The German critical theorist and essayist shares ‘The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses’:
Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.
Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.
In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.
Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.
Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.
Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.
Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.
Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.
Nulla dies sine linea [‘No day without a line’] — but there may well be weeks.
Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.
Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.
Stages of composition: idea — style — writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.
Simon Critchley’s philosophical antidote to the self-help manual
Since when did happiness, wisdom and contentment become the cornerstones of a fulfilling life? Whatever happened to doubt? Instability? Melancholia? In 2010, Polity Press published How to Stop Living and Start Worrying, a collection of interviews with Simon Critchley which playfully parodies the conventional self-help manual. Through a series of conversations with Carl Cedeström, Critchley sketches an alternative view of the role philosophy plays in our lives today, covering an ambitious range of topics: from science and religion, to poetry and politics, love and humour, life and death.
Critchley, a philosophy professor who teaches in New York, takes us step-by-step through the major themes of his work in an entertaining and accessible way. Each interview takes the form of an informal, improvised chat on a theoretical topic, elucidating terms and concepts with helpful metaphors and memorable anecdotes. Jokes also play a key role in the overall tone of the book, illuminating central ideas with a lightness of touch.Read More
Should we bother with modernism? Is it suited to our bedside table, or should it be exiled to obscurity on some distant library shelf?
While looking for something interesting to read online recently I stumbled across something boring. Namely, Robert McCrum’s Guardian piece on ‘The best boring books’: it listed big, grey bricks of supposedly anaesthetic prose. McCrum selected novels based on their ability to relieve anxiety and dull the senses, singling out two modernist novels among his favourites: James Joyce’s notorious Finnegans Wake and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves. I looked again. Is there something intrinsic to modernism that lends itself to these kinds of associations? Of dullness and tedium in the mind’s eye of the public?
Gabriel Josipovici asked What Ever Happened to Modernism? As part of an in-depth literary study, he charted the recent decline of modernist literature in opposition to other, more traditional forms of storytelling. But what is it about Modernism that turns so many readers away? Why are Joyce, Eliot and Kafka missing from our holiday reading lists? And if by some miracle they are on our bookshelves, why do we never pick them up?Read More