I do not know what I think until I write. No truer words–can true be a scaling adjective? It does not matter at the moment. I recall Ionesco having said this somewhere in an essay of his I had read I cannot tell you how long ago, except I remember it was in a hard covered edition of a collection of his writing I had bought at the Sales Annex of Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue across the street from the main store. It was when I was clerk there and this was sometime in the mid Eighties, so we are talking several decades, and several decades of believing what Ionesco had said for himself, something I had adopted through an affinity I had had for him since having read The Bald Soprano in a Modern Theater course taught by Professor Pearse, who I had a certain affinity for–that is, his style of teaching? His manner in the classroom? How he taught theater, a time before having gravitated to HB Studios and Bill Packard’s play-wrighting workshops, something I had moved to do after having had a few one acts or short-shorts produced off-off Broadway. Nonetheless, nevertheless, moreover . . .
I am not going to provide you with anecdotes from that time.
I spent a long and protracted university career as a student writing essays about literature. I wrote essays in philosophy courses too; essays in political science classes, in sociology courses and history classes I was taking when I thought I was going to major in history. I had also imagined a degree in philosophy and political science too, but to no avail. I wrote essays in comparative literature and art history courses as well.
Professional student was the goal rather than be an out of work professional–no? I am surely not going to ascent to having been a bum, although the whole how sweet it is to do nothing thing was theme in variation with tune in and drop out which was not very far from my heart or my time. There was a close affinity between what tune in and drop out meant and what Christ had preached when he said, be in the world, not of it. I wrote for explication–however, in the process, I learned a great deal about what I thought, what I was thinking, how I could think, what I should think–yes, should.
Critical essays are what you write when you are a literature major; critical and interpretive, maybe separate, perhaps not, but one or the other or both were always the goal. Thesis driven essays were what we were taught to deliver in freshman composition courses; I had two very good professors for both levels as an undergraduate. I thanked them then; I have thanked them in mind recurrently over time; I thank them again now. Of course I do because I should, if only for helping me to fix what was wrong, what was very wrong with my writing, if what I regurgitated on the page could be called writing. It was awful. It was not that practice could make perfect, but writing became a practice of mine daily. If I had simply done calisthenics daily the way I wrote daily, I would be the fittest person.
I eventually became an English major in university, on a return trip to college–yes we like to call it college, except some people from other cultures get confused by what we in the States mean by college, so I defer and sometimes say university. I had come and gone to college a couple of times before my last trip finished up what I was supposed to have completed on earlier excursions through university.
Since my days in university, I have had an affinity for all forms of essay writing, the kind of writing we did the most often–even letter writing is kind of essay (and I did write letters; I had even acquired stationary, nib pens and ink wells)–the journal entry may or may not be an essay, or could be a kind of essay style or form in the making if it were persistently crafted, we like to say. I hate the word craft–I have always preferred art to craft. I hate crafty people. I don’t much like arty people either, but that is with the negative connotation of ‘arty’ at the fore.
Critically interpretive essays on literature were frequently practiced by any English major in any university. We were expected to perform these in a manner consistent with the professor’s guidelines; there has never been a satisfactory definition of the form. Informative biographical essays were also engaged; bibliographic essays too were written; and the personal essay as well.
I recall in my freshman comp 2 class, the lecturer, a grad student, had us read a number of them and write on them, perhaps as a mirroring exercise, to write a critically interpretive essay on an essay that was in the form of the personal essay, somewhat of an inheritance from Montaigne? from Bacon? from whom, really, when the form, essay, has had no satisfactory definition. It has always been, an essay in the style of Montaigne, of Bacon, of Emerseon, of Addison, of Steele, two proponents of the essay form I had an affinity for when I was thinking that the 18th century was going to be my century of concentration . . . it did not become that. I had this for the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 17th century, the 19th, British and then American, and so on, back and forth, and kind of tidal dynamic of changing my mind. My comp 2 teacher loved Baldwin–James, not Alec.
Commentary, whether political, social, historical, or cultural, was also engaged by me, at first in my journals, which I kept copiously; I have perhaps more than 10,000 pages of what might amount to journals, but what I call notebooks because they also contain class notes and notes from readings–I then kept separate journals of readings, a nightly discussion on paper with what I had read that day for my classes or what I had been reading and what connections I could make and perhaps what papers could be written, and then were written in the notebook.
My notebooks also included sketches of poems and stories and the commentary I would engage on them, where they were going, from where they had come, how they were progressing, what influences I recognized or had in mind consciously. Yes, I also kept commentary on texts read in courses in a separate notebook, the journal of readings, only these commentaries were not the journal entries in themselves a different style, but were a lot like the commentaries in Talmud, or as I used to say. But then Talmud has a lot of similarities and parallels for the kind of literary criticism as it was still practiced when I was an undergraduate, a style we had adopted from what was called the New Criticism, which is now an old critical approach, almost a hundred years old, which might frighten me if I allowed myself to think about the passage of time–yes, I do fear dying. Yes, a Talmud of literary commentary on the Canon as Talmud itself is a compendium of commentary over millennia on Torah.
There were many personal or critical essays written by me that I disseminated by hand among my group or groups, sometimes making several copies to distribute. What used to be called the literary essay was a model in a matter of style I used to convey any one of the former mentioned essays, and was proud to acquire a degree of expertise recognized by professors and peers. What any of this means to anyone else I will not speculate. Every one of us who writes an essay for dissemination understands that we do not write for anyone but those who understand already–most of us are preaching to the choir; but I cannot help but imagine that I am also writing especially for those who never will understand. In between these extremes I hope to persuade or entertain or inform or elevate (I am hopeful, really) some of those who might not be inclined to be any of the formerly mentioned intentions, hopes, aspirations–can I elevate anyone?
Every preacher preaches to the choir in every sermon, but that’s what call and response needs, the coir leading the congregation; but that preacher preaching to the choir is also preaching to the congregation who believes, the congregation that doubts, the congregation that has fears, has troubles, has crisis. The preacher also hopes to get the apostate in the church who might only be there because the woman he fancies in his bed goes to church on Sundays.
If I were a preacher, would I be fucking a quarter of my congregation?