Giving Up Ground
I don't know to what extent one's intellectual habits are fixed at twenty-eight, but I've sedimented a great deal in the last couple of years, and it now seems a good forecast that I'll never be much of an essayist. Which is a shame, since I admire the form endlessly and so many of my favorite novelists have used it to fine effect; but I'm more and more reluctant to speak in my own voice. (Or to mark one of my constructed voices with an authorial imprimatur, if you prefer that phrasing.) I don't trust my own bald opinions any more, not even when I voice them privately. And this isn't just to reiterate what Musil says, that a good essay is always richer than the sum of its systematizable content; because even the subtlest and most carefully self-qualifying of Musil's performances always presupposes some definite knowledge of errors to be corrected, or at least exposed, and it's his magnificent bravado that I can't imitate. Five years ago I was pretty sure that I had seen through the surface of American life and letters into their essential form, and that I could explain this form to anyone committed enough to listen. Now I think that I have only physical objects, a vocabulary and varieties of human temperamentwhich items don't add up to an essay, however oblique. It's only when refracted through a prism, such as fiction, that they take on any form at all. For instance, to the extent that anything has worked on this website, it's worked because refracted through diarism, and the diarism itself has no value except as a vehicle for sentences, and the sentences themselves might as well be taken as nonsense, because their virtue never lies in their content; it's all euphony and the rigging of subordinate clauses. Translated into a Fregean logical notation they would sublime away entirely, like dry ice.
Of course I do write essays as an academic. But that’s just a job.
The author's own voice? Paging Dr. Foucault! The patient is trying to come back alive...