Though We May Move in It: Of Estrangement and Similar Situations

a. Of being a writer and a thinker of things somewhat contrary to the folks who think they know him: of being therefore a quiescent sort of person.

​This is why you think me strange.

Listening to difference is what it means to be the sort that writes fiction with the aim of awakening in the other an anxiety she never knew she had, the sort that really wants to prick people where it hurts, where it burns to say it ain’t so.

This is what it means to be strange and more than a bit antisocial because you know what it is to be social and you know there’s a certain closing of one’s eyes endemic to the whole affair.

There is, in other words, within the heart of every writer, the deep, frustrated desire to rip the hair out of the world and stuff it up its nostrils and at last to say, “There, now does it smell what it is, what it has become?”

b. (1 of 3)

I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. Have you? 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.*

c. radical information

What shall we call the world?

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 of the sort I formulate in A. 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.

d. (2 of 3)

(The top of her massive oaken desk is actually an operating-room door, salvaged when the hospital where her husband works was upgrading its physical plant for fire-code compliance. But it turns out that her home office isn’t where Barrett does most of her writing.)

e. fire codes

It is an expensive affair, upgrading oneself to fire-code compliance. Compliance to the code douses present and future fires with the sunny disposition of countless contracts counteracting the will to combustion. Amelioration masks the dissonance of being-in-the-world’s subsequent anguish. Be happy, it says. Just be happy.

f. (3 of 3)

My first job was working at the biological supply company. My take-home pay was about sixty dollars a week for forty hours. I plated out bacteria onto petri dishes and grew lichens and fed cockroaches and helped prepare skeletons, eventually, which was very cool. Someone collected specimens from the woods—natural death and road kill—but also I think there was some trapping: lizards, salamanders, snakes, things like that. After the cadavers were rough-cleaned and dried, the remains went into big Plexiglas boxes inhabited by large colonies of dermestid beetles, which are scavengers. If the bugs are kept warm and the colony is large enough, they’ll strip a carcass down to clean bone.

g. death of the muse

So it is with writing: process the cadaver; rough-clean and dry it; let the beetles strip it clean. Set fire to the rest. Conduct the ashes into letters—phonemes—words—phrases—other devouring scarabs. Watch the world shake them off. And do it again.

*Quotes excerpted from an interview by Elizabeth Gaffney of Andrea Barrett published in the Winter 2003 edition of The Paris Review.
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Jedd Cole

Jedd Cole is a writer and scholar of literature, language, theory and philosophy. He studied rhetoric, writing and Spanish at University of Cincinnati. He produces video essays on the Electric Didact YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/c/electricdidact. Find his fiction and other recent work at electricdidact.wordpress.com.

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