For new and original books to flourish, there must be privacy, even secrecy. In Time Regained, Marcel Proust expressed this perfectly. “Real books”, he wrote, “should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk, but of darkness and silence.”
How many “real books” enjoy “darkness and silence” today? Not many. In 2010, the world of books, and the arts generally, is a bright, raucous and populist place. The internet – and blogs like this – expose everything to scrutiny and discussion. There’s a lot of self-expression, but not necessarily much creativity.
So the question I ask is: can the secret state of creative inspiration flourish on global platforms on which everything is exposed, analysed and dissected?
I don't think this is quite right. I think there are some kinds of books — some kinds of art — that can only be made in privacy, by people who seclude themselves from other voices and work through a project without interference. But that’s not a universal rule. Many of the ideas in the book I’m writing now, on reading in a digital age, have made their first appearance on this blog: I have tried out thoughts, had readers agree or disagree or send me links to related ideas. Even when you don't get a lot of comments on an idea, just putting it before the public forces you to think about it in a different way than when it’s only in your head.
Maybe what McCrum should have written is that there must be a stage in the making of any significant work that takes place “in darkness and silence.” But even Proust gained a great deal of the knowledge and insight that fed his books from social occasions — even Proust!