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I saw a film once called Where the Green Ants Dream, in which a member of an Aboriginal tribe in Australia gave his testament in an Australian court in his language in which he was the sole surviving member of his tribe, and the only one who understood his language. Perhaps there are writers in languages so tiny (down to the last member, in some cases) who are nevertheless outdoing Shakespeare in the language, as they desperately sing to their dead ancesters, but have no living publishing house to set their words on the page, no community of booksellers left for their language.Or perhaps of some small religious community which had a rich and glorious vocabulary, but which no longer exists. I sometimes feel as a Lutheran that that will eventually be the case for my own writing -- as Lutheranism continues to collapse -- and divest itself of its initial principles in favor of a kind of Hollywood Progressivism which is now all the rage, and is represented by Perez Hilton.
If it were true, it would probably be someone who wrote almost constantly. Maybe he writes so much that he never has time to submit anything for publication.Wasn't A Confederacy of Dunces published after the author's death when he mother found the manuscript? Maybe this mythic best writer would eventually be discovered in a similar way.
Of course, you have to define "best." Some people would say that the only legitimate measure of a writer's quality is what people are willing to pay for the finished product.But I don't completely buy that. People often produce great works of art that they do not distribute, for a variety of reasons. The typical reason is that the artist doesn't see distribution as worth the effort, either because it costs too much or because there is some hazard associated with it.The first example that comes to mind is Shostakovich, who kept much of his music out of public hearing because he thought (probably correctly) that the Soviet authorities would dislike it.So...Given the sheer number of people who are unpublished, it is not at all hard for me to believe that among those people is a truly great writer who just doesn't want to go through what it would take to publish. It is far from certain, of course, but I would not try to argue against your use of "probably" in the sense of "more likely than not."
I think it would be hard for a remote tribe to have a rich enough vocabulary and recorded cultural experience to produce the best writer in the world.
I guess all it would take would be for the world's best writer to have absolutely no interest in recognition or renumeration. The total lack of recognition would be a big one though. To write is to communicate. If you don't care about communicating with anyone, why would you write?So maybe it really would take a lot for this to be true.
It couldn't be true because there's no way to determine a "best writer in the world." What would be the criteria: best technique? best command of the language? best imagination? best insight into human behavior and relations? Would we be talking about a writer of fiction or non-fiction? There are too many variables, and too many excellent writers of such variety that they cannot be fairly compared with one another. There is also the matter of subjectivity. As great as Shakespeare is by consensus, there are those who deplore him. As masterful as Dostoevsky is considered to be by most, Nabokov, for one, considered him a bad writer.Years ago some music magazine ran one of their periodic issues commemorating Jimi Hendrix, and many guitarists were asked for their words of praise for Hendrix. Robert Fripp, of King Crimson reknown, offered a crabbed statement dismissing Hendrix as having had bad technique. Well, perhaps he did, from the point of view of some established norm of proper electric guitar technique, such as there is or may have been, but Fripp misses the point entirely: an artist's technique is useful only in order that the artist may express that which he or she wishes to express in the manner desired. Technique for its own sake is hollow, and "bad technique" or not, for the many who appreciate him, Hendrix made moving music of great power, warmth and soul.There can never be a determination of the "greatest writer," and no such creature therefore can ever exist.
That's a big bit in Mark Twain's short story "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven." Basically, Twain says that people in heaven will be treated like they inherently deserve, rather than like how the world may or may not have honored them. “Was Shakespeare a prophet?”“Of course he was; and so was Homer, and heaps more. But Shakespeare and the rest have to walk behind a common tailor from Tennessee, by the name of Billings; and behind a horse-doctor named Sakka, from Afghanistan. Jeremiah, and Billings and Buddha walk together, side by side, right behind a crowd from planets not in our astronomy; next come a dozen or two from Jupiter and other worlds; next come Daniel, and Sakka and Confucius; next a lot from systems outside of ours; next come Ezekiel, and Mahomet, Zoroaster, and a knife-grinder from ancient Egypt; then there is a long string, and after them, away down toward the bottom, come Shakespeare and Homer, and a shoemaker named Marais, from the back settlements of France.”“Have they really rung in Mahomet and all those other heathens?”“Yes—they all had their message, and they all get their reward. The man who don’t get his reward on earth, needn’t bother—he will get it here, sure.”“But why did they throw off on Shakespeare, that way, and put him away down there below those shoe-makers and horse-doctors and knife-grinders—a lot of people nobody ever heard of?”“That is the heavenly justice of it—they warn’t rewarded according to their deserts, on earth, but here they get their rightful rank. That tailor Billings, from Tennessee, wrote poetry that Homer and Shakespeare couldn’t begin to come up to; but nobody would print it, nobody read it but his neighbors, an ignorant lot, and they laughed at it. Whenever the village had a drunken frolic and a dance, they would drag him in and crown him with cabbage leaves, and pretend to bow down to him; and one night when he was sick and nearly starved to death, they had him out and crowned him, and then they rode him on a rail about the village, and everybody followed along, beating tin pans and yelling. Well, he died before morning. He wasn’t ever expecting to go to heaven, much less that there was going to be any fuss made over him, so I reckon he was a good deal surprised when the reception broke on him.”I think this was probably more true in Twain's day than now. There's just way, way too many ways to get exposure for really good writers. And this exposure very often means some kind of publishing opportunity. However, I think that this isn't necessarily true about potential. Someone who had the potential to be the best writer (or the best whatever) was probably discouraged or distracted along the way. To be a really great writer is I think, measured on only by sheer skill of slinging words together but also about communicating an idea, an image, a story to readers. The best writer connects with an audience, and to be such a writer means a whole lot of honing the craft. This is only to say that the best writer is almost certainly published, but by no means to say that the best writer is at all popular. Though, I think the most popular writers show they they are among the best in at least some aspect of writing if not all. This might not be in conveying imagery or amazing prose. It might just be in pacing, or coming up with a compelling story, or writing to a specific audience in a perfectly tuned way.
"Best writer in the world" is a totally subjective thing, and would be subject to continual change, much like "oldest person in the world."
I would disagree with the Althouse's assertion. Let us define the best writer of today as a mature writer, i.e. has written a sufficient amount of publishable pieces. So the material is their, but there are two barriers to publishing: either reluctance to publish on the writer's side, or reluctance to publish on the publisher's side. Now, an abstract "Best Writer" would not be susceptible to either of these barriers. Because we are talking about superlatives here, the Best Writer by definition would comprise all of the desirable qualities of a writer: technical competence, innovation, depth, a flair for story-telling, and attention to detail, etc. At least some of these qualities require an innate gregariousness - I would argue story-telling and character development, which are both dependent on knowledge and even a love of the human condition, require an especial degree of social competence to produce. Hence, the ideal Best Writer, who excels in every aspect, would have to be a passionate social creature. So this excludes the shy, idiot-savant writer archetype who has no desire to publish. As for the publisher rejecting such an ideal Best Writer: impossible. It may be the case that the best current writer is incapable of being published for either of the two barrier-reasons mentioned above, but the best writer of all time will be recognized immediately, and hailed for eternity.
Me.It's me, baby.And I'm still not published. Oh wait ...
"The best writer in the world is probably not even published."This statement makes perfect sense to me.That is all.
Perhaps in this neglected spot is laidSome heart once pregnant with celestial fire;Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,And froze the genial current of the soul.Full many a gem of purest ray sereneThe dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,And waste its sweetness on the desert air.Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breastThe little tyrant of his fields withstood,Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.http://www.thomasgray.org/cgi-bin/display.cgi?text=elcc
According to Eddie Murphy, all the best poets are in prison. “If Shakespeare were alive today, he would probably be doing time”Kill my landlord,Kill my landlordHonestly, I have an entire file cabinet and untold megs of Word files of short-stories, concepts, scenes, etc. As a ravenous consumer of the written word and having had pros read some of my stuff, I know it doesn't tend to the suck. However, I lack the discipline to complete 80% of what I have.I had a very interested back-and-forth with my favorite author, SM Stirling and it centered around the incredible gravity of the word "discipline" in regards to crafting written stories.I've always liked the quote from Crichton's Jurassic Park, "Creation is an act of sheer will."So true.
Oh no, are we back to the Michael Steadman character from Thirtysomething?
What do you mean by 'best writer' and how do you prove such a thing, but assuming that it is true, it could be someone who has a gift for language and writing but a passion and genius for something else....math, cooking, inventing, solving puzzles, making money, saving wildlife.......
Of course it's true. Getting published is a much luck and persistence as quality of the work. The publishing industry will keep pushing dreck from old authors to the exclusion of new ones. People who buy the latest sequel from their favorite author who is far past their prime are guilty of perpetuating this.It is also true that people don't improve on their own. No one gets better at anything without bouncing off other people. That's true in sports, video games, and writing.This hypothetical best writer had better be trying to get published. Otherwise it's a waste.And the final question-- best to whom? A lot of "good" writers I can't stand.
If we set aside Robert Cook's argument about subjectivity, and assume that one writer can be judged as better than another, then there must be one best writer. In order to become good at writing, you'd probably have to write quite a great deal, and you'd need a body of work large enough to be considered. I don't think that you could judge an author of one short story as superior to someone who's written 10 novels, even if it's a really good short story.So you'd have to have someone who writes a great deal, but who's never been noticed; who spends hours writing every day, in their spare time, without any financial motivation. This strikes me as unlikely, but consider that a large percentage of humanity still lives under oppressive governments that might cause them to conceal their work. The populations of China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, and until recently (but to a certain extent, still) Russia and South Africa might include the best writer in the world and no one might ever know.So, pulling numbers out of my ass, let's assume that 30% of the world's population live in a cloistered situation; that each of these people would still have a 5% chance of being published if they were great writers, despite the oppression; and that someone living in a free society would have a very small chance of remaining undiscovered if they were a great writer -- say, a 5% chance. Then we'd have, at most, a 34% chance that the world's greatest living writer is not published.So I would replace Althouse's "probably" with "plausibly".
Would James Joyce be able to find a publisher for Ulysses today? Who would buy it?Incidentally, Leo Tolstoy hated Shakespeare, and in "What is Art," took a chapter or two to write down what an absurd piece of trash "King Lear" was.
Actually, the best writer in the world has been published...and forgotten. James Gould Cozzens. Once a best seller - By Love Possessed - now unread. Why? Because he was an acute chronicler of the deeds and misdeeds of the haute bourgeois. An accute sympathetic chronicler. Very uncool that. And so he has been consigned to the dustbin of both history and literature.
I think it might be valid to claim the best potential writer is unknown because they're unpublished, but the proof of good writing ultimately is in the writing.Contrarily, ancient Egyptians themselves, and what discussion on literature would be complete without their 3,500 year hypergraphia?) attributed the origin of their writing to gods. Their name for it, medu netcher: "the words of the god" or "divine words" preserved in the Greek hieroglyphs, "sacred writing." Since the "sacred" writing was restricted to the learned classes, we can expect from that for the resulting writing passed to be of marked high caliber. But when we look at the bits pieces of papyri left as evidence we see a bunch of crap like this: Neferkepheru, may the warmth of Re forever smile warmly upon your crops, and may Soker protect your children. As to another matter of those two cows and the sandals, I provided the cows as we agreed but I have yet to see the sandals. It has been three months now and still no sandals. My third wife is greatly vexed by this and only you can end this vexation on my house. Please hasten to send those sandals we agree on over to the temple with a messenger some time soon lest a crocodile rip off your legs and your hair fall out. This, from the literati. So, papyri after papyri goes this kind of low-level crap. Much like what we get right here on this blog from commenter J, from whom we've learned to expect nothing else. Fewer, and farther between and so more precious are works like The Instruction of Dua-Khety, (an admonition on occupation, unclear if its meant to be humorous or serious), Uarda, Story of Prince Setna, Maxims of Ptahhotep, the Eloquent Peasant and the like. Still, one has to wonder, the vast amount of remnant evidence notwithstanding, since most people then could neither read nor write, who out there toiling in the fields or chipping away at stone never had the chance to express their exquisite thoughts exquisitely?
It's me, actually. I prefer to shroud my glory.
That is a sad thought. The power of written words is their ability to influence men multiplied by the wide distibution and then re-multiplied by the future readers over thousands of years. That makes Saul of Tarsus the best writer in world history to date.
Tom Wolfe:"In the late 1960s the Conceptualists began to ask: Suppose the greatest artist in the history of the world, impoverished and unknown, had been sitting at a table in the old Automat at Union Square, helping himself to some free water and hoping to cop a leftover crust of toasted corn muffin or a few abandoned translucent chartreuse waxed beans or some other item of that amazing range of Yellow Food the Automat went in for- and suddenly he got the inspiration for the greatest work of art in the history of the world? Possessing note even so much as a pencil or a burnt match, he dipped his forefinger into the glass of water and began recording this greatest of all inspirations, this high point in the history of man as a sentient being, on a paper napkin with New York tap water as his paint. In a matter of seconds, of course, the water had diffused through the paper and the grand design vanished, whereupon the greatest artist in the history of the world slumped to the table and died of a broken heart, and the manager came over, and he thought that here was nothing more than a dead wino with a wet napkin. Now, the question was: Would that have been the greatest work of art in the history of the world or not?"
Actually, the best writer in the world has been published...and forgotten. James Gould Cozzens.And here I thought I was the only person left who read James Gould Cozzens.His present-day uncoolness probably stems from the fact that he not only wrote sympathetically about the haute bourgeoise but also had little good to say about whiners and crybabies:"Downheartedness was no man’s part. A man must stand up and do the best he can with what there is. If the thing he labored to uncover now seemed in danger of stultifying him, could a rational being find nothing to do? If mind failed you, seeing no pattern; and heart failed you, seeing no point, the stout, stubborn will must be up and doing. A pattern should be found; a point should be imposed."The suicides in Cozzens's novels - Lulu Merrick in "Men and Brethren," Colonel Woodman in "Guard of Honor," Helen Detweiler in "By Love Possessed" - are pretty much presented as weaklings. Nowadays, of course, whining is almost an essential part of modern novels.Irving Howe sneered in The New Republic in 1958 that Cozzens was a spokesman for "a civilization that finds its symbolic embodiment in Dwight David Eisenhower and its practical guide in John Foster Dulles." Considering that Eisenhower’s kind of civilization has survived and prospered and Howe’s has fallen into History’s dust, kept alive only by irrational anti-Americanism, I’d say there are worse insults.WV: "hessern". George Washington kicked their asses at the Battle of Trenton.
Writing is communication. A writer who may be the best, but fails somehow to reach a significant audience for some reason can only be described by unfulfilled potential. Along with other talents possibly realized in a different time or place, or if that talented person had not had a fatal flaw.1. The best writer may have been an illiterate Indonesian villager who lived in the 18th century. Had he or she lived in the present, they would be world-famous instead of a dead person now forgotten in countless generations past.2. The best golfer could just possibly been a Russian who lost his legs in WWI. Now we will never know.3. The greatest mathematician was likely someone who was so brilliant and advanced that none of his contemporaries understood him. Therefore, he never published, as a waste of his time and theirs.-----------------Cook's point about subjectivity also makes it a pointless exercise.You can't define and rank certain talents. You cannot get consensus on best writer, singer, best poet, best architect - EVER! Whereas you can make definative statements like - "Usain Bolt is the fastest sprinter ever."
If you don't care about communicating with anyone, why would you write?To call someone a skank.The Victorian aristo & bourgeois chronicler Trollope has enjoyed a rennaissance--probably became his romances appeal to female grad students in spite of their feminism.If the unsung Van Gogh cut off his ear, what unneeded body part will your un-hack writer hack off?
I have long pondered a similar question; however, I have used mathematics as it is more objective and to a degree, simpler. What is the likelihood that the greatest mathematical mind is currently a mathematician as opposed to uneducated, unemployed and living in poverty in a non-western country? I define the “greatest mathematical mind as a person the ability to provide the most insight and progress in mathematics given proper background, resources, training etc. From this I draw the conclusion that in all likelihood, we have the wrong jobs and that there is always someone better for your job than you, so just be glad there is no efficient way of identifying ability and talent.
What are you talking about? Where the Wild Things Are is the best book ever written and Maurice Sendak was certainly well published and is still quite alive. (And I'm not saying this in jest. It really is an amazing book.)
How would you even judge it? No matter how good a writer is a significant bunch of people will justifiably think his or her writing sucks.Having said that, I'm quite confident that there are many really good writers who aren't published considering what complete rubbish is often published, even by established writers who used to be good (or at least not total crap.) Unfortunately, too many successful writers get arrogant and their editors get too scared to do their job.
This a question of the If-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest-does-it-make-a-sound? variety.The answer to such questions always depends on the definition of one key word. Here, it is writer. All disagreement, puzzlement, and abuse flows therefrom.Me, I'm with Tom Wolfe.
The greatest writer ever completed a manuscript and on the way to the post office was robbed, killed and the manuscript thrown into a dumpster.
Derrida was probably the greatest reader.
""In the late 1960s the Conceptualists began to ask: Suppose the greatest artist in the history of the world, impoverished and unknown, had been sitting at a table in the old Automat at Union Square, helping himself to some free water and hoping to cop a leftover crust of toasted corn muffin or a few abandoned translucent chartreuse waxed beans or some other item of that amazing range of Yellow Food the Automat went in for- and suddenly he got the inspiration for the greatest work of art in the history of the world? "Waxed beans!?
Beans that "wax" poetic.
I like Murphy's Oil Soap on my beans.
If you can't be the best writer in the world, then you should write a tribute to the best writer in the world. To wit - Tribute - the greatest and best song in the world.
Probably not.Around here you can see community theater starring some of the best actors you've ever seen—and their resumé says something like "mouthwash commercial".And you can walk along the street and hear a vagrant playing a guitar and singing better than your average pop star.So the notion that there's some guy writing away in obscurity turning out great stuff no one reads? Seems probably. (Though as someone who did a lot of reading of unpublished stuff, I can also aver that it was unpublished for a reason.)Here's the mind-blowing part: If nobody ever reads it, it doesn't matter.
I agree. The best writer in the world is probably not even published.A very small percentage of us earn our daily bread by writing; there are many, many other ways to earn a living, nearly all of which are more lucrative.It doesn't have to be about the money. Perhaps this unknown and unpublished "best writer" finds greater satisfaction doing other things - hall-of-famer Ted Williams left baseball to enlist during the Korean War just so he could once again experience the thrill of being a fighter pilot.Perhaps this "best writer" is pursuing an even greater talent for something other than writing.Or, perhaps (s)he simply just hasn't written, completely unaware that (s)he has the talent to become the best writer in the world.
I don't think it counts if the person has never written. Potential is not the same as actual. Plus, if you're really going to be a great at something, something like writing, you've got to practice.
Also, how are we defining published? Published on dead trees? Any type of published? If he's blogging, AKA free publishing, does that count?
I'm pretty sure he is. I was a postdoc under him. He's published at least a couple hundred papers. When we would write together (he always sat down and wrote side-by-side with the first author of the paper), he would agonize over individual words and chastise me for having a style that was "almost literary." Considering his track record of securing grants, some of his best work is probably unpublished but not unreviewed.
See Emily Dickinson. Only a woman would wish to keep her work hidden. Perhaps it has something to do with the womb. Men are more phallic. They go to extreme lengths to make sure the world knows of their grandeur. There was a man who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge in order to publicize his unproduced play. The play was given an off Bway reading. Everyone agreed that it wasn't very good. But the publicity stunt had the kind of grandeur and emotional impact of a real work of art.
"The greatest writer ever completed a manuscript and on the way to the post office was robbed, killed and the manuscript thrown into a dumpster."I wish I remembered who it was, but I'd heard a story of a great writer who lent his manuscript (hand written) for his friend to review. The maid found the pile of scribbled on paper and threw it out.The larger question? No. The best writer in the world is not unpublished, though there may be any number of writers who are as good as the best writer who are unpublished.I would also argue that most of the "best" published work really isn't very good since part of how it is judged "best" is due to having a limited appeal.
"The maid found the pile of scribbled on paper and threw it out."I vaguely recall Shelby Foote saying that he wrote his 3000 pg trilogy on the Civil War by hand using (IIRC) a quill pen.
Waxed beans!?Empedocles: "Wretches, utter wretches, keep your hands from beans."
Maybe I do wish to exert a little Freddie M arrogance and say I’ve been told a story I’m writing on the internet is one of the most intriguing stories this person has ever read, which certainly shocked me. I’ve received many positive reviews, and I am nineteen and have been writing since I was twelve so I want to say that I don’t believe the best writer in the world has to be published. That’s silly. There are a number of reasons why the best writer in the world wouldn’t be published such as obsessions with perfection, not knowing how to go about it, feeling shy and because of fan fiction websites and the growing number of stories that are able to be read for free, writing as a career is becoming a harder industry to work in.You know, a writer is like a performer in many ways. They tell the story, but if a singer and a dancer transforms, inspires thousands of people and becomes the dance in front of your eyes, the writer has to begin the whole universe and world within their mind, creating the characters you could know lurking somewhere in a shadow, they seem to breathe and their hearts apparently beat. The writer creates the atmosphere, the feelings, the colours, the scents, the textures, showing you how the blood red leaves look in autumn, caught on fire through the lonesome city as a stranger in a black trench coat stalks past until he enters his apartment hotel building. No one cares, really. This man swallows an entire two bottles of separate subscription pills, slumbers on his cold bed and falls into a dream never to wake up. Only twenty minutes previously as the gloomy man walked along the streets paved in fallen autumn leaves bathed in heightening burning flames, a woman in a bright red coat with golden hair and matching golden brown eyes stared at the man as she chucked bread to the ducks in the glistening seaweed green lake. The morning glow of the sun was scampering his rays across the hauntingly still surface, shimmering the puffy white clouds in the sky above to reflect upon the glassy gentle ripples. The lady in red felt a compulsion she had never felt stream through her veins before, begging her weak shivering limbs to pick themselves off the green park bench seat and wander over to the man clad in black. He wore a purple fedora with streams of silky dark hair twisting and twirling past the dip of his shoulder blades, ruffling alongside the gentle chiming music of the breeze. The lady in red wanted to stop the man dead in his tracks, inquire about his name, and discover the colour of his eyes. It was too late. He walked in brisk spidery sleek steps, twitching around the corner and out of side. The lady in red stared into the tauntingly cruel malice of the water. She chucked a final slab of bread into the water, watching dazed as the ducks squeaked in glee and swarmed in flocks to snag and fight over the last remaining piece of bread. Her heart sank.You know, maybe I just haven’t been finding the right books, but my whole life I have been finding GREAT fiction stories hard to come by. People prattle on about Jane Austen, so I attempted both Pride and Prejudice and Emma, and couldn’t get a quarter way through the books. Others say Shakespeare is/was the best in the world. I can’t stand all that long winded drabble, personally. I’m hoping I’ll find the gem within the rocks some day. I think the best writer in the world is unknown.
“I’ve always wanted to tell stories, you know, stories that came from my soul. I’d like to sit by a fire and tell people stories - make them see pictures, make them cry and laugh, take them anywhere emotionally, with something as deceptively simple as words. I’d like to tell tales that move their souls and transform them. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that. Imagine how the great writers must feel, knowing they have that power. I sometimes feel I could do it. It’s something I’d like to develop. In a way, song writing uses the same skills, creates the emotional highs and lows, but the story is a sketch. It’s quicksilver. There are very few books written on the art of storytelling, how to grip listeners, how to get a group of people together and amuse them. No costumes, no make up, no nothing, just you and your powerful ability to take them anywhere, to transform their lives, if only for minutes.” Michael Jackson
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