Maybe everyone’s first blog post has a story behind it: mine sure does. My generation never heard of the term, blog post, and many of us—once we heard of it—most likely turned away. A blog post was not for the likes of us. The technology that made it possible, the open-endedness of the communication, its very casualness: all this made it feel foreign, unwelcome.
As a college professor of English for many decades, I committed to a different form of writing: literary criticism. I taught (I still teach) the great Western novels, and I wrote scholarly books about them. My aim was to illuminate these great books in new ways, and my readers—if they were to get the good of my writing—were already trained to read such work. They were familiar not only with the great books I was analyzing, but also with the range of ways these books had been interpreted in the past. More, they were familiar with the specialized vocabularies—the jargons—that critics like me would draw on to indicate our grasp of this history. One subset of professionals was writing for, and being read by, another subset.
I took on this academic project in my thirties, and I did it for the next four decades. I wrote eight books of scholarly criticism—all of them published by university presses and aimed at a select grouping of readers (professors, graduate students, the broader “intelligentsia”) already interested in that kind of writing. Only towards the end—gradually—did I start to recognize the limitations built into the entire enterprise.
Three limitations jumped out at me. Although my personal experience was never wholly excluded, it was never welcome. The aim required that I look outward—at the great books and at the ways they had been and might yet be interpreted. Second, there was so little air in the spaces I had chosen to enter! So few readers trained enough to access such spaces, so much jargon required as a passkey for entrance and enjoyment. The third limitation, once it dawned on me, was the most disturbing: my life was now in its autumnal stage, and there was so much else I wanted to say!
My new book of essays, Soul-Error, attempts to overcome these limitations. (If you are interested in reading an excerpt from my book, click here.) It has no jargon. It draws openly on my own experience. It seeks to engage the big questions about identity and error and self-revision, as we move through our lives. Finally, it signals my desire to address you—my new reader—as I could not in those earlier scholarly books. From this point forward, I want my writing to speak to you. That makes most sense if you feel invited to speak to me in return. I am looking for dialogue. In unintended ways, my previous professional history kept me too long from the democratic sharing of thoughts and feelings that I value most.
The blogs I intend to post hereafter aim to forge a new path of communications. But it will take your responses to turn this path into a two-way street.
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