Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/14

Today’s quotation is a double, and the subject of both is the practice of writing, sort of a “how to write” type of deal as delivered by two men who have each had a profound influence on my own writing (or at least I like to think so and actively seek to make so).

Over the past few days I’ve been working my way through James Agee’s Letters of James Agee to Father Flye, and thus far it’s been an incredibly rewarding project. Literary bliss is when a writer articulates a certain chain of thoughts that could easily pass for your own inner monologue. I must admit that my love for Agee’s work is partly born of a kind of narcissism: Agee’s writing often reads like a more perfectly composed version of my own attempts at writing (at least as I perceive my own writing), or if it’s not “perfect,” then at least it’s marked by flaws that are so much more interesting and original than mine are.

“I do as a matter of truth believe I could teach, and teach well; and that is one of the reasons I am so generally sure (to the point twice of avoiding following good chances for good jobs) that it would be very bad for me to teach. As for the badness of the writer teaching, I agree all the way; I also think but am not perfectly sure, that there is no job on earth that is not bad for the writer, including writing; and that he who must earn a living has got to take the disadvantages of any job for granted, and seek what advantages in each he can find. Again, though: every job is bad for him, but floating on blood-money can be even worse; killing. There really is no answer or solution and for want of one must say, live as you can, understand all you can, write when, all and what you can.” (James Agee, ‘New York City, November 26, 1934’, Letters of James Agee to Father Flye)

If Agee’s writing is like a much more convincing and captivating version of my own, then Walter Benjamin’s writing is what I’d like nothing more than to be able to replicate. Each and every phenomenon Benjamin encountered bore within it a universe of things to be said and ideas to be had; every cultural object, no matter how ostensibly banal, contained within it the materials to construct an incredibly delicate structure of thought and perception. Perhaps more than any other writer, Benjamin is the one who I’d love to resurrect and take on a tour of the contemporary world, just to see what he would make of it all, and to see whether he’d be able to process the variety of shocks that constitutes so much of our modern environment. I could go on for hours about Benjamin, but I’ll let his quote stand for itself.

“Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.” (Walter Benjamin, ‘One-Way Street’, Reflections)

Yes, I just figured out how to use block quotes.

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One Response to “Quotes of quotes of quotes of quotes, 8/14”

  1. Kyle Szarzynski Says:

    In my experience, the best writing to read is the kind which forces you to ask yourself (if you are a writer, that is), “Why do I bother? If this is the standard, how could I ever even dream of measuring up?” It’s also important to bear in mind that, though all young writers learn their craft by trying to emulate the masters – their idols in particular – this approach will always, at best, leave you feeling second-rate, since it’s innately impossible to write as Faulkner does as well as Faulkner himself does. (Then again, Faulkner did once submit a piece for a Faulkner writing contest for fun, and he came in second.) Eventually, you learn to synthesize what you are able to use best from others to create your own unique and enviable style. It’s all just borrowing, consciously or subconsciously. There really is no originality; everyone’s just a plagiarist.

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