by Anthony Nanson
I dreamt last night that the university made me teach a module on ‘Metamorphic Writing’. It meant a bit of bluffery with the students because I’d no idea what metamorphic writing was. Then came the follow-up the next semester – ‘Metamorphic Project’ – the only module they were offering me to teach. I was a tad shirty with the management for expecting me to teach a topic without giving any guidance what it was. But suddenly I realised: ‘metamorphic writing’ is writing with a mission, writing that seeks to facilitate some kind transformation in the reader. It was exactly the kind of thing my co-editors and I sought to accomplish via storytelling in Storytelling for a Greener World, whose insights I’ve longed to apply in the academy. Now I was all keen to teach ‘Metamorphic Project’ and gearing up to write a email to my boss to make sure I hadn’t blown my chances of doing so —
And then I woke up – and realised that this metamorphic mission is not so very different from Awen’s ecobardic mission. It concerns writing that has commitment. It’s a bit more muscular, though, in its intentions towards the reader. Alarm bells ring. Are we talking here about propaganda, about manipulation, about the kind of language games that an inhuman state – or nexus of state and big business – can use to mould the unthinking worker-consumers it desires? No. We thrashed this all out in writing Storytelling for a Greener World. The name of the game is not to manipulate people to believe or to do what you want. It is to open up spaces in people’s hearts where they discover for themselves the emergent pathways of transformation that they need and that will make them a blessing to the world.
One of the things that may have fed into my dream was reading the biography of Nikos Kazantzakis by his wife Helen. Kazantzakis was on a mission all his life, a mission that was political and spiritual as well as literary. The right hated him because they thought he was a communist. The communists distrusted him because he kept speaking of the spiritual. He believed there has to be a political struggle, and he contributed to that, he even served in government, but he became convinced that the political struggle is always doomed unless it’s accompanied by the transformation of the human heart. The Greek word for a transformation of being is ‘metamorphosis’; that’s the word translated as ‘transfiguration’ in the New Testament. Kazantzakis poured his life’s energy into literature not to make money – he was always broke – but to facilitate metamorphosis. He was a metamorphic writer.
That’s my dream of what I want to do too. That’s my dream for Awen. The world has got very scary this past year. Some people are thinking what do I need to do to prosper in conditions of right-wing supremacy. Some people are thinking what do we need to do to fight it. What, then, are writers going to do? Write violent power fantasies that make lots of money? Write something ironic that makes them feel smug? How about a ‘metamorphic turn’ in literature? And while we’re at it, how about a university module in Metamorphic Writing instead of just teaching the students how to be winners in a competitive world? But the foundation, of course, must be the writer’s own commitment to their own ongoing transformation of being.