Humility and the Written Word

“With every day that passes, I am more convinced that the act of writing is a conscious act of humility.” —Bolaño

And yet, is 2666 a humble work? Is any book for that matter? Certainly, a book may humble its readers or its characters or through misdirection diminish the author’s presence. But the impulse to write cannot be humble because it begins with an exaggerated sense of self, even if one’s purpose in writing is to master the ego (as with Marcus Aurelius, for example). Writing begins with a sense of Importance. How, then, can it ever be humble? To speak of humility is to lack humility.

For every author, the blank page is a prison of irony, from which there are many means of escape but few through which the author’s identity can squeeze intact. There is a piece of Plato or Kierkegaard or Wittgenstein forever lost between the lines. (Heraclitus is Houdini.)

The conscious act of humility is one form of escape, a self-deception in which the appearance of humility prevails; to be conscious of one’s humility is not to be humble. (Think of Augustine’s Confessions.) Just as “natural sounding” dialogue is by no means natural, the humble writer is by no means humble. And sometimes the authors most prone to accusations of arrogance, for instance, NN Taleb, are in fact the most humble of all.