Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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March 14, 2008
wait one year before reading this

The ever self-critical TiR was gratified
we're pathetic like that]
to see in the new issue of American Pointlessness Review that writer and translator Clayton Eshelman agrees with us
[above "because" clause now revisited and put less self-critically:
comparison of empirical data across researcher lines enables sharpening & improvement of one's conceptual line]
on an idea that we've previously tried to express.

The general idea, primitively put, is:

If you think that you have anything interesting to say, whenever possible shut up and wait at least a year before you say it.

An addendum to the above could be:

. . . especially if you intend to say it over the internet.

The above oversimplistic words are ours, not Eshelman's.

In his new essay, "Workroom," he better captures a better variant of the idea, with more nuance and without the cartoony exaggeration, when he discusses a method that he's incorporated into his writing process for management of what he brilliantly calls the "antiphonal process of spontaneity and self-critical blowback."

Eshelman writes:

About a decade ago, I realized that if I attempted to revise a poem immediately after completing a draft or two, the self-critical faculty that was useful during composition would take over and grind the poem down to nothing, turning me into an animal eating its cub.

So I started turning over first drafts, setting them aside for up to a year before investigating them. I have felt that this works.

What is most distinctive about a draft often looks stupid to the critical inspector. By delaying a year, I re-approach the poem as if somebody else had written it and learn to respect its oddness.

We like the notion that oddness is revealed over time, almost like a residue of crystal suspended in a solution, that appears after the non-oddness has evaporated.

However, like any "solution," his (dis)solves certain problems but creates others, and raises new questions.

For example:

Unless he sits on every draft for a year, and rejects any assignment (even the ones that pay $$$) that calls for a shorter deadline (which we cannot believe), then by what criterion does he decide what to green light for quicker publication, and what to let germinate for 12 months?

And are there not some types of oddness, rooted in immediate circumstance, that become less apparent with the passage of time, as the memory of the moment's context fades?

Why is oddness that looks like it came from "somebody else" easier to respect than self-generated oddness?

Does not a year-long process have "spontaneity" too, merely one measured by a slower bodily clock?

Why and how to choose one type of oddness or spontaneity over another?

The lesson then would seem to be one not in how to kill one's "critical faculty" but in the care, feeding and domestication of that faculty -- or a lesson in how to wrangle departmental approval for a switch to a less destructive, disempowering and egotistical faculty advisor.

Finally, in this interview, Eshelman answers the probably more profound question:

Who would you rather have your back in a street fight, César Vallejo or Antonin Artaud?

[update 6/12/08, here]