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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Monday, December 19, 2011


Just as Jonathan once had a low opinion of business-inspired approaches to the writing process, ten years ago I would have balked at the idea of modeling the writing process on an exercise regimen. In fact, I think I even used to explicitly balk at the idea of mens sana in corpore sanum.

But I do also remember, in those same days, beginning to worry about the collective and individual conditions that would be required to makes sense of a book like Kant's Critique of Pure Reason or Joyce's Ulysses. When I thought about my own work habits and those of my peers (even those of my mentors), and the sorts of poses, affectations, and contortions this produced in seminars and in writing, I came to suspect that it was pretty much impossible to have the conversation that would be necessary to decide what these sorts of books mean. If knowledge of the transcendental conditions of our experience of objects was to be possible at all, it would require minds that were a good deal more disciplined, I had to admit, than mine. By a similar token, I had to grant that a Joycean epiphany might be entirely out of my reach.

It wasn't until I started working seriously with other people's writing, people whose ideas I knew (or at least thought) to be have some rigour, but whose writing was always, it seemed to me, struggling at the edge of their abilities, that I realized that I had to get these authors to practice. I had to get them to see that they had to gain the necessary strength and grace to express the ideas that we had (I thought) been talking about all these years. And having noticed the mote in my brother's eye, I had to recognize the beam in my own.

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