The writer and academic scholar talks about juggling writing with family and a full-time job, his artistic influences, and his enduring interest in the work of Samuel Beckett
Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers (A...P Press, 2017)
Samuel Bolin, Three Pioneers (A…P Press, 2017)

How did you come to be a writer?

I began writing fiction seriously near the end of my doctorate, in 2011 or so. At the time I was preparing to leave Oxford for a lectureship in Australia. The writing I did in Oxford and then in Wollongong (a coastal town in New South Wales), over summers at an archive at UT Austin, and elsewhere, eventually became a book project: Three Pioneers. I finished the project in 2013, in the UK.

The book clearly had a lag before it saw publication; it ran through a long list of publishers and agents who, when they replied at all, uniformly classed it as ‘too difficult’ or, less often, ‘too philosophical’ (I’m aware that in the vocabulary of many of these gatekeepers these are euphemisms, to put it mildly).

You ask how I ‘became a writer’. As transparently as I can, permit me to say that writing, the kind of writing we are talking about, was and remains an obscure urge for me. I am not writing, in any case, to become a ‘novelist’ or a ‘writer’ in the sense of someone who is an authority on writing, a cultural authority, or a practitioner of a certain genre; if I were, I would have written (would be writing) differently. As an academic, too, there are other routes, other forms of writing that are open to me to pursue such aims, in however limited a manner. Nor does being an ‘artist’ attract me (I will let that term remain vague). Again, I could have been an ‘artist’ otherwise, and to my mind, more directly – I could have wholly devoted myself to painting, for example, to which I once partially devoted myself.

Why write, then? What can still be called the novel, in the loosest possible sense of the term, is a way of thinking and feeling that allows me to stage problems that I otherwise find difficult to articulate. As this response perhaps suggests. (more…)


In a series of posts for The Guardian, Clare Carlisle introduces the key ideas and concerns of the nineteenth century Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard

“We may as well begin with a question that is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s philosophy: what does it mean to exist? In his 1846 book Concluding Unscientific Postscript – which, at over 600 pages, is surely one of the lengthiest postscripts ever written – he suggests that “people in our time, because of so much knowledge, have forgotten what it means to exist”. Even though all sorts of things exist, for Kierkegaard the word “existence” has a special meaning when applied to human life. This meaning arises from the fact that we always have a relationship to ourselves. For example, we can be more or less self-aware; we can wish to be other than how we are; we can trust or mistrust, like or dislike ourselves. Perhaps we can even make decisions about who we will become.”

— Clare Carlisle, The Guardian

“If Kierkegaard is your benchmark, then you judge any philosophy not just on the basis of how cogent its arguments are, but on whether it speaks to the fundamental needs of human beings trying to make sense of the world. Philosophy prides itself on challenging all assumptions but, oddly enough, in the 20th century it forgot to question why it asked the questions it did. Problems were simply inherited from previous generations and treated as puzzles to be solved. Kierkegaard is inoculation against such empty scholasticism. […] [P]erhaps Kierkegaard’s most provocative message is that both work on the self and on understanding the world requires your whole being and cannot be just a compartmentalised, academic pursuit.”

— Julian Baggini, Aeon

Søren Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard

“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journal, 1 August 1835

Walter Kaufmann
“Kaufmann saw Nietzsche as something of an early existentialist, which brings us to these vintage lectures recorded in 1960 (right around the time that Kaufmann, a German-born convert to Judaism, also became a naturalized American citizen). The three lectures offer a short primer on existentialism and the modern crises philosophers grappled with.”

Listen at Open Culture.