When I discovered the Angry Young Men movement of the fifties, I was in my thirties. And I certainly hadn’t had an angry young man stage of my own. I was mostly an idle thinker with bouts of vexation that I couldn’t write anything worth the disdain or love of the working or middle classes.
But how I loved the brazen ideas of working-class writers and intellectuals who were outspoken with their scorn and dissatisfaction and resentment and sardonic humour for society’s hypocrisy and mediocrity.
I devoured John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and then dunked biscuit after biscuit into my tea, glued to the movie starring Richard Burton as Jimmy Porter. In fact, at exactly the same time, my atoms and cells were in the throes of delirium as I also discovered Mike Leigh’s brilliant movie Naked, starring a young David Thewlis as the terrible angel Johnny, and Bruce Robinson’s mantic and totally corrupting Withnail and I, with a stellar performance by Richard E. Grant.
That raw anger and frustration still kicks a can around in my imagination and still stands strong as a metaphor for artistic inspiration. It’s good to know that I still have this electrical river, though it’s not my primary source when it comes to creating. But it’s thrown into the rattlebag I have as a writer and it’s a deeps source because I am at once frightened and attracted to my anger.
If it’s there, in the blood, I think, then why throw it away or shun it? Why not go “To the depths of the unknown,” as Baudelaire writes?
Anger is just another energy to plug into as a writer to get the sluggish beat of life going again. It’s not different from Lorca’s duende spirit of Rilker’s terrifying angels. Anger is just as chthonic and numinous and can arrest a writer to the “holiness of the Heart’s affection and the truth of imagination” But just as Keats is certain of nothing but these two wild creative forces, I’m also never certain that my feelings of anger and frustration towards a reality that I so often think fails our imagination is right, besides that it feels right to question and doubt, just as it feels right to love and want to be loved.
But it’s the uncertainty that drives my anger that also drives the force of imagination and, well, delivers something I never expected, which is what art does, makes a kind of logic out of chaos, out of the fleeting and chimerical, out of intense passions and the struggle to ride wild horses with flexible reins.
But don’t listen to me. I am uncertain of even my certainty. All I know is that I have to endure with love. So listen instead to Emerson:
“Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, “It is in me, and shall out.” Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage drew out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy, and by virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river to electricity.”