On and off the page

Thomas Nagel

There are writers and artists who dislike themselves – who attempt through their work to unearth, refine and then extrude something better than they are, something detached, pure and free-standing. I was put in mind of this recently while reading Ray Monk’s painful biography of Wittgenstein, who succeeded in creating a body of philosophical work so much finer and nobler than himself that for someone who has developed a strong attachment to the work, the contrast is very disturbing. Another common element of this syndrome is an aversion to the present and a desire to create something whose timelessness will take one out of the impure and anxious clutter of temporal life, something through which one can exist by proxy outside of time.

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