Something worrying is beginning to happen in my personal blogworld. I think it must have started around my 340th post or so. Usually when I come to post I have four or five competing ideas for what I could talk about and I choose between them on the basis of what most holds my attention. But not so long ago I started noticing that I didn’t have these endless reserves of blogging material. In fact I was having to think quite hard, if I hadn’t finished a book recently, about what might constitute a good post. And it struck me I was running out of things to say.
I went and told my husband in tones of shock and wonder and he began to laugh at me. ‘How long have you been blogging?’ he asked. ‘Fifteen months? And posting almost every day?’ ‘I know!’ I said. ‘I thought I could carry on for much longer. I had no idea I would turn out to be so…so… limited.’ My husband sighed. ‘They tell you not to worry; they say, if you just let her talk, she’ll run out of things to say eventually. But not you. Oh no, it’s going to take you fifteen months before you start to wind down.’ Clearly we were looking at this from very different perspectives. But it’s my job to talk about books, day in, day out, and inside my head, the wealth of material I have to draw upon has always appeared to be infinite. Whenever I’ve started to think about all the books I’d like to write (even just academic ones) I’ve never found an end point, and all the ideas bouncing around in my mind barely give me any peace. I never dreamed it might be possible to have written them all down. That night I couldn’t sleep, and one of the first things I did was to make a list of all the authors, movements, ideas, theories, etc, that I knew about and that had yet to feature in the blog. I ended up with over thirty items on the list, which ought to have been reassuring, but still left me with niggling concerns, along the lines of ‘only thirty?’ Like I say, I’m not used to being able to put a figure on these things.
Then there’s something else about my writing here that disconcerts me; I keep coming to the same conclusions. It may well be because I’m partly assembling here some of the material that will feature in the chapter of the non-fiction book I’m working on. Basically it’s wondering why the arts aren’t cool any more, and I’m looking at the figure of the intellectual in fiction and in reality and at the way teaching literature has altered over the second half of the century and at how the book market has changed. All that kind of stuff. But it seems to me at the moment that I keep chasing my tail, and all these different avenues of exploration end up in the same place, which can roughly be summarized as: the arts encompass all the spectrum of values that have nothing to do with making money. The arts have tremendous value, only because it’s non-monetary our culture is blind to it. Oh and academics are mad: everything you read is true. And I’m starting to get a little frustrated here with my own narrowed horizons. It could be partly because the things I’m reading to research the topic cannot shake off their own fustiness. In a bid to think about something different I thought I’d look at the advent of postmodernism, which is generally heralded as the death knell of fun and accessibility in the arts, and I did, I must admit, pick up a book I had put down in disgust several months ago, hoping for enlightenment and knowledge. Well, the next thing I knew, an hour and a half had passed and I’d been so deeply asleep I’d been dreaming. I put the book down again, thinking to myself, my God, I have got to remember that this one saps my will to live. But that jolly, intriguing, provocative perspective on postmodernism that I was searching for remains elusive.
Now, my belief here is that it’s me; it’s a little phase I’m going through. Literature does contain an infinity of topics, and there’s another infinity of critical approaches to it that ought to result in enough permutations to make your head spin. If Jacques Derrida can come to my university and give an hour-long lecture on the space between the title of a work and it’s first line, then I am not defeated yet. I have at least another thirty posts to go, plus whatever I read in the meantime. But I’m reminded of a week a couple of years back when I had to give a lecture every day for five days. On paper they looked like wildly diverse topics, but by the end of the week, I was horrified by the number of echoes and similarities I had heard within them, because there is undoubtedly a certain number of issues and questions that fascinate me and to which I seem inevitably to return. Can it really be, I wondered, that we are doomed to read the same things over and over again into the books we study. Do they all ultimately present me with nothing more than a reflection of myself, looking? Is it possible to break out and think really different kinds of thoughts? Or are we doomed to always end up repeating ourselves and finding, even in stories that seem shockingly new, the same old messages?
I was going to go on to talk about Flaubert, who is brilliant at looking at the same old same old and finding it full of recalcitrant enigma, but I’ve gone on about this for so long that I’d better put that off until tomorrow. Well, phew! At least that’s the problem of what to talk about next solved!