[...] Not long ago, one of my former undergraduate workshop students came to visit, and I took him on a walk in my neighborhood. Jeff is a skilled, ambitious young person, gaga over Pynchon's critique of technology and capitalism, and teetering between pursuing a Ph.D in English and trying his hand at fiction. On our walk I ranted at him. I said that I too had once been seduced by critical theory's promise of a life unco-opted by the System, but that after my initial seduction I came to see that university tenure itself--the half-million-dollar TIAA-CREF account in your name, the state-of-the-art computer supplied to you at a university discount by the Apple Corporation for the composition of your "subversive" monographs--is the means by which the System co-opts the critical theorist. I said that fiction is refuge, not agency.
Then we passed a delicious trash pile, and I pulled from it a paint- and plaster-spattered wooden chair with a broken seat and found a scrap of two-by-four to knock the bigger clumps of plaster off. It was grubby work. Jeff said: "This is what my life will be like if I write fiction?"
The curious thing about David's fiction, though, is how recognized and comforted, how loved, his most devoted readers feel when reading it. To the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island--and I think it's approximately correct to say that his most susceptible readers are ones familiar with the socially and spiritually isolating effects of addiction or compulsion or depression--we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island which was David. At the level of content, he gave us the worst of himself: he laid out, with an intensity of self-scrutiny worthy of comparison to Kafka and Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, the extremes of his own narcissism, misogyny, compulsiveness, self-deception, dehumanizing moralism and theologizing, doubt in the possibility of love, and entrapment in footnotes-within-footnotes self-consciousness. At the level of form and intention, however, this very cataloguing of despair about his own authentic goodness is received by the reader as a gift of authentic goodness: we feel the love in the fact of his art, and we love him for it.
[...] He'd loved writing fiction, Infinite Jest in particular, and he'd been very explicit, in our many discussions of the purpose of novels, about his belief that fiction is a solution, the best solution, to the problem of existential solitude. Fiction was his way off the island, and as long as it was working for him--as long as he'd been able to pour his love and passion into preparing his lonely dispatches, and as long as these dispatches were coming as urgent and fresh and honest news to the mainland--he'd achieved a measure of happiness and hope for himself. When his hope for fiction died, after years of struggling with the new novel, there was no other way out but death. [...]
quitting Nardil being spurred by a bunch of different things: potential food poisoning, wanting control, feeling blocked in his work
And this is why writing good fiction is almost never easy. The point at which fiction seems to become easy for a writer--and I'll let everyone supply his or her own examples of this--is usually the point at which it's no longer necessary to read that writer. [...] It's a prejudice of mine that literature cannot be a mere performance: that unless the writer is personally at risk--unless the book has been, in some way, for the writer, an adventure into the unknown; unless the writer has set himself or herself a personal problem not easily solved; unless the finished book represents the surmounting of some great resistance--it's not worth reading. Or, for the writer, in my opinion, worth writing.
[...] There was an internal click as an actual idea of Cassirer's broke through. The sentence that had so addled me suddenly made sense [...]:
The same function which the image of God performs, the same tendency to permanent existence, may be ascribed to the uttered sounds of language.
He meant that words shaped our realities, our perceptions, giving them an authority God had for other generations. The indecipherable sentence had been circumnavigating my insides like a bluebottle fly for a week, and at last I got hold of it: words would define me, govern and determine me. Words warranted my devotion--not drugs, not boys. That's why I clung to the myth that poetry could somehow magically still my scrambled innards.
from The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms
[...] I hold my liquor enough to hear--from the mouths of poets--work I'm itching to read, books I can vanish down into from my grind. The night is a burst of sea spray washed across my face, tangible evidence of a fresh existence only slightly out of reach.
Writing, whatever else it is doing, is always getting at something that it never quite obtains. There is always something unsaid, something that clings to writing like a shadow.
Thus, from the perspective of many educated political people, writing is something that one despises: an onerous task, a sacrifice one makes for the greater good. It results in left-wing writers becomingly aggressively boring, in an unconscious attempt to punish the reader: I've suffered for my writing, now it's your turn. Any writer who seems to be having a good time, revelling in the jouissance of writing, enjoying with rococo swagger the ornate sensuousness of language, is self-indulgent, a source of resentment. [...]
I'm not sure exactly who he's talking about (??) but the idea that writing should be something we enjoy is good
The literature of the left, is literary. Marx, Aimé Césaire, Suzane Césaire, Louis Althusser, Audre Lorde, Simone Yoyotte, Pierre Yoyotte, J H Prynne, Jules Monnerot, Simone de Beauvoir, Christopher Caudwell, Claudia Jones, Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, CLR James, Leon Trotsky, John Berger, the prelapsarian Christopher Hitchens and Rusa Luxemburg are all notable for being, not just theorists, journalists, historians, philosophers, poets and intellectuals who opened up new worlds to their readers but, precisely on that account, great stylists. Historical materialism, at its inception, stressed the artifice - the art - in living, and goes on doing so. We make history, even if not in circumstances or with materials of our own choosing. Nothing has to be taken as it is given, not even our written language.
These literary jouissances are, far from being incidental trappings often essential to the persuasive power of the 'ruthless criticism' of all that exists, and to the new concepts to which it gives birth. They are part of the meaning of the work, which is something that is done to you, not just said to you. One way of putting this is that radical writing is an attempt at, among other things, conversion. We don't write just to pass on information, as honest brokers, but to change people: to shake them up, to make them laugh, pray, blush, worry, cry and yearn. We aim to help make revolutionary subjects, people who are capable of waging the kinds of difficult, and often unrewarding struggles that are the lot of any radical. [...]
on Marx's writing