Monday, December 29, 2014

Tyranny of the Text

The irony is that in the year that I've written the most, I've blogged the least. You would think that writing is writing, and that one kind of writing would necessarily impact in a positive, quantitative way other kinds of writing. That is not the case. This year I've worked on my Blanchot book, which remains on hiatus, written two essays for another book project I was going to coauthor with two friends, which seems to be back in lone-author territory, three essays based on my research in Europe this summer, one of which so far has been published, a few shorter pieces, and two translations. It looks as if I'll end the year with a mere 15 blog posts.

But then again I'm racked with anxiety that this amount of writing is not enough. Not enough for what, I don't know. Success? Posterity? Name recognition? Having so little timely feedback is difficult. I know that I'm an excellent writer. Two rejection letters I received this year confirmed this. Nevertheless, my superior writing was not enough to merit at least these two publications. Or perhaps: my superior writing was enough to merit at least these two rejections.

Editorial timelines are the bane of timely writing. It appears that if I wanted to have something published this year, then I should've done the research and writing at least a year ago. Most submissions require 3-6 months for a response. I'm looking forward to a flood of rejections late spring 2015--all acclaiming my exceptional writing. I fear that people will only be able to read my writing that has been severely edited, changed, made inferior by an editor not worthy of my writing. I mean, why would any editor excise every meaningful conjunction in an essay? I'm baffled by such brutish disregard for my work, for writing in general. But editors are part of the game, the business, the nodal nature of power and force.

And then there's the pay. Although, my one publication this year earned me $250. That's $250 more than all my years of having my academic writing published. Not bad, until you factor in the thousands I spent to travel and conduct the research in the first place.

This morning I looked at the December reading log by one of the people I follow on Twitter. He is a writer, book reviewer, and translator. I saw that he tried to read Montesquieu's Persian Letters this month but didn't. I immediately felt a small ripple of euphoria because I have indeed already read Persian Letters. It was in a graduate class in political philosophy on Montesquieu; we also read The Spirit of the Laws (all 722 pages) and Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline. Any fleeting sense of superiority for having read a book that someone else didn't was quickly transformed into a crisis of worth. So fucking what? Am I a better person for having read anything by Montesquieu, let alone almost everything by Montesquieu? And it's not like I read it by chance or that I was fascinated by it. I read it because it was an assigned text in a required course. Although I certainly did enjoy Persian Letters in a way that I didn't enjoy the horribly dated, racist, xenophobic political philosophy of Montesquieu. Persian Letters is good satire and comedy of manners despite the inherently flawed Orientalist theme.

I find myself being jealous of people who read, of people who read more than I do. Despite having read this particular text, I haven't read anything else on his list for December. I have too much anxiety about looking at the other months. This jealousy is coupled with an awareness that the-having-read rarely means anything other than an abundance of reading time, whether it be my profession, student status, or any other privileged state. I'm only comfortable submitting myself to this analysis. I don't know enough about anyone else. The neo-Engels-Marxist in me suspects it has little to do with intellect (my own) and more to do with the commoditization of desire. Reading (or the-having-read) always shows itself as the privilege of the intellectual over the material. Books are the material that the intellect collects, consumes, and eventually transforms into symbol of intellect. Books are the badges, the outer trappings of the boy intellectual. And I so desperately want to be seen as a boy intellectual. Somehow the PhD isn't enough, but perhaps that's more a function of geography (in the US) than reality. Nevertheless, I will always feel like I need to have read more than I have actually read. An invisible library weighs on my mind.


  1. "An invisible library weighs on my mind". fantastic.

    1. In truth, there are two invisible libraries: one filled with the books I should have read and the other filled with the books I should have written.