Friday, September 28, 2012

If only you can be the fanatic of your subject

If I were to continue writing about No Name, this would be a post about the enjoyably surprising characters.  Feel free to imagine that post, or to compose your own parody of it.  I have become distracted:

We can easily come up to the average culture & performance; not easily go beyond it.  I often think of the poor caterpillar, who, when he gets to the end of a straw or a twig in his climbing, throws his head uneasily about in all directions; he is sure he has legs & muscle & head enough to go further indefinitely – but what to do? he is at the end of his twig.  (Journal of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jan. ?, 1861*)

I, too, often think of that caterpillar.  Why, it is like me!  In post after post, sentence after sentence, I feel I have reached the end of the twig.  Writing has been unusually laborious lately.  The strain shows, I assume, although I do what I can to hide it.

I am not sure if I am reading Emerson’s journals as a tonic or too precipitate a crisis.  The same thing happened the last time I was reading them, in that case in the form of a little book about Emerson and writing written by Robert D. Richardson.  That book put the fear in me, I tell ya.  "The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent."  That sounds like it could be hard on a fellow.

Amidst all the recent chatter about blogging and the death of literary criticism, I quietly, perhaps with some frustration, ignored the fifth anniversary of Wuthering Expectations.  I was busy writing.  It took some time for me to even acknowledge that Wuthering Expectations is writing, and nothing but.  Other people have their own purposes with their blogs; mine is to write.  Why books, why literature?  New writers are advised to write what they know.  Literature seems to be what I know.**  Emerson again (“we” is Emerson; “you” is also Emerson):

This is what we mean when we say your subject is absolutely indifferent.  You need not write the History of the World, nor the Fall of man, nor King Arthur, nor Iliad, nor Christianity; but write of hay, or of cattleshows, or trade sales, or of a ship, or of Ellen, or Alcott, or of a couple of school-boys, if only you can be the fanatic of your subject, & find a fibre reaching from it to the core of your heart, so that all your affection & all your thought can freely play.  (May? 1859)

Maybe I should start a hay-blog.  No, I simply do not care enough about hay.  I am a fanatic on the subject of literature.  I am writing all of this like I have a choice!

*  From Emerson in His Journals, ed. Joel Porte, p. 490.  The second quotation is on p. 485.

**  Or what I want to know.  The helpful patience with which people read what often amount to nothing more than introductory notes, and the useful guidance they provide in comments, often astounds me.  But they are fellow fanatics of their subjects.


  1. I think the fact you missed your anniversary because you were writing ought to be transformed into some sort of figurative symbol that you could place on the Wuthering Expections coat of arms: Amateur Reader Rampant, or some such. What I'm trying to say is that it's very you, and exactly as I would have expected. After all, what's a man who doesn't much care for plot got to do with a fifth birthday? But I'm delighted you are here and writing still. Don't stop.

  2. A coat of arms is a great idea.

    The problem to be resolved, I have realized, and it was a hard lesson, is not stopping but changing, continuing the forward motion - but which way is forward?

    Regardless, thanks for the kind thoughts.

  3. Oh, "forward," that old bugbear. It's the movement that counts, the going. Writing, at least the way I do it, is a search. Sometimes in our search we set off fireworks displays, and sometimes we just get buried in mud. All of it's worth doing. A coat of arms is a great idea. Happy anniversary.

  4. Oh, me too. I have to write to find ideas. The ideas have not been so hot lately, but the only way to find better ones is more writing. And more reading, too, but that I take for granted.

  5. I won't believe you're really feeling strained about writing until the day I see you sign up for a week of Bloggiesta posts about your "blog improvement projects." Until then, I look forward to another five years about Weird France, mummified cats, Emerson, the Argentinean Literature of Doom, and whatever else floats your writing boat. I do admire your weekday posting stamina, though--I can barely gear up to write a post a week these days and sometimes not even that. Anyway, thanks for the consistently high quality infotainment, my good fellow!

  6. Bloggiesta, Book Blogger Appreciation Week, whatever the book blogger conference is called - none of them ever discuss writing. Everyone involved is presumably doing some writing - although I have noticed some book blogs working on an innovative post-verbal format - but the subject is invisible.

    If only I would come across another idea as good as the mummified cats.

  7. A belated happy five years! Nothing like a little Emerson to make one think about the purpose of it all. Your comment above, "although I have noticed some book blogs working on an innovative post-verbal format - but the subject is invisible" gave me a good laugh. I like your very verbal format, so please keep that going :)

  8. Emerson is bracing. But I seem to share some of his temperament, so his anxieties are mine.

    I am only half-mocking the turn to animated gifs and so on. Who knows what clever things people might come up with. It ain't writing, though.

    Thanks for the good wishes.

  9. Late to the celebration, but warmest congratulations on five years (I have a lot of catching up to do!) as well as on your Charles Addams avatar. Is that new, or am I just - late as usual - noticing it? It's you!

  10. The giant owl on the car (or the ordinary owl on the small car) is the work of Franco Matticchio and is borrowed from the staggering 50 Watts.

    More or less all of my avatars are stolen from 50 Watts. That is how I decide to switch - I see something that makes me say "That's me!"

  11. My mistake - I did see that featured on 50 Watts and remember thinking: The Italian Charles Addams! Anyway, it's great image that makes me think of E. M. Forster's comment about Virginia Woolf's having "pushed the light of English literature a little further against the darkness" - and giggle.