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Being glad when words fail

Originally published February 22, 2021

The dots

  1. The artist’s lifestyle and skill
  2. Being glad when words fail

How do they connect?

Brandon Taylor (author of Real Life) shared this quote on Instagram and it made me laugh and also get back to work:

“Thanks to the sentimental novel, the artist came quite soon to be thought of not as one who makes things, a man with a talent or a skill, but as one who feels them, a quivering sensibility; and it has been possible for a long time to conceive of a poet who has never written a poem -- only developed the life style proper to one who aspires to writing poetry.” From Love and Death in the American Novel by Leslie Fiedler

I just got Patricia Lockwood’s new novel in the mail (haven’t started it yet) and remembered my favorite quote from her memoir:

“This is what it is to write about people who are alive and then, sometimes, people who are dead. To say that his eyes were clear as agates, that his voice was a gravelly baritone, to surround him with the right adjectives and set him into the story—all this is an attempt to fit him in the glass box of a good sentence so everyone can see what he means. But it won't work, the words can't hold him, and I am glad.

The desire to describe voice, gesture, skin color, is a desire to eat, take over, make into part of the pattern. I am happy every time to see a writer fail at this. I am happy every time to see real personhood resist our tricks. I am happy to see bodies insist that they are not shut up in this book, they are elsewhere. The tomb is empty, rejoice, he is not here.” From Priestdaddy

These quotes connect in my head because of the contrarian line that runs through them both. I have an inclination to say the thing, think about the thing, rather than do the thing (WRITE) that I keep an eye on. I’d rather do the work than have the lifestyle, but it often seems like the lifestyle bit is the easier to achieve. I appreciate the quote from Priestdaddy for saying that words do fail, and maybe that’s fine. Maybe that’s good.

—Devin