Writing with the Body

If I did not resist with my life, I should be unable to write…The Christian idea has got to be served; that the word is made Flesh. One must write with one’s body. {Antoine de Saint-Exupery}

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was an acclaimed author (primarily for his children’s book The Little Prince) and also an aviator who volunteered as a fighter pilot during the French Resistance in WWII. Older than most combat pilots, Saint-Exupery refused to surrender his commission. He believed that to write honestly required that he live honestly; and, in the historic moment in which he lived, Saint-Exupery believed that honest living demanded he offer his full self, even his life, for the just cause of resisting the Nazis. In the end, his choice did demand his life – Saint-Exupery went missing in July 1944 during a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean, shortly before France’s liberation.

For Saint-Exupery, writing was not merely something he did, but integral to who he was. His writing both flowed from and fed into the whole of who he was as a man. If he lived dishonestly or without courage and integrity, then his writing would suffer the poison. He could not ignore the great cause of his day (perhaps his life) without his cowardice and selfishness corroding his soul.

He believed then that a writer “must write with one’s body.” In other words, a writer writes with their whole self – or we don’t write truly at all. We write with our actions, with our friendships, with our laughter and our tears. We write with our hopes and our commitments and our generosity ever bit as much as we write with our words.

With Saint-Exupery, these notions of life and writing emerged from his faith. The central notion of Christian faith is the Incarnation, the belief that God went physical in Jesus. God is not an idea, but a person. Christianity is not primarily a moral code or set of theories and principles. Christianity, rightly observed, is the story of how God is making (and re-making) the world (and the people who make up this world) to be splendidly overrun with beauty, truth and goodness. Energized by this, then, how could a writer not write with intense passion, conviction and truthfulness. (And, the same is true for a painter, a baker, a builder, a grocery clerk.)

As a writer, I’m pondering Saint-Exupery’s words – and asking myself the question: what do I need to write with my body before I write with my sentences? As a writer who is also a Christian, I’m pondering Saint-Exupery’s words – and asking myself the question: where does my writing need to imbibe the way of Incarnation, to go physical and move toward beauty, truth and goodness?

4 responses to Writing with the Body

  1. Michael D. Warden June 15, 2009 at 8:45 am

    Great post, Winn. As a fellow writer (and fellow Christ follower), I wrestle with the same questions often. I'm currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Crack-Up, in which he speaks of the same imperative of transparency and courage in the true writer, and of his own broken journey along those lines. Seems so much of the art of writing isn't the writing part at all, but rather the willingness to fully engage life, especially the nooks and shadows of the heart and human experience where others fear to go, and then to report back to the world the truths we find there. I'm reminded of O’Shaunghessy's declaration:

    "We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams, wandering by lone sea-breakers, and sitting by desolate streams–world-losers and world-forsakers, on whom the pale moon gleams; we are the movers and shakers of the world forever, it seems."

  2. I love that quote, Michael. Thank you.

  3. Michael, I think you misspelled "Willy Wonka."

  4. and when you've written enough with your life, battered and torn, then where does the fire come to write with words when so weary? After all, Jesus never wrote a single word on paper, it was other's that did that… his living and dying and living is the only book

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.