a serious person should try to write posthumously.

The above title, from the last paragraph of the Introduction to Christopher Hitchens’ Arguably, is a great invocation to those who are compeled to write. To write from a position of fearlessness and liberty is one of the hardest things to do as a writer but one of the most rewarding.

One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer. You don’t really care about public opinion now, you don’t mind about sales, you don’t care what the critics say. You don’t even care what your friends, your peers, your beloved think. You’re free. Death is a very liberating thought. – Hitchens in interview with Paul Holdengraber (link)

This came to mind when I was reading Henry Reynolds’ Why Weren’t We Told, where he tells the story of his realisation of the version of history he had been taught and was teaching was idealised and white-washed – which W.E.H. Stanner called this is The Great Australian Silence.

In the last chapter of that book –Writing Black-armband History– he writes

To know why was more important and more challenging than simple to descry. I have long believed that evasion and hypocrisy  should be exposed and that the truth about the past must be laid out and subjected to scrutiny. pp.244

This has been on my mind recently as I am trying to finish a few pieces of writing. Academic writing is by its structure fearful, constantly looking over its shoulder to make sure every assertion is evidenced by a citation and every argument shadowed by a theorist. And yet, works that I think that shifted the axis are  germinated in through scholarship and written in fearlessness.

Something I need to be mindful and aspire to in my writing.

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3 Responses to a serious person should try to write posthumously.

  1. Hank says:

    Absolutely! All the greats and in particular Hunter S etc were never concerned about censorship or the broader opinion of others! Easier said than done though!

  2. Terry Johal says:

    for academic writing it is almost like going against one’s training.

  3. Pingback: my thoughts on hitchens’ the missionary position at terryjohal.com

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