Against Interpretation: And Other Essays

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Yuk. Oh Susan, don’t let your big brain get in the way of crafting a perceptive and elegant sentence. I picked this up to read the essay on Happenings that I was reminded of in Painterland and I stuck around to skim through the rest of her essays from the early 1960s. The only bit that really interested me was her essay The artist as exemplary sufferer, where she explores Cesare Pavese’s life and journals (which I’ve tried and failed to read).

Why do we read a writer’s journal? Because it illuminates his books? Often it does not. More likely, simply because of the rawness of the journal form, even when it is written with an eye to future publication. Here we read the writer in the first person; we encounter the ego behind the masks of ego in an author’s works… The journal gives us the workshop of the writer’s soul. And why are we interested in the soul of the writer? Not because we are so interested in writers as such. But because of the insatiable modern preoccupation with psychology, the latest and most powerful legacy of the Christian tradition of introspection, opened up by Paul and Augustine, which equates the discovery of the self with the discovery of the suffering self. For the modern consciousness, the artist (replacing the saint) is the exemplary sufferer. And among artists, the writer, the man of words, is the person to whom we look to be able best to express his suffering.