On the back page of yesterday's New York Times Book Review, Joseph Finder brings a refreshing candor to the dirty little subject of ambition. Serious writers, it seems, aren't supposed to have any. They labor for art alone; they write "for themselves," eschewing even the desire for an audience. And if they have any hope of making--err, excuse me for uttering the word, money, well they've obviously not attained the necessary purity. Maybe five or ten more years of fasting on contributor's copies and Ramen noodles will do the trick.
In fact, Finder points out, the true literary scribe is so averse to the crass desire for success that ambition has even been banished as a fictional subject in contemporary literature. Today's ambition free novelists struggle with sex, with the legacy of defective parents, with the endless struggles of the Self; but the yearning for power or worldly recognition as a plot device is as dead as the ill-fated striver in Sister Carrie.
Sorry, but I don't buy it. Maybe my experience is different. Maybe it's just that I don't know any editors or professors of Creative Writing or until recently, even any other writers, who might have helped me network my way to publication. But in my experience, achieving publication in even a literary magazine with a print run of 500, is damn hard work.
Without ambition, would anyone spend a fortune in postage and time putting together dozens--or even hundreds--of packets of prose or poetry and complete with a carefully worded cover letter and an SASE. Would they endure the dozens--or hundreds-- of anonymous rejections--for every publication in a "good" journal? Would they take out loans it might take years to repay to cover the cost of an MFA program?
Like most writers, I write because I'm mysteriously impelled to do so and have been since childhood. If I was never published anywhere, I would probably continue--simply because I have no idea how to stop. But writing only for myself has never been my goal. I write to share who I am and what I know, what I've seen and heard and felt; I write to resurrect the lost and to give flesh and voice to the ghosts who often take up residence in my study.