Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Speaking of Dante today, and so.

In a return to principles, I suggest that you do not read this blog because of what I write, but because of what others have written. If you read this blog it is because you are drawn to writing, I would guess, and have an interest, a passion, are of a sympathetic character, etc. But my writing does is not the writing that caused or sponsored your capabilities. Others’ writing is.

Ultimately, or as a principle, The writing that drew you to be interested in blogs such as this one, or to anything involved in writing, is great writing. Now, with the Western Canon having been healthily imploded or re-grounded, we know that great writing is not simply what we are told it is, even as people might agree on this or that text. But I would like to offer this definition (that has been kicking around my brain for at least two hours), that great writing is that which offers the hope of what we might be. It does not simply show us as we are. Great writing is not merely interesting, or relevant, or insightful, or purposeful, or intriguing. Great writing incites ambition and hope. It captures (I don’t know how it does this, though there are plenty of examples) what the reader can only hope for him or herself in terms of their own humanity.

What is true of great writing is true of great art. Great writing therefore applies, and re-applies. It continues to apply, for it is beyond merely being and accomplishes the capture of being-to-be. In this sense, great writing can be religious. It can offer itself time and time again and never be depleted or wear out. Sometimes, it is clearly prophetic (Dante, Milton). Sometimes, it excites a response that in itself is a kind of religious or awed state of mind (Shakespeare). I do think that great writing offers structure and content unified and dynamic, so that the effect is stronger and more intensely sustained than one might expect from either structure or content as categories in themselves.

I am a self-described concrete formalist. I perform a particular task. Over and over (and some might say, over) again. I do what I can and what I will. My writing is not great. So sue me. But I write and I swear that I will write in the light of greatness. My failing is my own. I trust I am not a fool. And neither is anyone who writes for forever, if only in the here and now. To fail in the light of greatness is not ignoble. But it is not great either. No, not now. Not forever. Never.

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