Something Worrying

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!

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17 thoughts on “Something Worrying

  1. A post like this must have been difficult to write, but it makes me glad to be a visitor here, because it shows how much you care about this, and how much effort and organization you are willing to put in. If it is any comfort, litlove, be assured that your 15-month body of work would reside comfortably in the top “epsilon” percent of the all blogs, in terms of its quality (where epsilon is a ridiculously small quantity, and can be as small as you wish it to be 🙂 ).

    I would agree that “thirty topics and then what?” is probably a passing phase. Perhaps a holiday from blogging about the usual things, or a slightly reduced frequency might assuage this, until you suddenly have thirty more topics to start blogging furiously again. You have been so remarkably consistent and productive with your blogging output from the start, that it ought to be alright to fear a brief lean phase.

    Regarding the similarity of the conclusions, I certainly didn’t feel that way until you pointed it out. I wonder if it is because readers come to their conclusions piecemeal, relating them to the particular topic at hand. The writer, in contrast, has this sweeping view of her conclusions and how they are structured around a skeleton of basic values. I think that one of the great things about exercises such as yours (returning to your abandoned book) forces us to find out just how far we are willing to go from what we hold dear. I’m sure that this sounds like pontification, but I don’t intend it that way. I just want to say that if blogging makes one introspect at that level, it is probably already serving more than its intended purpose.

    I hope you don’t worry too much. Your husband is hilarious (“Oh no, it’s going to take you fifteen months before you start to wind down.”) and he may well have the right idea. You see, he is already dreading the next spurt of imagination which will go on for who knows how many months!

  2. I haven’t been reading long, I know, but I definitely haven’t noticed anything stale here, or repetitive.

    As far as running out of things to say, you said that you sometimes approach writing with several ideas in your head. Maybe when you have four ideas, you could save them in 4 separate posts, posting one that day and saving the other three for those times you have less to say.

    In the same way, if you have thirty items on the list, you may have far more than 30 posts. What if you have six things to say about one topic? You could divide it into six different posts. I remember when I realized that one book, Wifework, would result in not one but 17 posts for me! It was a relief, because I felt that I might be able to create a cushion for myself for times when I just have very little to say. I’m sure that other ideas will come to you beyond those 30 things you brainstormed.

  3. I’ll echo the others and say that I haven’t felt any sense of repetition going on here — perhaps it’s more that you are making fruitful connections among ideas and authors? At any rate, I do know what you mean about running out of ideas and worrying about running out of ideas, and I do suspect it’s a phase. I’m hoping so because I’ve felt a little bit that way lately!

  4. Dear Polaris – thank you for your lovely, considerate comment, which I have read several times to enjoy the kind things you say. You’ve made me feel very protected. I’m really not worrying too much – I do think it will pass and the next blogging wave will be upon me very soon, and I’m poking fun at my own earnestness! It’s very much part of my nature to be one of life’s scab-pickers (I have to know what lies beneath) and so I do tend to dig down deep into whatever I feel. But with bloggers like yourself reading, I have masses of incentive to keep on finding things to talk about. Dew – what wonderful advice, all of which I’ll bear in mind. I have a great tendency to stuff as much into a post as I can and I’m sure I could make my material last longer if I approached it more reasonably! Dorothy – I do like that idea of fruitful connection. I shall instantly rearrange my perspective! And it’s nice to know (if you know what I mean) that we are both a bit low on inspiration. We began blogging at the same time, are both a bit under the weather and it’s summer! Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it?

  5. I, for one, think you’re being very hard on yourself, Litlove. I value the variety of subject matter here almost as much as the quality of your thought and the deftness with which you spin your theories. You’ve probably put your finger on it when you mentioned the book you’re working on. Your tendency while reading for research is to attend to the themes that your book can comfortably contain, so it’s only natural your thoughts feel “categorized.” If it helps, think of the posts you write as being in different keys. If Beethoven couldn’t exhaust C minor, why should you worry about writing something new in a familiar key? Your favorite authors probably return more than once to their best-known subject matter, too.

  6. Dorothy – that must be it! 🙂 Dear David – I did so love your remark about Beethoven and the key of C minor! Of course you are quite right. I’ve never before used the blog as research arena the way I have in the past few weeks which would account for the sensation of seeing the same ideas everywhere. That shows a nice clear path out of the impasse, doesn’t it? Thank you, my friend. Dear Dewey – what a sweetheart you are!

  7. It’ll pass – consider it a sort of writer’s block (only don’t stop writing!). It is just the sense of perspective you’re bringing to your work at the moment. I must have been reading you for at least a year now and I don’t find you repetitive at all. It is just fine to mention the same writers and books and ideas multiple times, but from different angles – a prism, if you will. Don’t wind down just yet, just change tack!

  8. I am always amazed at your posts. The breadth of your knowledge about books and authors and literary movements has exposed me to so much I would never have picked up on my own. I am sure if you are feeling blah about things now it will pass. It makes me wonder about other authors and artists and how they dealt with this sort of thing. Did Picasso ever have a slump–they must have done things to bring inspiration? Where do you get fresh inspiration (just thinking in general here–you’ll have to pass along the secret if you find it as I have been feeling pretty uninspired myself lately!).

  9. You know, I thought I noticed you’ve been posting the same thing over and over again but only the names had been changed 😉 Just kidding! Your husband cracks me up. Perhaps there is something intriguing and provocative in the fact that the book you are trying to read on postmodernism either fills you with disgust or makes you fall asleep?

  10. Dear Equiano – you are SUCH a reassuring person when it comes to writing; you know just what it’s like, don’t you? I’m just about to change tack with a bit of Flaubert! Rainbow – what a darling you are! And I adore those Rockin’ Girl Blogger awards – you have no idea what a thrilling compliment that is to an academic! Danielle – It’s having blogging friends like you that keeps me going! You’re right – all artists flag from time to time, I’m sure there’s no other way. I ought to look into it – it would make a good post 😉 It’s also reassuring to think that you and Dorothy are feeling a bit less than inspired lately. Makes me think it’s in the water, rather than being just me! Stefanie – oh your comment just cracked me up! LOL! As for that postmodern book, well, it’s just plain wrong, isn’t it? I must remember to keep it by my bed, however, for when I can’t sleep nights 🙂

  11. I think the blog form invites a certain kind of repetition, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Whereas in a scholarly article or book review the assumption is that you have your say on the subject and it’s over, blogs allow you to revisit the issues that most preoccupy you, but in smaller chunks, with room for expansion and rethinking and the opportunity to apply those preoccupations to new and shifting contexts. It’s a “problem” to be embraced, in my opinion.

  12. You seem to have a few themes that sometimes recur, like the problem of people not considering art valuable for art’s sake, but you explore them in very different ways, and I’ve always assumed it’s because those are the things about which you feel most passionate, which is why you write so thoughtfully and imaginatively about them and are able to make them seem so fresh everytime you do. What I find fascinating is the way you manage to find so many connections and constantly to broaden your view. So, don’t despair. You will never run out of things to say, I’m sure. I’m also just as sure that you will keep discovering new passions to explore in a multitude of different ways. I’m chalking your feelings-of-the-moment up to Dorr’s notion of a second-year-blogging slump, because I seem to be going through something similar myself, and you know, I’m going to leap all over the chance of doing anything, no matter what it is, that will put me in the same company as such highly-esteemed bloggers as you and Dorr (as well as to help me quit worrying I’ve become the most unimaginative person out here in Blog Land).

  13. Pingback: Blogging added value « fear of death is intransitive

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