Nothing Outside the Text

I think that I understand better now the anxiety that I woke up with the other day, about wishing that I were able to write about something other than what I have read in books.  It's not just my perfectionism.  It is also my habit of noticing.

I spend most of my waking life reading in one way or another.  Reading books and articles in my field, preparing for class, grading papers, reading applications for admissions or faculty hires.  Almost everything I do involves the written word.

And I'm good at it.  In fact, I think that I am very, very good at it.  It is one of my principal skills: exegesis, reading a text for what it actually says, not for what I want it to say.  To my mind, it's what makes what I write as an academic distinctive: I actually read the texts.

And not just read them in order to pluck out whatever bits of information (examples, ideas, arguments) I want to use in order to make some point or other that I have gleaned from reading lots of bits and pieces of texts.  I read the whole thing--at least, ideally, even when it is quite long--and then I write about how to read it, typically from beginning to end.

It's a skill not all of my colleagues seem to have; certainly, I don't always see it in their written work.  I can't tell you the number of summaries of texts that I have read that have been totally wrong, not just in details, but about the whole purpose of a work.  And as for getting readers into a text so that they come away from my reading with a fuller appreciation of what the original author was trying to say and perhaps even a desire to read the original text more closely itself?  Well, what can I say?  It's a skill.

On the other hand, I am rather less good at collecting things to write about from my non-reading experience.  (I say that, but then I think about all of the things that I have written about here on my blog, and I'm not sure that that is entirely true, but bear with me, I'm thinking this one out.)  Perhaps more accurately, I don't trust my ability to write about things that I simply notice in life as much as I trust my ability to read what somebody else has written.

Yes, that's it.  I'm too much of a lector, which is why I don't tend to think of myself as an auctor.  I don't trust myself to be the first one to put words to an idea or experience or description of a thing.


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