May 15, 2016

Another Sunday, Another Links Post

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag, The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson, Girl Up by Laura Bates, The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein, Political Emotions by Martha Nussbaum
The pile I alluded to last week. I really want to be reading all of these right now.

I only have a handful of links to share today, but as they all touch on things that are pretty important to me I didn’t want to wait to post them:
  • Here’s a clearer, more succinct, and far more elegant articulation of what I was trying to say the other day, from (of course) Leslie Jamison:
    Some of why it can be comforting, or humanizing, or generative to me to see articulations of the failures of language, or the difficult fit between language and experience, is that it really connects to the part of writing that involves writing into what you don’t understand yet, or don’t yet know quite how to say. I found over and over again that my best writing comes from some experience of leaning into uncertainty. It’s such a necessary and enabling part of that process to think about the ways in which so many other voices have been confronted with what they couldn’t quite figure out how to say. I’m really interested in understanding that as part of the process rather than necessarily fetishizing the unsayable or concluding with some assertion of the unsayable. There can be a kind of alibi in the assertion of the unsayable. I’m interested in unsayability as a kind of gauntlet that gets thrown down, rather than as an excuse that gets given.

    But then I also think unsayability really can attach to the fear of sentimentality. I think that a certain elliptical mode can come out of this sense that you can’t ever really say it right, or you can’t say it fully—certain kinds of emotion just can’t ever exist in language, so I’ll seek the white space, where we can fill in the blank of some kind of complexity there. I’m really interested in trying to reckon with what can be said imperfectly rather than taking the difficulty, or the fear, of saying it wrong, or the fear of saying it too simply, as a crutch.
    This reminds me that one of these days I’ll have to write about shame (or possibly just quote Martha Nussbaum on shame at great length).
  • Over the past year I’ve been trying to explain my complicated relationship with writing both to myself and to those close to me, and the phrase “it’s not confidence, it’s capitalism” has come up a lot. So it was interesting to read Sarah McCarry’s thoughts on the subject in her recent post. I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift earlier this year and it helped some, though more in the sense of providing a lucid articulation of the problem than of giving immediate solutions (and also in the sense of helping me distinguish between excuses I gave myself because of fear and actual external problems).

    I’ll probably never be able to reconcile the fact that I don’t want certain areas of my life to be subjected to the rule of the market with the need to make a living — and even more than that, with the fact that anything that isn’t your livelihood has to be relegated the edges of the relentless reality of full-time work, or to whatever ragged pieces of time you manage to rescue from exhaustion. This means that either the writing suffers or you suffer — or possibly both. Also, this is where I feel the urge to say that I do find my job meaningful and enjoyable — and yet. Perhaps my need to add this as caveat is telling in its own right.

    Another book I found helpful was Tillie Olsen’s Silences — again, the solutions it offers are structural rather than ones we could ever hope to implement individually, but it was an immense relief to find a book that said, “Yes, this is happening, and it’s awful, and we lose voices because of it, and if you give in to the need for sleep and rest and space in your life to just be, it absolutely doesn’t mean you just don’t want it badly enough and that therefore it’s only right that you get left behind”. It made me feel sane.

  • Maureen wrote a beautiful post about community and belonging, “Finding New People, Finding My Value”, which I have a lot of feelings about.

  • Finally, I recently became slightly obsessed with Julien Baker’s album Sprained Ankle, and I absolutely love what she says here about vulnerability, and finding communion in live music, and believing that small acts of kindness and moments of human connection do matter. I never really wrote about it (I used to say I couldn’t, but to be honest this is a clear example of what Jamison says above about using unsayability to mask fear and shame), but all of this was extremely important in my life last year.

    I’ll leave you with a song I love:

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.


  1. You remind me that I haven't introduced my daughter, who still wants to be a writer (despite applying to 15 MFA programs the year she graduated and another 12 this past year and getting rejections from all of them), to Tillie Olsen's Silences, and it might make her feel more sane, too. A nice way to put it.
    She applied to PhD programs this year and got into a very good one with full funding, so I hope that soon she can thumb her nose at the shorter "terminal" degree.

    1. I hope it does help - it's one of those books that ought to be discouraging, perhaps, but somehow it really isn't. Very best of luck to your daughter with her PhD!

  2. I can relate to so much you've said and quoted here! I hope you are managing and taking care of yourself despite it all, Ana!
    I feel I really need to turn to Leslie Jamison one of these days.

    1. I am, thank you - it's kind of you to say that. <3

      This is a struggle I've made my peace with, inasmuch as you can make your peace with something that remains unresolved. To make a long story short, at the moment I can honesty say I don't really wish writing was my job, because I like doing what I do without marketability being a concern, and I like measuring achievement in my own way, without the rules of capitalism coming into it. At the same time, though, I dearly wish I had more time, so I could write more and dig deeper when I do write, and I wish exhaustion didn't leave so many ideas only half formulated in my head.

      I can't recommend Jamison's The Empathy Exams highly enough. It was important to me last year, and I still think of it often.

  3. Looking at your book pile - always nice to see some things I've read.

    I read "Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl" last year because I'm a Sleater-Kinney and Carrie Brownstein fan. She's a really good writer, and a great performer. I always wonder though, if one isn't a fan of Sleater-Kinney, would they still find the book interesting? Oh well.

    Still midway through Maggie Nelson's "Art of Cruelty" - it feels to me the kind of book I can't finish in one sitting because it's so incredibly dense.

    1. I'm only a casual SK listener, but I still found the book very interesting - I think it was mostly because I so enjoy reading about early Riot Grrrl culture and the political and social climate around it. Much like when I read Sara Marcus' history of the movement, I was struck by how much it reminded me of the things I've seen in the blogging world, especially when it comes to giving people space to find their voices and develop their political ideas in a visible way. We think it's all new, but it's very much not :P


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.