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Writing resolutions / In defence of writing and criticism.

9 Jan

Post A Week

I’m going to try for a post a week in 2011 — whether that’s writing to the left at State of Emergency, on living under capitalism at No New Year or about queer hanky code at opinicus rampant.

Because I’m doing it over three blogs I’m not sure if there’s any point signing up for the official PostAWeek challenge, plus I think I’ll be more inspired by the allies on my blogroll than the topics WordPress suggests.

I am so glad and grateful to be writing under these conditions — not alone in a garret or scratching into the margins of something else — but always with this rich delicious symphony.

Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to write about, or if you’ve set yourself a similar goal so we can encourage each other.

On writing

A few people asked if I had any resolutions for the new year, and I mostly responded with something vague and non-committal. I feel a little ambivalent about setting a writing resolution — ambivalent, nervous and embarrassed.

The most useless thing I do in a week is the one I get paid for, so I am fairly confident that my urge to do something is motivated by something more or at least other than some kind of class myth about economic participation. But I think there is a bit of status anxiety involved in wanting to “make something of myself”, as well as a work ethic which, regardless of its ideological origins, results in feeling like I need to justify my existence by being “productive”. In a milieu that values change instead of reproducing existing systems, this might more likely be called being “active”, but either way it means that it’s not enough to live.

And I guess I think that’s true — that we live in this “state of emergency”, that the need for change is urgent enough to demand everyone works for it — but at the same time I don’t believe we need to justify ourselves or deny ourselves. I don’t like the idea of justification in particular because it suggests compensation — and I believe that nothing we do can compensate for unjust privileges, that we have to abolish the conditions that enable those privileges, and that we don’t have to suffer.

I am unbelievably lazy — given the choice I would never get out of bed — and it’s something that troubles me but also something I enjoy immensely. There’s work I want to do, but I do also really believe in pleasure, believe in its inherent value. When I am doing something I enjoy, I don’t have to produce anything because my own pleasure is meaning enough.

This is somewhat irrelevant, because I don’t enjoy writing. Elsewhere, 30 August 2010:

Drafts are distasteful to me (abject even), if I didn’t finish writing something when I began it becomes waste and I never want to touch you again. I want to love writing more than anything, more than I love fucking, food, dancing, sleep, baths, but always I hate it most of all.

Arrival card to Malaysia - "occupation: writer"

Lying on my arrival card?

In the last year I’ve begun to call myself a writer and critic, more as an invocation than a description. I’m reluctant to say that writing is productive, and mostly I write to provoke reflection rather than action. But I also don’t think it follows that writing is never activism, or that criticism doesn’t make things.

Blackamazon says:

An article does not feed

It does not clothe

It does not donate

It does not hold.

If I write something and you feel it

It may be some skill of mine but the thing that happens is within you

I think that’s true, but if blogging doesn’t do these things then neither does petitioning or performing or marching down the street or spraypainting slogans on walls or having meetings or making zines or speaking at a convergence. Neither does making films or music or art.

Most of the things we call activism don’t directly change entire social and political systems. Most of the things we call activism involve asking something of someone else. If a blogger of colour telling their story makes their friends and acquaintances more aware of racism, I consider that to be more direct activism than having a meeting to organise a petition to ask a politician to put up legislation for more funding for a multicultural television network which enables more people of colour to tell their stories. I think both actions are worthwhile.

As for criticism, I agree it can be unsatisfying – distressing – paralysing. But I think it’s also counter-productive and dangerous to demand that every criticism includes a “positive” suggestion, that negative comment without a positive alternative is somehow illegitimate. Sometimes we need the intellectual space of the hesitation after criticism to imagine an alternative. Or sometimes I would rather risk that emptiness than continue with the current structure.

Anyhow, here’s to a productive year — productive of justice and pleasure.


Leaving you with a poem: “For the Young Who Want To” by Marge Piercy. 3P has the last two lines as her Tumblr caption and I carry it with me as an injunction.

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.