Tag: reading

Forgetting is a Filter

“… forgetting is a filter. When something you read resonates with you sufficiently for you to recall it without effort, that means something; it means it connects with your ideas and experiences in some relevant way. Replace that natural process with a more conscious, willpower-based system for retaining information, and you risk losing the benefits of that filter. (I know there are a few professional and educational contexts where you really do have to memorise a whole body of words – but it isn’t the norm.) “Your natural salience filter is a great determinant of what’s most alive to you,” as Sasha Chapin puts it, in an edition of his excellent newsletter. “If you begin to rely on any other filter, you will increasingly record what seems like it should be interesting according to some pre-existing criteria rather than what organically sticks to your mind.”

Oliver Burkeman, The Imperfectionist (How to forget what you read)

Thousands of Incremental Adjustments

“An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.””An artist works outside the realm of strict logic. Simply knowing one’s intention and then executing it does not make good art. Artists know this. According to Donald Barthelme: “The writer is that person who, embarking upon her task, does not know what to do.” Gerald Stern put it this way: “If you start out to write a poem about two dogs fucking, and you write a poem about two dogs fucking – then you wrote a poem about two dogs fucking.” Einstein, always the smarty-pants, outdid them both: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”

How, then, to proceed? My method is: I imagine a meter mounted in my forehead, with “P” on this side (“Positive”) and “N” on this side (“Negative”). I try to read what I’ve written uninflectedly, the way a first-time reader might (“without hope and without despair”). Where’s the needle? Accept the result without whining. Then edit, so as to move the needle into the “P” zone. Enact a repetitive, obsessive, iterative application of preference: watch the needle, adjust the prose, watch the needle, adjust the prose (rinse, lather, repeat), through (sometimes) hundreds of drafts. Like a cruise ship slowly turning, the story will start to alter course via those thousands of incremental adjustments.”

George Saunders, What Writers Really Do When They Write

Those Immune to Propaganda

“The only communications truly without influence are those that one learns to ignore or never hears at all; this is why Jacques Ellul argued that it is only the disconnected—rural dwellers or the urban poor—who are truly immune to propaganda, while intellectuals, who read everything, insist on having opinions, and think themselves immune to propaganda are, in fact, easy to manipulate.”

Tim Wu, The Attention Merchants

Action is Hope

“Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”

Ray Bradbury

The Moral Force of a Sentence

“Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it’s the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I’ve always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There’s a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer’s will to live.”

Don DeLillo, Mao II

2022 Reading

Stop Reading The News, Rolf Dobelli

Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism, Emelia Horgan

Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg

Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han

The Refusal of Work, David Frayne

Intuitive Awareness, Ajahn Sumedho

The End of Burnout, Jonathan Malesic

Indistractable, Nir Eyal

The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy

Here’s to another year of good reading!

Keep Your Arse in The Chair

“You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.”

Colm McCann, So You Want to be a Writer?

A Language of Accidentals

“Abandon the idea of predetermination, the shaping force of your intention, until you’ve given it up for good. Bring your intentions, by all means, but accept that the language we use is a language of accidentals, always skewing away from the course we set. This is not something to mourn but to revel in – not only for the friction and sideslip inherent in the language but for freeing us from the narrowness of our preconceptions.”

Several Short Sentences About Writing (p.109), Verlyn Klinkenborg

The Miserable Daily Effort (That is Everything)

“One day not too long ago I sat down at the desk, determined to sit there until at least one thought clarified itself sufficiently to serve the essay I was writing. I failed. Next day I sat down again. Again, I failed. Three days later, same thing. But the day after that the fog cleared out of my head. I solved a simple writing problem, one that had seemed intractable, and a stone rolled off my chest. Once again, and perhaps for the 4000th time since leaving analysis, I thanked the daily effort, my gratitude profuse. I saw what by now I’d seen many times before: It wasn’t the writing itself that was everything, it was sitting down to it every day that was everything. It’s the miserable daily effort that is everything. It is when I am honoring it that I become a woman still set on inhabiting a serious life.” (emphasis mine)

Vivian Gornick, A Serious Woman (cited in Mason Currey’s Subtle Maneuvers newsletter)

What Inspiration Asks of Us

“In my experience, inspiration is not something that finds you, or offers itself to you, nor for that matter is faith. Inspiration and faith are similar in so far as they both ask something of us. They each require real and constant practical application. For me, inspiration comes only when I practice certain things regularly and rigorously. I must commit fully to the task in hand, sit down each day, pick up my pencil (actually it is a medium black or blue Bic Biro) and get to work. It is not exactly toiling down the coal mines, but it is labour enough, and I undertake it through the good times and the bad, through the dry periods and the periods of abundance, and I keep on going regardless of my successes or failures. Inspiration comes because I put in the work.”

Nick Cave, The Red Hand Files (06.10.22)