When I first began writing seriously in the early 1990s, I took to reading literary biographies as a way of defining myself as a writer. I was thrilled to find how quickly I recognized my own struggles in the lives of famous authors. I also saw the shared personality traits that prompt certain kinds of people to explore the possibilities of living the artist’s life. Nothing strengthens and focusses an emerging identity more than the chance to identify thoroughly with others who are already there and have blazed the trail, so to speak.
H. G. Wells makes a good role model for the commercially inclined genre writer. (Photo: public domain)
While of limited use to dedicated literary writers, any would-be author who aspires to sell well and achieve wide popularity and respect can profit from studying the life of H. G. Wells. If you wrestle with the common conflict over whether to go literary or commercial with your writing, Wells will prove especially interesting as he wrote, with varying degrees of success, across a number of genres including sci-fi thrillers, novels of ideas, and serious literary novels. The commercial and literary options seemed mutually exclusive to me and trying to decide which way to go affected my writing for years with first one side and then the other gaining ascendancy. In the end, I borrowed a page from Wells’ book. I now wrestle with novels of ideas finding such works to be a satisfying blend of entertaining story and worthwhile philosophical musing.
Cognitive dissonance is usually defined as “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions.” (Wikipedia) Or, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” (COED) The less familiar aspect of the distressing mental state – that we can also get into trouble when our beliefs and our actions do not coincide – gets less attention. This situation may go beyond the simple case of conscience and morality, of doing something we know is wrong and then feeling guilty (moral cognitive dissonance). It is quite possible to stumble into serious and painful cognitive dissonance without realizing what has happened.
When we look upon our actions and see they do not coincide with our beliefs, we become distressed. This is one form of cognitive dissonance, a kind of jarring discord within the psyche. (Image: Wikipaintings)
Fear of death is mostly dread of the permanent loss of conscious awareness. We see that expiration, the snuffing out of the light, as the final irrevocable end of who we are, the irremediable dissolution of our identity. However, our consciousness is not who we are – it is only our way of knowing who we are. We prove this every night when we sleep and consciousness dissolves, only to magically reappear the next day. If consciousness is who we are, how do we survive this regular extinction? We survive because the self is who we really are.
Tradition can ease the fear of death by overcoming social- and self-alienation and providing assurance that some part of us will live on. (Image: wpclipart.com)
The self lives in the unconscious and the unconscious never sleeps. Picture it as a well-furnished room. We store our memories there. Consciousness is the light that enables us to see and know them. Switch off the light – as in sleep – and the furnished room remains, and we see it once more when consciousness, the light, returns.