Big questions

C: Are these dialogues a lower form of discourse?

D: What do you mean?

C: The back and forth: it seems too easy a form, less demanding than paragraphs.

D: You have fun writing these dialogues, and look at the good ideas that come out of them.

C: Yes, but it seems like cheating, in a way. Writing about complicated subjects should be hard work, not fun.

D: Forget it, Carlo. You have to do what you like.

C: But I don’t feel like people will want to read dialogues. They’re made for listening.

D: Do people read your regular prose?

C: Not that much.

D: So what do you care what they re likely to read? You dont have an audience either way.

C: Sure, but perhaps I’m more likely to get one if I stay with a traditional form.

D: Shakespeare wrote plays. He seems to have acquired an audience.

C: What does that have to do with me?

D: Plato wrote dialogues. He seems to have acquired an audience.

C: Am I supposed to know what youre getting at?

D: People write novels, plays, poems, essays, dialogues, short articles, non-fiction books: how can you say any of these forms is traditional, and others are not? All forms help you express your ideas.

C: But some forms are more accessible than others, or more readable.

D: They say that poetry isn’t so accessible, but poetry’s a big part of our heritage.

C: So what should I do?

D: Write dialogues. Don’t think about whether people want to read them. Your ideas will take hold when the time comes. You just have to put the ideas in some form. They’ll mature over time. They’ll have an influence when their time comes. Meantime, you write.

C: But I m eating a cereal bar, one of my sleeping pills!

D: That’s okay. Just write until you can’t anymore.

C: You know I have trouble. I sit down to write so often, and read instead.

D: By the time you re through reading, you re too tired to write.

C: What can I do to write first, then read?

D: You ll figure that out. Don t waste energy trying to figure out answers to hard questions. You ll drive yourself nuts, like Robert Pirsig.

C: Pirsig suggests that he went nuts because he considered hard questions, like “What is quality?” It’s just as likely that he considered hard questions because he was nuts.

D: So?

C: Perhaps I ask questions I can’t answer because I’m already mentally ill. If that’s so, I can’t keep myself sane by avoiding the questions. I’m already sick.

D: Well we started with a question about yourself: Why can’t you write when you want to? That’s not the same kind of question as, “What is quality?

C: Tell me what you mean.

D: The first question is about yourself. It concerns your habits. The second question is about the entire universe, in a way. It’s like asking, “What is God?” or, “What is God’s nature?

C: I don’t want to talk about that!

D: No kidding. I’m not that interesting anyway.

C: So how do I change my habits?

D: A little at a time.

C: If the process is too gradual, though, I’ll be dead before I see any changes.

D: Doesn’t matter if you die. The process of changing habits continues after your body’s finished.

C: I don’t want to think about that. I ought to bring some changes while I’m still here.

D: I’ll try to help you with that. Meantime, you want to get plenty of sleep. That helps everything else.