I shy away from
the word �inspiration�. As a writer I do not trust it. For me hopeful reliance
on �inspiration� is to remove from originality the riches of memory and of self,
to depersonalize the writer, and to make his creativeness dependent on some
���� Sometimes one speaks of
inspiration as divine influence. For centuries theologians have discussed the
supernatural influence of God on the chroniclers of the Holy Scriptures: until
the 15th century dissenters from that dogma risked the stake.
���� At some point also secular
writers assimilated the word. One came to believe that the divine descends
magically from somewhere between earth and heaven and lays its wand on one or
the other waiting writer. Not the writer utters then the intelligent words, but
the Great Spirit. As if the thus blessed artist had some shamanistic power! It
is not the writer�s �I�, but some other power is speaking through him.
���� Inspiration is a convenient
explanation of the mysterious source of ideas and the originality which the
writer employs in his creations. Traditionally one likes to imagine the poet
sitting around waiting for the arrival of his specific Muse bearing mystical
inspirations. One feels comforted by the image of the surrealist in a Parisian
caf� adding another saucer to the stack to count the absinthes he has consumed
while searching in its depths for his inspiration.
���� If inspiration exists, then
what is it? Where does it come from? At first, the common word, inspiration,
would seem to refer merely to an idea - the brief flash of an image that
arrives like a bolt of lightening from the blue. Perhaps inspiration is a
blurry apparition in an old mirror, chipped and cracked, and marked by time,
which appears as the miraculous reflection of those sought-after images and
ideas deriving from a once heard music or a distant moment of solitude � or
from melancholy and pain, nature, lost love, and life and death - images of
which emerge briefly from the niches of our memory.
���� It often happens that a
writer rereads words he wrote earlier with considerable surprise. He asks
himself it he really wrote them. Though they are familiar, they seem to belong
to someone else. He recognizes that he could never write the same again. He
would never be able to recapture those same images because he could never
re-evoke exactly the same feeling that stands behind them. The feeling of that
one specific moment in time has vanished, returned back into memory, which is
always an uncertain affair with its own inexplicable rules.
���� Every writer experiences the
sensation of another writer living inside that old text � the story, the poem,
the essay. For the truth is that someone else did write the earlier text. The
same core self wrote it, but it was someone else. The creator was the someone
else of the moment of the original creation who recorded those particular ideas
and images � ideas and images in turn provoked by a certain music, by solitude,
by desperation, or by chance or, as some prefer, mysteriously by God.
���� For a moment the writer even
fears for what he is presently writing: If his new text were lost, how could he
ever replace it? For in our memory images and ideas, words and sentences,
structures, stories, plots, and even endings are elusive. They even elude the
writer during the interval between the budding of an idea in his brain and the
time it takes to transform it to words and record them.
���� The writer spends a lot of
time walking around the room and looking out windows. He watches films with a
special eye. He listens to music and talk with an attentive ear. He is alert to
the caprices of chance. He hopes to retain the mad images of a prophetic dream
that can arrive in his nocturnal encounter with death. The writer is always on
the qui vive for that image, that idea, or for the resurfacing
from memory of a forgotten missing element.
���� I do not
believe that the result of the search for a story line, a plot, and an end,
merits the highfalutin definition of �inspiration.� As a writer friend said,
inspiration can be seen as a function of practice � the more you practice, the
easier it comes. For in writing �inspirationally�, patience, persistence and
purposefulness are required.
���� Nor do
fantasy and imagination seem synonymous with inspiration. The result of divine
inspiration in the form of fantasy and imagination may be merely evanescent,
banal, hollow, useless, boring � and also deceptive and treacherous,
counterfeit and mendacious. And if not a lie, then mere vanity.
���� In his short poem, La
Luna, Borges captures the image of the man who tries to summarize the
universe in a book; at the moment he declaims his last verse and raises his eyes
toward the heavens in thanks he sees the burnished disk in the air and realizes
with horror that he has forgotten the moon.
���� Inspiration - or the idea
and the image - do not derive from fashion and fad. Nor is it born in alcohol
or drugs a la Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Nor in earthly terms, is it a gift from
God. Ultimately inspiration must come from within oneself.
���� I prefer to call inspiration
simply one�s art. That flash of intuition is not inspiration; it is art. Art in
turn, I believe, must arrive from memory � memory of only a moment earlier, or
memory of the distant past. Memory, too, of the future. Borges writes in Arte
Po�tica that art is the mirror that reveals to us our own face. That is,
���� In general we are more
familiar with the past as the fount of our art. For memory lies there. Yet, I
believe, art - or suspicious inspiration - comes also from change, that is,
from the present and the future.
���� Art arriving from the fixed
and stationary is by definition limited, for life and history do not stand
still. Concepts of station, status, state, statistic, status quo, static are
unrelated to creativeness, which is the bringing into being from nothing.
���� The art of creating is
mutation from the state of nothingness to existence. Therefore, in my opinion,
the maxim that History develops, Art stands still, holds only limited truth.
Art changes slowly, but it changes as man�s consciousness of self changes.
���� A creative person who lives
alone in a desert and who knows nothing of the world can write about his own
self, the nature around him, and his feelings about it. Later, he can recall
those former feelings and speculate on them. That is memory. If a second person
arrives, his environment doubles: he can write about all aspects of his
relations with the other, how he feels about him, and can describe the other�s
actions and reactions and imagine the other�s feelings toward their shared
���� Contrary to the old myth, I
believe human nature changes. All writers today are linked by multiple
cultural-social-economic-political common denominators. Five centuries ago the
dissolution of the feudal system, the growth of cities, and the diminished
power of the Church resulted ultimately in mass society. Slowly art adapted to
the new form of society.
���� In another century that base
will again have changed and the universal spirit will have followed. Political
society and religions will always resist change but circumstances will change
anyway and culture will follow its lead. I believe in the development of
humanity toward something better. To survive we must believe in progress.
���� This is not to claim that
art changes the course of history. The reality is that politics still comes
first - art can then change accordingly. Environment conditions art, not the
���� Inspiration would seem to
lie in the manner in which the creative artist reacts to his immediate
environment and, today, differently than a century ago, to universal society.
���� Paradoxically, the poet
Wordsworth devoted the greater part of his life to political and social
questions and Marx a great part of his to the study of poetry. The French
Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were supreme facts for both.
���� For purposes of this essay,
the case of Wordsworth is primary; poverty, freedom and social justice were the
cornerstone of his work. Harold Bloom writes in The Western Canon that
the result of Wordsworth�s inspiration in the poem �The Old Cumberland Beggar�
was the �exquisitely controlled pathos and aesthetic dignity in representing
human suffering�. The entire poem is secular revelation, an uncovering of last
things � an epiphany because it intimates to Wordsworth, and to us, a supreme
���� The poem of the Bloom
quotation constitutes a rare case of divine inspiration. Despite my continuing
antipathy for its everyday use, the word �inspiration� here hangs heavy over us
terrestrials as significant, sacred and canonical: the early Wordsworth, Bloom
sums up, sings that human dignity is indestructible, the will endures, and the
eye of Nature is on you from life to death.
����� I believe the reflection of
true inspiration is to be found waiting deep inside the core and essence of a
poem or story. Inspiration itself waits inside the potential strangeness and
the otherness. It lives inside the otherness Bloom finds in �The Old Cumberland
Beggar.� Inspiration does not arrive on call, but it bides its time and waits
to be discovered and extracted by the creator with joy and wonder.
� ���If he is lucky the artist might find that inspiration was there
all the time � concealed inside his search for originality. I like to think
that elusive inspiration is the will to be different. To be different from what
I am. The will to be somewhere else. Also the will to be part of the divine.
� 2002 Gaither Stewart
Gaither Stewart is an American journalist who lives in Rome
and now dedicates his writing life mostly to fiction. His articles and fiction have appeared
in many international publications. Two of his e-books are available from
Southern Cross Review. See our E-book Library. Email: [email protected]