Attempts #1: On Limits and Not Writing

I am staring at a screen, listening to my partner listening to Serial Season 2 mixing with the street noise of Maadi three stories below me. I have not been writing as much until recently: reviews of comics and books for Goodreads, a poem or two a week, commentary on student’s papers. Mostly I have been reading and traveling. Taking things in. Trying to parse something that has changed in myself. Trying not to gaze into my naval… after all, my naval was split by surgery earlier this year and is thus disfigured.

So I have decided just to write and let the chips fall where the they may. I used to keep day books in heady days of being single and in Korea. I will spare you. It’s mostly bad anthropology, whining about this or that woman I was trying to chase, and the dealing with the end of the marriage all while moving to Korea. The stuff of bad memoirs. Joan Didion says “there are stories which we tell in other to live.” To that I may add, “there are stories we don’t tell in order not to die of embarrassment.”

This is an attempt to get some thoughts out: Michel de Montaigne style, or at least the pretense to it. For years, I have been writing primarily about politics. Necessarily these tended to be theoretical axioms or polemics. Theoretical axioms are schematics of first principles. Architecture of thoughts and critiques of other thoughts. For someone who has studied classical rhetoric, this is a form of superficial logic. Superficial here does not mean trivial, but it does mean surface and incomplete. The internet bays for blood and polemics are the baby for its moloch pit.

After five years, I feel that this actually strongly hurt my writing and dampened my want to engage with writing. In 2010 and 2011, I published almost thirty poems. In the last year, I published one, and maybe sent 15 out to publication. I have been writing poems the whole time. Reading them too: I read most of the works of Bin Ramke this year, revisited Ai, read and re-read most of the works of Claudia Rankine since she hit on the hue of the US’s heart’s court.

Yet I quit trying to publish them for a while. Some of this is not related ot political writing: earlier this year my intestine were outside of my body due to complications from typhoid. This is not something one generally predicts. I moved to Egypt, and had a hard adjusting to teaching High School Literature again after being an ethics teacher, a writing teacher, and a faculty lecturer for several years. I hit year four of being with my partner. Both of us had major health problems. My brother shot himself in the face. I tried to write about it, and all I could say was something about the clear-eyed vision of depression. It was horribly romantic–true, but idiotic. I got to listen to the vampires of the internet about it for a few days.

There’s that baying for blood. I suppose that is what we learned about democracy. People see it, and they say they want it, but it is always abundantly clear that the actuality of other people’s mistakes is not something they really want to deal with.

So why make attempts? Why write in such an unstructured way? Why not go back to semi-arcane polemics about the spirit of modernity and liberality while attacking the myths of the right? Why?

Because one notices that the politics of alienation is, itself, alienating. One must answer for why one likes “right-wing writers like Nabokov, Patricia Highsmith, Gene Wolfe, Yukio Mishima…” I could go on. I do like all those writers, and some more with even more “problematic” ideological heritages. That is the thing with politics and aesthetics, no matter how one pretends to say they are unrelated both ultimately go to what one values as beauty, and beauty bringing with it the promise of improvement is both aesthetic and political.

Thus is worrying that Brecht is about the best the left-wing has ever produced, and perhaps the most heavy handed outside of Steinbeck. In a way, this belabors my point, in many ways our political theories are caricatures of our moral and aesthetic worlds as much as extensions of them.

So I should keep plugging away. Hoping that someone finds this remotely entertaining or insightful. Hoping that the flashpan of polemics isn’t really all there is to writing.

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One thought on “Attempts #1: On Limits and Not Writing

  1. For whatever it is worth, I appreciate this kind of writing. It feels honest in a basic sense. Sometimes that in itself is a bit of an achievement, to just throw things out and see what sticks and what settles. Or else simply to stir up the muck to see how it swirls in the currents.

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