As the novel gained popularity, many philosophers, poets, and even filmmakers began to comment on the role that the author has in the creation of literature, as well as what an author must necessarily undergo to have the capacity to create. While many theories, which originated from the philosophies of the Ancient Greek world, centralized the importance of undergoing some sort of strain or even madness in order to create literature, others prioritized the less dramatic yet more patient approach to writing, as well as the benefits that come from the sacrifices that authors make in their creative journeys.
It only took a little over two millennia for German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to take Plato’s philosophy a step beyond mere madness and possession. In his Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche argues that gods do not necessarily need to possess authors in order to spoon-feed them ideas that are inaccessible to the author’s ability to reason. He instead argues that this frenzy of intense passion has the capacity to give the author more physical, mental, and emotional power. Through Bacchic frenzy, the author has sufficient courage and strength to continue the journey of literary creation, opening up new ways of thinking about or interacting with the world. Taking advantage of the Bacchic frenzy, the author is able to continue on in high spirits.
Yet, there has been a considerable contradiction between Plato and Nietzsche’s theories on the role and nature of the author in the creation of literature. The Writer in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker claims, “A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and others that he is worth something. And if he knows for sure that he is a genius? Why write then?” Due to his self-doubt, he is hesitant, held back.
Throughout the film, the Writer appears to be the opposite of both Plato’s and Nietzsche’s images of the “possessed author.” He can control himself, so he is not possessed; he seeks inspiration throughout the film, hence he has not received any “divine inspiration.” He is rather weak because he doubts himself. Throughout the whole film, he is quite melancholy and frail.
Hence, the Writer has not found the strength described by Nietzsche. Tarkovsky offers up the image of the ailing writer: the writer that struggles with the idea of never writing again. Yet, the writer continues to search for inspiration. To Tarkovsky, it is the search for inspiration, not just the inspiration in itself, that is just as important to the development of a strong-willed author.
The good news is that writing isn’t all madness and sacrifice. The writer creates worlds, even if they are mimetic, as Aristotle and Plato postulated; the writer delights in the freedom of creation. Despite knowing that the worlds do not literally exist—for example, the world of Alice in Wonderland does not actually exist—the audience partakes in what Samuel Taylor Coleridge calls the “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” The audience chooses to believe that which it knows is not actually real, perhaps because it knows that, in many ways, this “fiction” is founded in a warped imitation of real life.
Although Wonderland is not real, the motifs inherent in its story are founded in truth and the characters are all rather human. This ability to create something both beyond and of the world, the ability to move the reader to a “willing suspension of disbelief… which constitutes poetic faith,” may be worth the suffering.
Nietzsche, Friedrich W, and Douglas Smith. The Birth of Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Tarkovsky, Andrei. Stalker. Janus Films, 1979. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, and John T. Shawcross. Biographia Literaria. Electric Book Co., 2001.