books, quotes, writing

it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire

“Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.

It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.

The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.”

– Michael Cunningham, “Found in Translation,” NYT

gradschool, writing


I was in the library, scanning my undergraduate transcript, finishing up the last of the grant-related paperwork. It took a long time to scan, and while I waited, I wrote, in my journal, a new opening to a piece I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I had recently stolen a particularly fast-moving pen from workshop, and this pen seemed to open something up for me. The narrative voice moved along very quickly. I had only intended to write one paragraph, but I wrote several pages.

When I stood up, transcript scanned, to leave the library, feeling the speed and anger of this narration, a computer router fell down from the ceiling of A-Level (where it had been attached to an Ethernet cable) and landed at my feet.

“You almost died,” said a girl who was walking by.

“It’s just a modem,” I said. (At the time, I couldn’t remember the word for ‘router.’)

The object probably does not weigh enough to cause death upon impact. However, this whole thing has made me feel like I’m on to something–either something good or something very bad–with this narrative voice. It must be a sign of something, to almost be hit by a router. It’s not a falling bird, or a snake, but those are harder to come by in the library.

books, quotes, writing

a comparatively settled and domestic routine

“For whatever reason–success, removal from Ireland, the realities of the war years, a comparatively settled and domestic routine–the number and variety of Beckett’s complaints had diminished. He would still get cysts from time to time, his teeth would give him trouble and so would his eyes, but the panic attacks which had impelled him into psychoanalysis were now a thing of the past.”

-Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, (27.439)

workstyle, writing

two and a half weeks

till TA Training boot camp and the start of the academic year.

As I wind down two large editing projects for work, I have more respect than ever for people who work as editors, day in, day out, throughout their lives. It requires so much care and patience and generosity. I have a tendency to compare everything I like or honor to directing, but it really *is* a lot like directing, to edit something–the best people, I think, manage to do the least of it, or do the most by doing the least. I am not the best people, but I am better for a summer of it.

One project went “to the printers” yesterday–that was very exciting. The other is more of an ongoing deadline. I’ll keep working on it during the semester.

books, quotes, theater, writing

their siren voice

“In June [of 1958], however, he [Beckett] was still resolutely struggling with the new prose work and finding it horribly difficult. Even though he could see clearly what he wanted to do, and that it should be only about 100 pages, he felt he was making very little progress, or only just enough to keep him from giving it up in disgust. ‘I rely a lot on the demolishing process to come later and content myself more or less with getting down elements and rhythm to be knocked hell out of when I am ready…It all takes place in the pitch dark and the mud, first part man alone, second with another, third alone again. All a problem of rhythm and syntax and weakening of form, nothing more difficult,’ he told Barney Rosset. Yet, comically perhaps, he was once again hankering after other forms of composition–theatre or radio. ‘I hear their siren voice and tell them to stick it up.’ “

– Anthony Cronin, Beckett: The Last Modernist (30.489)

L'Internet, writing

our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts

“Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler , Nietzsche’s prose ‘changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.’ ”

– from “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the Atlantic