And part of his later use of essays, articles and appearances combined his writer’s vocation with that of a teacher. He’d met many types of people and was didactic in the widest possible sense – here is this joke, keep up before it’s gone; here is this word, you can learn it; here is my work, it exists and is part of culture, you can read it and also you might like to know that it is work, takes effort and that, for example: “When I hear a journalist like Malcolm Muggeridge praising God because he has mastered the craft of writing, I feel a powerful nausea. It is not a thing to be said. Mastery never comes and one serves a lifelong apprenticeship. The writer cannot retire from the battle, he dies fighting.” That’s art as a feet-on-the ground craft. And it’s writing as a way of being in the world – you get knowledge, you get skill, you get dignity, you get – if not righteousness, then some measure of contentment. Burgess saw the age of instantaneous fame coming, the toxic emptiness of much culture. It’s not at all an accident that another gentle ghost echoing through Earthly Powers is Tom, the music hall comic, the man who is praised towards the end of the book for practising a “comedy of kindness”. Burgess’s own humour could be less than kind – it was based on sharp observation, often of defects and stupidities, given that we’re only human – but he has Toomey describe Tom as a saint. In a book where there is a genuine miracle performed with terrible consequences, the spotlit clown is left the angel’s part. To see everything and still be kind – that is saintly. And educational. And entertaining. And a precious part of any healthy culture.
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