Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bloomsbury Groups: Sex and Creativity

Today is the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, who is perhaps most famous for being the lover of Virginia Woolf, which made me think of that Bloomsbury group.

I remember in grad school being fascinated by the sexual relationships in that group. I've always been interested in non-conventional relationships, both sexual and otherwise. How do people fight against whatever structure their society tries to impose upon them? I'm interested in people who live in intentional Christian communities, in people who create all sorts of co-parenting relationships, in people who refuse to be boxed in by society's need to classify and sort. It probably shouldn't surprise me that I'd have been interested in the Bloomsbury group.

Now, though, I find myself frustrated in our society's need to talk about everybody's sex lives. Yawn. After awhile, I find myself feeling like I've heard everything. What seemed endlessly fascinating when I was 21 no longer interests me at all.

When I was in my late 20's, an older colleague said, "I'm bored with people's sex lives. Don't tell me about what you're into in the bedroom. Tell me about your investments."

She meant financial investments. I was horrified. I saw her as deeply repressed. Now, I understand.

However, there's still one aspect of human lives that I long to know better; we rarely talk about people's creative lives to the extent that fills my hunger. I've read book after book about the Bloomsbury group, and very few writers talk AT ALL about how the creative individuals influenced each other as individuals and as the group. To me, that's the interesting question: how do we become better artists when we're part of a group? What do we lose when we're part of a group? Do artistic groups influence individual artists differently than other groups (like, say, being part of a group of new parents or environmentalists or grad students)?

No, writers exploring the Bloomsbury group tend to focus on the sex or the upper class background of the group or any number of other things except for the art.

Let me qualify. I haven't read much about the Bloomsbury group since I finished my Ph.D. in the early 90's. This situation may have been rectified.

But I doubt it. Perhaps there's a lesson for us artists: have a boring sex life or risk having your art trivialized--at least for the first hundred years after your death.

Yes, yes, I'm oversimplifying. But many people would tell us that simplifying/making dull more parts of our lives will lead to more interesting art. Or maybe it's just that having a streamlined life will give us more time to make art. If we lose so much time to drama and turmoil, we won't have the time, space, and quiet that much art demands.

Here's a Vita Sackville-West quote (from The Writer's Almanac) for your Tuesday inspiration: "It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?"


Radish King said...

I like this post and it is most interesting to me as I've been contemplating how the various writers' groups I've been involved with have always tanked out my writing. And now I find interacting with POETRYWORLD on the internet is having much the same result on my writing. It's why I basically stopped writing about poetics on my blog. I got so tired of it all. I personally think reading about sex is much more interesting than reading about writerly issues. And I'm well past 21.


Dale said...

It depends, I guess. Some sexual relationships are also artistic experiments & explorations. Most aren't.

But yes, generally, I'm with you. I don't know much about the Bloomsbury group, but amongst the Romantics & Victorians, not very many of the complications are interesting in a literary way. Mostly artists, as much as anyone else, simply play out the erotic scripts of their societies as given; and if you're not one of the players the scripts are awfully dull. Fall in love, fall out of love, seduce, betray, refrain, whatever. Ho Hum.

Kristin said...

Thank you both for commenting--you've left me much to think about, which I have for the past few days. No grand conclusions yet, but I do worry about the parts of myself/my brain that I shut off at some point, saying, "Well, that's enough of that. I've heard the last thing I ever want to hear about that." With luck and grace, I've got a long life left, and it's much too early to start losing interest.