I recently read Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, which she describes as “a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” A few of my favorites:
The waterbirds near my house are in middle school. The coots’ voices crack; the seagulls bully the ducks; the egret just got braces and stands, humiliated, by himself. (6)
I wouldn’t argue that my life carries an intrinsic purpose other than ushering chromosomes forward in time. But absent of will, my mind derives from sensory experience emotions so powerful that they seem an almost translucent veil between me and some totalizing beauty. The northern and southern lights seem a tiny introduction to it, a reminder that it’s there, behind the sky. (79)
The blurb on the front is from Leslie Jamison in The Atlantic. She writes: “[Manguso’s] prose feels twice distilled; it’s whiskey rather than beer.” I love when a reviewer’s style echoes the work they’re reviewing. Definitely get yourself a copy of 300 Arguments. I’m gonna read Leslie Jamison’s work next.
Here is a brilliant piece of writing on the challenge of being (in the author’s words) an Indian writer. As I told the friend who shared it with me, it’s a work of genius. The genius of seeing clearly. I think it’s helpful for any artist, or for any person who carries an Othered identity, or for any person who wants to see our American culture more clearly. Enjoy: Letter to a Just-Starting-Out Indian Writer—and Maybe to Myself by Stephen Graham Jones.
It’s part of the nature of writing or speaking aloud that you misspeak, that you write a line you wish you could reel back in. Just keep moving on. Don’t let that flubbed line define your career, your stance, your identity. Hide that flubbed line with ten thousand perfect bulletproof timeless lines. Be a different writer each time you turn the page. Anytime you see that dissection pin coming down for the center of your back, close your eyes and roll somewhere else.
Baldwin believed that no substantive racial progress, and no fundamental transformation of the nation, could be achieved so long as innocence remained the organizing feeling of American whiteness. This is why he had championed love as a countervailing feeling. In fact, he believed it to be the only remaining force powerful enough to free whiteness from its arrested state of innocence, concluding, “If love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can.”
I read Dagmawi Woubshet’s piece in The Atlantic after watching the gorgeous movie If Beale Street Could Talk. This passage, about innocence being the organizing feeling of American whiteness, is the single-most illuminating insight I’ve come across about how whiteness works in today’s culture. I see it at almost every turn–the white person’s (my own) wish to be innocent, the habit of situating this wish before any reflection on how we act in the world, the fact that this wish profoundly clouds our relationship with reality. How often does our wish for innocence motivate our activity before a sincere feeling of shared humanity and, I echo James Baldwin, love?