If all this is so – and it is so – then how might a young would-be writer aspire to join the company of the passionately ghostly invisibles? Or, to put it another way, though all writers are now and again unavoidably compelled to become visible, how to maintain a coveted clandestine authentic invisibility? Don’t all young writers look to the precincts of visibility, where heated phalanxes of worn old writers march back and forth, fanning their brows with their favourable reviews? Isn’t that how it’s done, via models and mentors and the wise counsel of seasoned editors? “I beg you,” says Rilke, addressing one such young writer, “I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you to write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places in your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of the night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple ‘I must’, then build your life according to this necessity.”
Thus the poet Rilke, imploring the untried young to surrender all worldly reward, including the spur, and sometimes the romantic delusion, of Fame, in order to succumb to a career in ectoplasm. Note that he speaks of “the quietest hour of the night”, which is also the darkest, where we do what we can and give what we have. The madness of art – and again I willingly contradict Henry James – is not in the art, but in the madding and maddening crowd, where all manner of visibilities elbow one another, while the ghosts at their writing tables sit alone and write, and write, and write, as if the necessary transparency of their souls depended upon it.
If you detect in these paragraphs a tone of confident authority, it is because I am myself an invisible of long standing. If you have read this far, the thought may have occurred to you: that you have never before seen anything else by this writer, and why? I put in evidence a letter, received only today, from my cherished London literary agent – a royalty report, no cheque attached, all advances unearned, all balances zero. (Ah, the airy, ineffable zero! Not for nothing did the philosophical Greeks snatch out of the void this numberless nullity!) I am fortunate enough to be tolerated: no agent or publisher has yet decided to dump me, as any persistent, consistent drainer of profits deserves.