ethical distinctions created and established by the divine being as the outgrowth of an unfathomable love and compassion for us filling the universe continually with the eternal majesty of the divine presence. This, I contend is the true meaning of the Judeo-Christian belief that we humans are all of us created in the divine image. To be created in the divine image does not mean that we physically resemble or look like our God. Instead, to be created in the divine image signifies that we have the innate capacity, through the gift of language, to know and comprehend, and also to guide and direct our lives, according to the moral and ethical distinctions emanating from God’s love. The divine is truly our father or parent in the spiritual sense by gifting us in this manner and calling upon us, commanding us to walk in his ways, which is to say to guide our lives according to our comprehension and awareness of all the moral distinctions and ethical imperatives flowing from them. As an author, the multitude of lessons and insights I have discovered through my encounter with these philosophical and theoretical principles informs and colors almost everything I write.”

 

“You put forth an interesting and thought-provoking theory of writing,” conceded Raymond the skeptic. “I have at least two disagreements with the key assumptions underlying your approach. First off is my earlier stated contention that good writing need not stem from the kind of belabored and dry academic intellectualism of any purely theoretical system such as yours. As I said before, when I write, it comes from the guts, from the raw emotional turmoil deep within my spleen when I am forced to take notice of the prevailing absence of the kind of love or proof of the existence of a divine being who takes any notice of or concern for our suffering. Secondly, while I am in firm agreement with you about the centrality of language to what all of us in this society are trying to accomplish with our writing, I would head from there in another direction by my contention that language does not suffice to perform the great tasks which you attribute to it. Rather than lifting us up to the realm of the divine, I argue that language traps us and confines us to a lonely solitude through its fundamental insufficiency in performing the task we so desperately desire it to perform. Far from freeing us and bringing us closer to God, language fails to deliver us out of the solitary prison of existential isolation to which we are condemned by the incapacity of language to express the inexpressible, the futility of life lived in the midst of an immovable and unconquerable fate.”

 

“I hear you Raymond,” said Kurt. “I sympathize with your position to a certain extent. Much of human life is indeed a story of deep woe so tragic as to surpass our capacity to capture and express its essence through the necessarily limited medium of language. But then, the next question is, what are we all doing here? I mean why do we all meet here in our society of writers and thinkers every week, if not to refine and perfect our writing so as to more skillfully compose those stories which for some reason we feel a need and longing to tell through the written word? I suggest that there is a middle ground someplace between Paul’s faith in an objective truth accessible to us through language as the divine gift leading towards a life of ethics and virtue, and Raymond’s nihilistic contention that language does not suffice for the grim task of expressing the inexpressible tragedy of human existence.”

 

“In my view we humans are not only the animals that speak and the animals gifted by the complexity of our language. I would go one step further and argue that we are innately the story telling creatures. We understand our lives primarily through the stories we tell ourselves and others about them, facilitating our response to our deeply felt need to attribute meaning and significance to our lived experiences. In academic circles, scholars who study the centrality of storytelling to our self-understanding have long been describing the phenomenon by which divergent political and ideological camps clash in the public sphere through the construction and dissemination of competing stories which the academics term as narratives. The essential thing to remember about these competing narratives is that none of them can be conceived as more objectively true than the others. This is the guise in which relativism makes its most poignant expression in the present day and age. As with the relativist of the past, today’s purveyors of the narrative thesis contend that our proclivity to seek objectively verifiable, timeless, and universal standards by which to guide our lives will ultimately meet with failure to find anything solid, lasting, or eternal to cling on to. Consequently, we must come to terms with the necessity to tolerate the irresolvable ambiguity and indeterminacy which necessarily stymies all of our efforts to find any kind of a moral basis for our beliefs and the actions and behavior leading out from them and into the world of clashing narratives.”

 

“I agree wholeheartedly,” said Raymond. “Only when we embrace the reality of our incapacity to put our finger on anything resembling objective and solid truth, can we then be free to focus our efforts on the construction our own narratives, the stories through and around which we can build an authentic life within this vast universe which cares nothing for our fate. Our narratives, our stories, may not be any more true or untrue than all of the others, but at least we can find some solace in the fact that these creations are wholly our own as we attempt to impose meaning on a purposeless fate ever confronting us with the call to create something authentically and entirely our own. I have no need of your God or divine being in order to find a reason to keep on living and keep on writing. Instead, I look inward, and through self-seeking convince myself not to end it all, to delay inevitable and unescapable death and spend what little time I am granted by fate to exist on this earth focused on the pursuit of literature as the art that staves off surrender to suicide and self-destruction, the entire obliteration of the self.”

 

          This is all so deep, so profound,” said Nahid enthusiastically. “This is why I joined our society here in the first place, to find a way to make the transition from the writing of all of those dry textbooks, to the creation of great literature, with all of its nobility of ideas and penetrating truths. After listening to the divergent views here expressed tonight, I can say I honestly am unable to decide which ones I would most closely identify with. Like Paul, I had a religious upbringing during my childhood, in Iran of course and in its mosques instead of in Paul’s Jewish temples in suburban Chicago. Oddly enough, though our respective peoples are often characterized as sworn and bitter enemies, both Jews like Paul and Muslims like me clearly hold fast to the position that a loving, compassionate, and all-powerful creator God must occupy the center of our theologically derived world view. At the same time, it is undeniable that we in Iran understand our long conflict with the Jewish state and much of the West according to a narrative starkly divergent from the prevailing narratives concerning these issues popular outside of my homeland and the Middle-East at large. I am undecided as to whether or not Raymond’s argument requires me to modify my most precious and heartfelt beliefs about the relationship of God to the purpose of life, but I have to admit, my head is now this very moment bursting and overflowing with ideas and possibilities for the portrayal of this inner conflict I feel currently in the form of the stories already beginning to take on a nascent form in my mind.”

 

After this last bit of a weighty speech from Nahid, Paul looked at his smartphone and noticed how much time had elapsed in pursuit of the questions and philosophical dilemmas which had occupied the bulk of the evening’s discussion. He reminded the members of the society that regrettably, they had neglected to comment on the substance of that chapter from Adriana’s novel which had been the intended focus of the society’s agenda for the night’s meeting. All present apologized to Adriana, promised to revisit the topic of her novel during the next week’s meeting, and then everyone slipped into a more casual tone of gregarious socializing while they finished their coffees, teas, treats and desserts, after which the weekly meeting of the Society of Busan Writers and Thinkers officially adjourned.