The most inspiring texts to me are not the ones that keep me immersed in them but the ones that refuse me, the ones that send me away.
|Source: Search Engine Land|
It happens this way: I read and I read and there’s nothing out of ordinary about my reading. I peruse with the mind to the text, open to its charisma, expecting the pleasures, watching for clues. But the mind that reads this way is that of a stranger. What I mean to say is ridiculously simple, beyond obvious: that through this type of reading I remind myself that I am not the author but only a reader. A stranger, indeed: someone who comes from without and whose likelihood to settle within is minimal. But some texts are more than that. Some texts fill me with that curious sentiment that I am the one who’s written them; that my reading of them right now is the reading of some draft I am in the process of editing. In these situations, I can’t stop thinking beside the actual text, ignoring it as it were, heading towards a conclusion that’s not the text’s but mine.
A draft, always a draft. Which means, in essence, that I perceive incompleteness, imperfection, room-for-improvement. I have this knack for visualizing alternatives. When I read these texts I feel the urge to imagine how I would write them otherwise. Not better, not worse. Just differently.
A draft requires careful reading, i.e. the placing of care into the text. It requires me to care enough about the text to attempt to imagine it different. And so what happens next is this: I can no longer read. That’s because the urge is now in me, the urge of inspiration (I might call it that, for once).
I can imagine a point where there’s no more room for perusal, where continuing to read is a dangerous business. Dangerous because it can cause confusion. If I am not careful enough at this point, if I don’t pay sufficient attention, I risk unconscious plagiarism – which is the worst form of all, because it takes away the pleasure that comes with the stealing of something truly valuable. I know this because I’m familiar with those moments when one can remember with embarrassing accuracy a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase, but not their origin. When that happens I feel utterly incapacitated. My mind wants to find that place where everything happened first, and that desire is so strong that I can no longer concentrate. And so a frantic search starts, one that often leads nowhere but to exhaustion.
It’s much easier to plagiarize, I think, when you know exactly what you’re plagiarizing. It’s much harder to do it when you just happen stupidly upon a fragment you didn’t even know was in your head.
So in those moments I can no longer read. I need to put the text aside and start my own text. I need to write because something in the original text tells me with the urgency of catastrophes that if I miss this opportunity I miss everything. And ‘everything’ is an incredibly ample concept sometimes.
My own texts are very often caused by texts I’ve been reading, and whose reading must be interrupted. Those texts, in their splendor, send me away. Away to the computer, away to the piece of paper and the pen. But also away from their substance (the texts’ substance).
|Source: Red State|
When I have to stop reading because I need to write there is no way back. I can no longer see the original text. Its presence panics me. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Not anymore. I turn my back to it. I obliterate it. The fact that it exists disappoints me. And this is the very same text that caused inspiration in the first place.
Incredible, the ways of writing.
It’s in moments like these that I see the agency that resides in texts, their ability to stir me into action. Not the authors. They don’t awaken me to the same awareness. I very rarely feel the need to praise an author for an affect brought up by their text. Authors are not interesting. Not in themselves. An author must be an author of something. Of a text. So the text is more imperative, more interesting. It’s what exists, what needs to be dealt with. It’s what possesses the capacity to determine my actions. Textual determinism – I might call it that.
With other texts, which are more silent, less reproachful than the ones that make me write, I have a different kind of relationship. With them I don’t. I don’t start anything, I don’t change anything, I don’t make an effort. When I read these texts I make notes on the margins. Sometimes. At other times I make no notes at all. Not even mental notes. These texts don’t ask for anything. And because of their silence I remain silent too. What I want to say is that I forget these silent texts. I forget them even while I’m in the process of reading them.
But the texts that speak to me are incredibly empowering. The very nerve to get away from them is evidence to this empowerment.
A case study
Speaking of notes. I do the following when I take notes at lectures, conferences, public speeches. (I used to do it when I was a student and I’m still doing it. Every time). I start the way everybody starts. I write down the words I hear. I give the speaker my time and space and reincarnate their words onto the page, my page. At this point I am fully occupied by the speaker’s speech. To put it differently, I follow their text. I pay tribute to their gesture, and with it I confirm their authority over the text, over the clarity of that text. I would not dare thinking of altering anything. Like a good journalist who obeys the rules of his profession and protects his sources, I strive for exactitude. Everything for a faithful rendition. Everything for loyalty. But then, all of a sudden, something happens. Suddenly, the speech I am listening to ceases to be clear. It becomes blurred. It fades slowly, until it reaches inaudibility. And then, I cannot hear it at all. Why? Because at that point I am already being forced to generate my own text.
What I think happens at that point is simple, albeit brutal. I snatch the original idea. I literally steal it, the way thieves sneak into the houses of the unaware to dispossess them of valuables. And once that idea is in my possession I run away with it.
It’s the grab, the seizing of the opportunity to write, that estranges me from the speech that keeps going on in the room, unheard by me but still alive to others.
|Source: Hearts and Minds|
And then I write. First, things directly related to the speech. Then gradually relevance fades. It too goes away. And so the original text gives in, and in its place comes my own text, my own speech. I end up, of course, writing things completely unrelated to the original situation. But it’s now, after having encountered and then immediately divorced the original text, that I find the right energy to write. As if the echo of the original text were contaminating me.
What do you know, this too might be some kind of disease.