Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Serious Writer Must Take Serious Vows'

 Ears are not everything, but the absence of them leaves poetry dangerously dead. Dryden had great ears

It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone. Shocking loss isn’t to be shared, no matter how hard you try.
Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Who are the real extremists?

Posted on August 22 2021

There are some stories in the media so surreal that you have to doubt the collective sanity of a society that requires that they be
Read the full article…

This AI Can Spot an Art Forgery IEEE Spectrum 

Let’s Try to Make Sense of That $600,000 Rock NFT Bloomberg. The Deck: “Could it be that there’s just too much money sloshing around?”

The Serious Writer Must Take Serious Vows'

“Perhaps the oldest magic trick is to make something disappear. The audience gasps; how does an object vanish? The Torah reminds us that we perform this magic trick all the time, only we do it with ourselves.”

Rabbi David Wolpe is a longtime reader of Anecdotal Evidence and a writer whose work aspires to truth, not advertisements for himself (to echo a writer utterly unlike him, Norman Mailer). On Thursday he published in the Jerusalem Post a terse essay, Parashat Ki Tetze: Making Ourselves Disappear,” based on Deuteronomy 22. His gloss on the first verse: “Deeper than the civil legislation, however, is the wording: the usual translation is ‘you may not be indifferent’; the literal translation is ‘you may not disappear.’” Such self-disappearing is a way to absolve ourselves of the obligations that bind us to others. To phrase it in a secular fashion, it’s a reneging on the social contract, our responsibility to respect others, to treat them decently, to be civil. It gives me license not to help you when you need it most. It's a withdrawal from humanity.


I have no argument with the rabbi’s argument. Indifference to the needs and suffering of others is a sin. But there is another sort of self-disappearance. As a writer, I’m forever uncomfortable with the first-person singular. I rationalize its use by pointing out the forms I have chosen to work in – essays and reviews. What I’m getting at is more than a choice of pronouns. Montaigne gave us permission to begin sentences with “I,” but none of us is Montaigne. I try to focus on the subject at hand and remind myself I am not the subject. Just look at those proliferating “I”s. There’s no easy resolution, though the resulting tension sometimes proves useful. 


Speaking of Norman Mailer, I’m reminded of him and the other worst writer of his generation, Gore Vidal. They famously sparred on The Dick Cavett Show on Dec. 15, 1971. The poet L.E. Sissman in his Atlantic Monthly column published a few months later agreed with another guest on the show, Janet Flanner, who said “a writer has no business going public [while going public herself, of course].” Always well-mannered, Sissman even has good things to say about Mailer. However, in “Going Public” (Innocent Bystander: The Scene from the 70’s, 1975), he outlines another writerly strategy, the polar opposite of Mailer's:


“In a word, the serious writer must take serious vows if he is to concentrate on his chief aim. A vow of silence, except through his work. A vow of consistency, sticking with writing to the exclusion of other fields. A vow of ego-chastity, abstaining from adulation. A vow of solitude, or at least long periods of privacy. A vow of self-regard, placing the self as writer before the self as personality.”


I trust Sissman has the rabbi’s blessing.