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A Stain on Silence

At an academic conference, a general session focused on a typical problem of faculty like me: careers stalling at the associate professor level. Fresh out of grad school, they worked hard on their writing, for it was “publish or perish.” They published, got their tenure, and were promptly abandoned by the muses. The panel examined the possible reasons for this: lack of incentive, a focus on raising families, new administrative duties, etc.

As I listened quietly I had a thought that I didn’t dare share. Maybe they no longer write because they have nothing to say. Their earlier writing was merely a professional necessity. Now that they can survive without writing, they no longer write. Reflecting back on the countless dull and arguably trivial books and articles that I had perused over the years, I couldn’t help but think that maybe we’re better off with them not writing. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, rather than another article on a long-forgotten play.

When I was younger (I’m so much older now) I liked to read the New York Times Book Review. In fact, I would have liked nothing better than to one day write something for this supplement to the Sunday paper. I now know that I can happily go to my grave without seeing my name in the NYTBR.

The advantage of the book review is that it gives you a better perspective on what’s going on in the world than the paper does, because a survey of books outlines general trends, while a newspaper (or CNN) merely summarizes daily minutiae.

One day in the NYTBR, somebody cited Samuel Beckett, who referred to writing as a “stain on silence.” I was struck by the phrase, which has stuck with me. Since then I think of bad writing and idiotic talk as “stains on silence.”

Maybe some of us non-productive scholars are really exhibiting a sort of wisdom. Now, I’m not denying the presence of “little haters” inside of us that keep us from letting out valid, pent-up writing. But maybe, just maybe, some of us know better than to stain silence with our scribbling.


Mumble Louder

You shore can squeeze a lotta 10 dollar words into one sentence!
I 'specially like when you pepper the pot with a line from a song.
Not quite sure what ya said, as I wern't listenin' none too close, but ya shore look smaht sayin' it!!

Yay Mark!!

Re: Mumble Louder

Thanks, Jim Dandy, I like to pretend I'm smart!

December 2018



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