Do you write to figure out exactly how you feel about a subject?
No, I know how I feel. My feelings are the result of prejudices and convictions like everybody else’s. But I am interested in the complexity, the vulnerability of an idea. It is not “this is what I believe,” because that would not be a book, just a tract. A book is “this may be what I believe, but suppose I am wrong . . . what could it be?” Or, “I don’t know what it is, but I am interested in finding out what it might mean to me, as well as to other people.”
From An Interview with Toni Morrison: Toni Morrison, The Art of Fiction no. 134
Today I have to return Anne Truitt’s journal, Daybook, to the library. I didn’t quite finish (maybe I’ll buy it?), but I was able to read most of it. So great. I love her writing.
Here are a few passages that I’d like to remember:
on balancing intuition and instinct
I began to see my life as somewhere between these two orders of the natural and the abstract, belonging entirely neither to one or the other.
In my work as an artist I am accustomed to sustaining such tensions: a familiar position between my senses, which are natural, and my intuition of an order they both mask and illuminate.
…the forces of instinct and intuition fought for control of my work. Yesterday intuition fell back briefly before instinct. My hand wanted to draw, to run free. Colors overran, lines tilted, and with about the same degree of effectiveness as Don Quixote going at the windmills. For one whole day I entertained the notion, which had been creeping up on me, of turning my back on the live nerve of myself and having fun.
This morning I am sober. I would be a fool to sacrifice joy to fun.
on indifference to others and Paying careful attention
Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to be a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitutally flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.
Anybody gets to ask any questions about any fiction-related issues she wants. No question about literature is stupid. You are FORBIDDEN to keep yourself from asking a question or making a comment because you fear it will sound obvious or unsophisticated or lame or stupid. Because critical reading and prose fiction are such hard, weird things to try to study, a stupid-seeming comment or question can end up being valuable or even profound. I am deadly-serious about creating a classroom environment where everyone feels free to ask or speak about anything she wishes. So any student who groans, smirks, mimes machine-gunning or onanism, chortles, eye-rolls, or in any way ridicules some other student’s in-class question/comment will be warned once in private and on the second offense will be kicked out of class and flunked, no matter what week it is. If the offender is male, I am also apt to find him off-campus and beat him up.
David Foster Wallace
I have mixed feelings about these rules. I really like this idea of encouraging otherwise reticent/fearful students to speak up and ask questions. And I appreciate his willingness to punish assholes who mock fellow students. But I don’t completely agree with the idea that there are no stupid (lit) questions. Well, maybe there aren’t stupid questions, but there are thoughtless, uncaring questions that aren’t aimed at furthering the discussion or digging deeper into the text, but at pontificating or avoiding the difficult work of finding your own answers. How did DFW handle these types of questions?
I recently started reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. It’s good. I wish that I could devote more attention to it, but I find it difficult to read deeply when I’m in the midst of a big writing/story project.
Perhaps the biggest thing that has struck me so far is Nelson’s way of citing her sources. When she’s using someone else’s theory or idea, she puts that theorist’s name in the margin, beside her own text. Sometimes she directly quotes the theorist, sometimes she merely invokes them.
I like this approach. I also like how Moira Donegan describes it in her book review of The Argonauts in n+1:
But the citations fulfill a second purpose, of suggesting a kind of heritage. Weed, Winnicott, Bellamy, Butler, Myles, and the countless others Nelson cites — including Leo Bersani, Anne Carson, Pema Chödrön, Michel Foucault, and above all Sedgwick — are her “many-gendered mothers,” she says, borrowing a phrase from the poet Dana Ward, and with Nelson’s mind on maternity this concept has a vague but meaningful resonance. “I think of citation as a form of family-making,” she has said, and The Argonauts is a project about queer family-making twice over: literally, as it tells the story of Nelson, Harry, and their children, and literarily, in its composition.
I want to think and write more about how Nelson uses citations and whether or not I can play with this technique in my own story project.
I’m deep in the midst of working on a new book project about my stories as an (ex?) teacher and educator. So far, researching it has been a lot of fun. Right now, I’m still thinking about syllabi as format and content. Here are a few more sources that I want to review in the next few days: