The Outsider Complex, Baby

Question: What if our understanding of coherence needs a makeover? 

Is clean writing a myth? In a discussion about David Foster Wallace the other day, I am left to wonder whether a person who, lacking in the accouterments and support systems of a professional writer, should hold themselves to the same standards as someone whose entire network of habits and attitudes is geared to the task? After all, I’m a first-year teacher who is already spending way too much time tarrying over these kinds of concerns anyway. Yet, I am human, I do think deeply about things, and I do wish to discuss things at more length than Facebook or Snapchat make available. In contrast with most people in my culture, I feel that it is a civic obligation for me to do so. At the same time though, as someone associated with writing as a craft and process, I do feel ashamed when my writing doesn’t uphold those traditional conventions of style and quality that we so like to emphasize in our critical appraisals. I think, at this point, I’m willing to sacrifice those quality standards and conventions for the sake of being able to say something, at least, whatever its level of quality.

I think this attitude discouraging humble, blue-collar discourse, whether shared by others or simply a figment of my own imagination, is dangerous — the idea that, if our words do not meet a certain quality or thoroughness, they should not be uttered at all. I think this is a convenient development in favor of the powers-that-be that dissuades the common person from being able to speak a mind and take part in the important discursive issues of his or her day. I think we should say what we can, when we can, take pride that we have tried, and actively appreciate the same efforts when they are taken by others. This aversion to discourse pairs well with our sense of anti-intellectual suspicion in America, and our sense that these types of political or philosophical matters shouldn’t be tackled by the average citizen, but only by those “qualified” in their respective academic echelons. How tidy and oligarchical a development. Continue reading