Making Words Harder

I’ve been thinking about the Thomas Mann quote Barbara used on her overview of the class sheet: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult.” Besides being a superficially funny commentary on the torturous nature of the writing process, the quote rings true not because writers are less intelligent or inherently slower than other humans, but because they themselves make writing difficult. And not necessarily more wearisome, although exhaustion plays a role, but more complex. Writers look at words and refuse to take them for face value. They like to probe language and stretch it to its limits, like pulling panty hose onto a particularly plump thigh.

This past year I’ve been really into poetry, and sometimes I think it’s the most miserable pursuit in the world. Because sometimes language just doesn’t want to budge and all I can capture are the echoes of things written before me. But sometimes you find a secret passageway into the abyss of language, a tear in the fabric, and you have to let yourself fall into it and get totally jumbled around. That’s what I loved about Barbara’s class; she forces you to find the new passageways into language, but she never leads you all the way there. Finding a newness in the words and sounds we encounter everyday is a tricky and ultimately delicious task. And making words more difficult- by challenging them, testing them, turning them on their head- leads to surprises. It’s not as if our lives need to be any more complicated, but only by complicating language will we arrive at any sort of insight.

So there’s my writing shpeal, and now onto me: I am a senior English major who just finished four weeks of the most academic literary analysis possible during English comps and who now wishes to undo the stiffness of that formal treatment of language and return to, how Barbara puts it, the language in my body and my surroundings. And more importantly, I am someone who will love reading forever and ever and I am thrilled to get to read some of your work. The last book I read was “Norwegian Wood,” by Haruki Murakami, and I’d highly recommend it as a book you could even read during the semester because it is very accessible and relaxing. I became Murakami’s narrator while I was reading it and I even zoned out so entirely that I didn’t notice a conversation my friend had with a police officer right next to me on the subway. I guess you could say I’m 100% book nerd.

Get excited for a great semester, but also, as Alex mentioned, be very, very afraid. There’s no telling what you’ll dig up from the dusty recesses of your subconscious. More importantly, let go of what you’ve been told your whole life. And, despite Barbara’s challenging and rigorous agenda, please don’t be too hard on yourself.

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