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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, February 29, 2016

Some other things I don't like

I really don't like reading other people's scholarship, unless it is of the highest quality. It really drains my energy to read. A lot of the draining effect of teaching is having to read student work. I know this sounds bad, but why are you tired after reading a set of student papers? If you read some Roland Barthes during that same amount of time, you will be energized with new ideas, but students rarely give you that. Reading bad poetry or fiction does the same thing. That is why we are paid to do certain things. Listening to other people's talks is not easy for me either. I always think that my talk would be better.

(A guy I won't name, a few years ago, asked me for a blurb for his book, but told me not to read the whole thing. He didn't seem to have enthusiasm for his own project, which was somewhat repetitive from numerous previous books. I could not refuse, but still...)

I know this is a significant insight. I've formulated it before, paraphrasing Sartre: "l'enfer, c'est l'écriture des autres." It's not that I'm so brilliant and looking down on everything else. I feel the same way about my own music. I'd rather compose an inferior song than listen to your inferior song, or even your song that's a little better than mine. I'd prefer actively to create my own things. Unless your name is Cole Porter or George Gershwin or Harold Arlen or Jerome Kern or Richard Rodgers or Duke Ellington or Billy Strayhdorn or Johnny Green*, I am going to get more benefit out of my own efforts than from yours.

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*Not an exhaustive list, but you know what I mean.

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