Day Four

Every time I go to the beach, I am reminded of the fact that the longevity of your writing is determined by its relationship to the tideline of history. Build your sandcastle too close to the sea and it’ll be washed away. Build it too far away and the sand is too friable to make an adequate construction. Writing needs the moisture of contemporary reality to take shape, but too much and it won’t survive.

For example, logical philosophy is nearly always unbearably abstract, yet Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (famously written in the trenches) has a certain vitality. At the other extreme, yesterday’s newspaper is soon washed away. Perhaps all literature could be judged according to where it sites on the tideline and how moist or dry its materials are. Valis by Philip K. Dick (which I just read) is by far the worst book of his I’ve read, being concerned with dusty theology, yet built on the sludgey minutiae of his own life. Watt by Samuel Beckett (which I’ve just started) appears at first blush to be the exact opposite.

My own efforts, I fear, are about as effective as the sandcastles I made on the beach today. The first dissolved to nothing after being blown by a strong wind. The second was washed away by a freakish wave before it had really started. And the third, am impressively tall mountainous Gaudi-esque thing, was destroyed by a group of South American children. Destruction by self-consciousness, my age and my critics.


The Cantabrian sea was red flagged today and bathers were restricted to 30 sq metres. Beyond that, the waves were too huge and violent for safety. I strayed too far only once and it felt like being picked up by an angry god and being slammed into the surf. I half thought I was going to die, so powerless did I feel. And yet, afterwards I felt a real purity, my conscience clear … making my way back to the towel in order to bury Laura in the sand.