Saturday, May 03, 2008

My unwritten blogs

In February, I said here that I hoped to be back to normal within two weeks. In March, the medical estimate was closer to six months. The paucity of posts confirms who was right. And while returning to work and the unrelenting fatigue associated with a serious brain injury are the obvious causes, there is another.

It's not like there haven't been provocations to post. From Nigel Beale's continued defence of literary biography, to Jeremy Adler's review-essay on Novalis and, most recently, the middlebrow fear of literature at PEN World Voices in New York, the blogging throb was felt. And, while each of these might have maintained the pleasant momentum of blogging, I held back. Writing these unwritten blogs would, I sensed, dissipate the pressure of the essential question pulsing around my damaged head.

"But surely" says Nigel, resisting alternative readings of Proust's Contre Sainte-Beuve, "the 'essence' which makes Shakespeare Shakespeare, Picasso Picasso etc., although obviously important, is something beyond description, or comprehension." Well, yes. But not quite. We comprehend it every time we watch a Shakespeare play, look at painting by Picasso or read novels like Proust's. Everyone can comprehend the essence, just as everyone can frown over the painter's behaviour or gossip about the writer's sexuality. Yet comprehension is also the intoxication of reading. It ends as soon as the encounter is over. From then on, we begin to read backwards, towards the mirage of origin. No wonder biography sells: after all, the moi profond won't fill The Guardian's book pages.

Yet, if comprehension flits by, what can we do other than bury our reveries inside the platitudes of public discourse? This might be the question maintained in the blogs I will not write.


  1. Anonymous2:54 pm

    If comprehension flits by, then perhaps we can live it instead, and thereby realise the ultimate legacy of art? Not simply to be experienced -- that's just the way it inveigles us -- but to be lived.

    It's good to read your blog again.

  2. Hi Steven,

    You might wish to listen to this unwritten interview conducted with an articulate biographer:

  3. I have a blog on this which Stephen has commented on. I accuse him of "growling" but actually I see that he says he was merely gently provoked by the anti-Proustian stance on literary biography.

  4. Anonymous9:04 pm

    There is a large segment of the reading public that seeks biography of literary figures because they reflexively feel that is the only contemporary access point to great literature. The (sleeping) assumption being that such greatness is no longer possible. Reading the historical literature itself embarrasses this public; they want something with a contemporary voice. So they take a sidelong look at it through smart (in all senses of the word) biography: the most popular premise of biographies being that their subjects were madmen.

    Steven, your post summons to mind "Bartleby & Co." But of course most of the Bartleby's were voluminous secret writers. "Unwritten blogs" succeeds in casting up the image (even the promise!) of numberless works in some other format . . .

  5. Is naught a number?

    By the way, there's a habit growing here - I'm Stephen. A bit of pretentious French in my otherwise resolutely West Country name.

  6. Now this truly is something to growl about...terribly sorry Stephen.

    It's an Augustine/Mitchelmore thing. Have been conversing quite a bit of late with Mr. A.

    btw. My brother is of the ph persuasion, so I am biased in your favour...faux pas not withstanding.

  7. Anonymous12:52 pm

    Good to have you back blogging.

    Yes, my head, too, is full of unwritten blogs, articles, books ...

    The unwritten blogs tend to be very angry: and I'm glad that I don't succumb to writing them. It might immediately be cathartic, but I dislike what an argumentative space the blogosphere can become.

    Comprehension, as you say, "flits by" -- so we read and read again. We read around our books too -- biographies and criticism -- each can add something, neither substitutes -- and we talk and write about them ourselves. Our comprehension deepens, but we feel that it is not complete. So we read again. An understanding dawns and gathers ... and flees. So we read again.

  8. Anonymous12:09 pm

    there's a subtle bitchiness here and in your above post about the PEN World Voices crew that is hitting me as scandalously fresh. I haven't read much of your blog (yet) so I don't have much of a framework to know where it's coming from. But I'm intrigued and look forward to reading more.

    --and I hope your brain injury heals!



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