Friday, March 09, 2012

A New Form of Solitude

One is not condemned to a perpetual present, nor to the immediacy of seemingly random, unconnected signifiers. In summary, one is here because one has remembered to be here. In conversation, one discusses what rises. (Tony Tost, Invisible Bride, p. 46)

This week's exercises have been intended to train your ability to converse. You have been practicing the basic movements that you need to make in your academic writing, which is to say, "the moves that matter" in your engagements with the scholarly conversation in your field. You have been writing sentences that everyone knows are true, sentences that only specialists know are true, and sentences that only you know are true. That is, you have been comporting your writing to various distributions of knowledge that it is likely to face in conversation.

I've been adorning these posts with the work of some of my favorite poets.* "The human brain," said Cyril Connolly, "once it is fully functioning, as in the making of a poem, is outside time and place and immune from sorrow." Perhaps making a prose paragraph of academic writing is not as transcendental an act, but I think it is important to be able establish a kind of "magic circle" around one's writing: a half hour at a time, one for each paragraph, that is immune from the busyness of academic life, a moment in which all you are doing, and all you need to be doing, is situating a claim in the critical tension constituted by what others know or don't know. "Talking becomes a conscious stammering not in one's language, but in how one thinks," Tony Tost tells us; "a conversation represents not so much a break with solitude, but a newer form of solitude, a revision of the logic of solitude." Since you are an author, you are still alone here, still sitting there by yourself in front of the machine. But your brain, the center of the your prose, is functioning fully. It is enjoying its full range of motion.

*For symmetry, I've even added a poem to Monday's post. Check it out.

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