(un)common ground

a commonplace book

On Being a Writer and Ill at Ease in the World

I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. … We all feel unhoused in some sense. That’s part of why we write. We feel we don’t fit in, that this world is not our world, that though we may move in it, we’re not of it. Different experiences in our lives may enforce or ameliorate that, but I think if they ameliorate it totally, we stop writing. You don’t need to write a novel if you feel at home in the world. We write about the world because it doesn’t make sense to us. Through writing, maybe we can penetrate it, elucidate it, somehow make it comprehensible.

Andrea Barrett, in interview by Paris Review, 2003

One could say the world is what people do to each other: the embodied ties that bind, the power plays both large and small, the summation of what what we do does. If, as Foucault suggests, people don’t know that sum or its constituents, then one could say that a writer is one who perhaps at the very least approaches such knowledge, who recognizes, as Barrett does, that fundamental disinformation, that troubling and exhilarating disconnection: illness at ease: a cognitive dissonance of being. Within such a framework, the fictive is among other things an attempt to be radically informative. In this kernel of perhaps-truth is a hope that even if the reader does not change, does not do anything beyond the reading of the text, that she nevertheless become radically informed, that the world may grow smaller by a degree, less disingenuous as a result.

See more of my response to this and other excerpts from the interview here.

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This entry was posted on February 7, 2016 by and tagged , .
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