Saturday, October 20, 2007

Two Paragraphs from Edward Said's "Beginnings"

Some tantalizing comments on Edward Said's early book, Beginnings. This is a book I've owned for many years, but have never really gotten around to -- maybe it's time. (Has anyone read Beginnings? Thoughts?)

The author of the review I linked to quoted a very intriguing sentence, which comes toward the end of the Said book. Here is the full context of the quote:

The writer's life, his career, and his text form a system of relationships whose configuration in real human time becomes progressively stronger (i.e., more distinct, more individualized and exacerbated). In fact, these relationships gradually become the writer's all-encompassing subject. On a pragmatic level, then, his text is his statement of the temporal course of his career, inscribed in language, and shot through with precisely these matters.

'Career is the key notion in what I have been saying so far about the writer. For any author, his writing life is what sets him off from the normal quotidian element. During the earlier European tradition great poets like Dante and Virgil were considered inspired by the poetic afflatus, which also shaped their poetic vocation and guaranteed special allowances for them as vatic ssers . . . In the modern period (my primary consideration here), the author's career is not something impelled into a specific course by 'outside' agencies, whether they are called inspiration, Muses, or vision. I sacrifice considerable detail by skipping over whole periods of literary history until about the last quarter of the nineteenth century in Europe generally and in Britain and France especially in order to remark that the idea of a poetic or authorial vocation as a common cultural myth underwent severe change. Blake once described the change prophetically as the 'Fair Nine, forsaking poetry.' So thorough had been the subjectivization of approach, so detached from traditional practices had the writing enterprise become--our discussion of Renan makes this point repeatedly--and so individualistic a tone had the literary voice produced--at least among writers whose aspiration was to uncommon status--that the poetic vocation, in the classical sense, had come to be replaced by a poetic career. Whereas the former required taking certain memorial steps and imitating ritual progress, in the latter the writer had to create not only his art but also the very course of his writings.

One author who comes to mind as being particularly self-conscious about the course of his career is V.S. Naipaul -- someone who for nearly 30 years has been writing nearly entirely about himself (and his network of relationships, and his career).

At a more banal level, another figure who comes to mind in this vein is the TV writer Larry David, who started out creating and writing Seinfeld, and who now does quite well writing self-reflexively about himself, in Curb Your Enthusiasm. What to do next, after Seinfeld?

What to do next -- that is the question, is it not?



Abir said...

...and filmmakers, documentarists, academics...except that most fail even to create a sense of "ritual progress".

1:32 PM  
Monika said...

Deep: I read the book in graduate school; I loved it. You get a sense of Said's intellectual trajectory...


8:14 PM  
Narayan said...

On the subject of people writing about themselves, you might want to read Clive James' review of Philip Roth's latest book in the NYT Book Review section -- "Falter Ego", 7 Oct 07.

2:54 PM  

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