Issue #121 / October 2020
In an interview from 1997 in Los Angeles, you introduced us to your “pet theory”: your creativity could only flourish in a state of loss and longing, and that it needed catastrophes in your life.
Finally, and this is what resonated with me the most, you stated that you could not get much substance out of living a life which was content. Do you still believe that?
A sincere and devoted admirer of yours who sort of struggles in a content life.
HYUN, SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
One of the truly humbling aspects of The Red Hand Files is the glimpse it has given me into the vast and varied sweep of human suffering. Letter after letter comes in, day after day, increasingly so during the pandemic and its recurring lockdowns, from people suffering distress due to very serious problems — mental health issues, loneliness, homelessness, physical and mental abuse, loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, loss of dreams, loss of meaning and loss of hope. It is a profound privilege to read these letters as it puts one’s own struggles into perspective, and is a reminder that despite our differences, no one is immune to suffering.
So, when I read the quote from a younger Nick Cave saying he needs catastrophes in his life to create, these words sound somewhat like the indulgent posturing of a man yet to discover the devastating effect true suffering can have on our ability to function, let alone to create. I am not only talking about personal grief, but also global grief, as the world is plunged deeper into this wretched pandemic. The pandemic is playing havoc with our lives – but so is the questionable response of the lockdowns. The letters I receive through The Red Hand Files are testament to the devastating and largely ignored effect of lockdowns, not just on the economy, but on the very soul of the world. From reading the data — and I say this with great caution — one can’t help but wonder if the collateral damage from the lockdowns, this closeting of our lives, will end up outweighing the benefits.
Hyun, if you are living a life that is content my advice is to learn to live inside it, examine it, relish it, and most of all remember it — this extraordinary thing, a happy life — because there may come a time when something will present itself in the form of a misfortune, a transgression, an abuse, a failure, a humiliation, a loss, or, indeed, a global crisis where your life will turn, in an instant, from easy comfort to total chaos. It is happening all around us.
On one level, some of this incoming despair is the routine devastation of ordinary life — suffering is always with us. Still, I pray that, ultimately, we will step beyond this extraordinary harrowing of our time to a new way, a different way, a better way. I hope we will be afforded that opportunity.