(From The New York Review of Books. Link to the complete article given below)
Is writing worth it? Does it make any sense at all to pursue literary glory? Are the writers we praise really the best anyway?
In 1824, the Italian poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi decided to take on the subject in a thirty-page essay, of kinds. In fact, he puts his reflections somewhat playfully in the mouth of Giuseppe Parini, perhaps the finest Italian poet of the eighteenth century, a man from a poor family who spent all his life seeking financial and political protection in the homes of the aristocracy. Leopardi imagines Parini—“one of the very few Italians of our times who combined literary excellence with depth of thought”—responding to an exceptionally talented and ambitious young writer seeking advice. What follows here is nothing more than a brief summary of what he says; I take no responsibility for the ideas expressed. Readers can decide for themselves how much of this rings true today.
Young man, literary glory, or the fame that comes from learning and then writing, is one of the very few forms of glory presently available to the commoner. Admittedly, it’s not as impressive or satisfying as the glory that derives from public service, since action is much worthier and nobler than thinking or writing, and more natural. We weren’t made to spend our lives sitting at a table with pen and paper, and doing so can only be detrimental to your health and happiness. All the same, as I said, this is a glory that can be achieved without initial riches and without being part of a large organization.
In reality, the obstacles are many and daunting.