While studying philosophy over the past few years, I’ve come across a few books that made more of an impression on me than most of the textbooks lying on my bookshelf gathering dust. One of them is about roots, and by this, I’m not talking about the botanical-vegetable kind.
The full name of the book is The Need for Roots, written by Simone Weil. What did she mean when she said we need roots? Weil postulated that in a certain essential sense, people need to be rooted in certain things in order to lead fulfilling and happy lives. Some examples of what she was referring to include being rooted in a community and feeling a connection with the history of the things you do.
But you can also be uprooted from these things and this is something I recognise in myself and my intention to write more frequently.
I came to this realisation last week when I went to a cafe to listen to people reading passages aloud from the diaries they kept in their youth. It was an open stage for passages that otherwise would never have seen the light of day. Stories – that when read today – made you think: ‘Did I really write that back then?’ One of the things I laughed about that evening was a hilarious account about a naive crush on Brad Pitt. But at the same time, I thought to myself: ‘These are people who are actually rooted in the act of writing. They’ve been writing for the majority of their lives!’
For me, just sitting down to start writing one of these columns often requires a lot of effort. Now I have a somewhat better understanding of why that is: the ability to write isn’t something you acquire out of the blue. Just like being a professional athlete, it demands years of intensive practice, and that’s something I could do without. This means the radical change I want to make (funnily enough, the word radical comes from the Latin radix, literally meaning ‘root’) to become a good writer will not be accomplished from one day to the next.
If I want to become a better writer, I’ll have to go back to the roots of what writing is. That begins by better appreciating people who filled their diaries with nonsense when they were young. And if I don’t start writing, it’s going to be a long time before I become a good writer. In other words: the time I’ve spent putting it off could have been time spent putting down roots.
Marnix ‘t Hart studies Philosophy at the EUR