Tuesday, May 15, 2012


"No man ever knows enough about any art. I have seen young men with most brilliant endowment who have failed to consider the length of the journey." (Ezra Pound)

I've been rereading some posts from the archives of this blog lately. "An Unsuspected Discipline" is, if I do say so myself, a little gem about procrastination. It tries to dismantle "a particular illusion that keeps writers from meeting their deadlines" by invoking Borges's short story "A Secret Miracle". In the story, a playwright who has been working on a play called A Vindication of Eternity* is granted, by God (who suspends time), as much time as he needs to finish writing it (in his mind), right before he is executed by a firing squad (indeed, in the moment just before the triggers are pulled). It is an allegory, I argue, about "the fantasy of a single instant of infinite duration immediately before the text is due and everything comes to an end. That moment, of course, never arrives. Eternity is never vindicated. Never."

But what struck me about the post is the opening paragraph. "After more than a month of silence on this blog," I begin, and end up promising to "[set] a good example by writing a small, sometimes very unfinished, thought at least once a week." I've come a long way, to say the least! First of all, there is never an unplanned month of silence on this blog. Second, I'm now posting regularly every day. Five years ago, it seems, I had a very different attitude about this blog. I wish I could say that I was more disciplined about my off-line writing projects back then, but the truth is that I have been developing the discipline I've been writing about since I started this blog. The truth, in fact, is that discipline does not come at all naturally to me. Likewise, the first mention of jogging on this blog appears to come in January of 2008, also during a period when, it seems, I had let my discipline slide. Physical exercise is also something I've had to impose on my lifestyle very much against my natural bent.

All this just to say that I understand how difficult it is to go from being undisciplined about something, especially writing, to being disciplined about it. I'm not just generalizing from a sense of order that was instilled in me from birth. Quite the contrary, actually.

*This is wrong. The play is called The Enemies. Hladik had previously written a work of philosophy called Vindication of Eternity. I owe the mistake to what I assume is a typo in Harriet de Onís' translation, which appears in Labyrinths (New Directions, 1964). Here Hladik is described as "the author of the unfinished drama entitled The Enemies, or Vindication of Eternity" (the King Penguin edition, 1981, p. 118). Anthony Kerrigan renders this "the author of the unfinished tragedy The Enemies, of a Vindication of Eternity, and of..." in Ficciones, (Everyman's Library, p. 114). Kerrigan also describes the discipline as "not imagined" rather than "unsuspected".


Andrew Shields said...

The Pound makes me think of Kafka's "The Next Village," which could also be read in terms of the need to GET TO WORK.

My grandfather used to say: “Life is astonishingly short. Now, in my memory, it is so compressed that I can hardly understand, for example, how a young person can decide to ride to the next village without being afraid that—apart from accidents—even the time allotted to a normal, happy life is far too short for such a journey."

Andrew Gelman said...

When I started blogging, I figured I could always fill in the dead space by posting my old research articles. But now, instead, my problem is the opposite. I have a backlog of posts. Some of this arises because I spend my time online (as here); another factor is that, now that I've been doing it for awhile, I think of blogging as an outlet for my ideas.

I do get sad about the volume of it all, though. Every once in awhile I'll scroll back over the most recent two weeks or so of posts and see some great things (or so they seem to me) that I'd already forgotten about!

Keith O'Rourke said...

Andrew G:

Your blog does seem to be moving too fast for me, these days. It seems like that cartoon JG Gardin put in one of his papers in 1990’s of someone pulled off the information highway, sitting in front of a desktop computer at a desk while thousands of similar individuals are zipping along the information highway at full speed.

Thinking of taking a summer vacation here, though my physical training mentor, has numerous times warned me of the danger of being out of the fires of competition for any extended length of time. But then maybe Tukey was write when he wrote that his main career activities were writing and editing.

Anonymous said...

nice opinion.. thanks for posting.