Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about. … It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them. (Harry Crews)
Crews was born and raised in the deep South (Georgia and Florida) and raised in abject, “po white trash” poverty. In his novels and in his biography he eloquently describes the hardship of living on the periphery of the social body, the daily struggles involved in a hand-to-mouth existence. It is grim, to say the least, and often violent He is sometimes likened to William Faulkner in this depiction of “po white trash” living. Crews and Faulkner also bring to my mind Flannery O’Connor who wrote about the same experience of the Southern dispossessed, and did so with excellence, although she did not hail from that culture.
Crews made his escape from the wretched existence that was his fate. And he did so by getting educated and discovering a facility with words. And with this literary skill he was able to depict so eloquently the alienation that he was born into, an alienation which is relevant to people from various cultures. For, alienation is not the exclusive domain of “po white trash.”
In the quotation offered above, Crews emphasized the importance of looking within, paying attention to the heart’s machinations and noted that most people don’t bother to look there. In fact, the prospect of looking there is off-putting to them, to say the least. For, to look within is to discover that the heart has its “beastly little treasures” (I think it was Auden who coined that term). And the first casual observation of this “beast” is enough to thwart any further venture into the “heart of darkness.” And, all of us have this “heart of darkness” even if we do not deign to look there. And, we don’t have to look there because we look around us and see darkness abounding, not realizing that part of that darkness out there is merely our own projection. As Karl Jung said, “What we resists persists” and does so in the form of our projections.