I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you’re writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.
I am of the firm belief that everybody could write books, and I never understand why they don’t. After all, everyone speaks. Once the grammar has been learnt, it is simply talking on paper and in time learning what not to say.
boys sit in trees languidly masturbating, people eaten by unknown diseases spit at passersby and bite them and throw pus and scabs and assorted vectors (insects suspected of carrying disease) hoping to infect somebody.
The Yage Letters
Not long after his memoir came out, Kermode moved house. Boxes of books and manuscripts awaited the movers, piles of trash the refuse collectors. Unfortunately, the refuse collectors arrived first and Kermode mistook them for the movers. They carted off and compacted a substantial part of his library.
review of Pieces of My Mind by Frank Kermode
Dearest Max, my last wish:
Everything that I leave behind in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters of my own and from others, drawing, etc. (whether in my bookcase, clothes cupboard, writing desk at home or at the office, or in any other place anything may have gotten and you find it) should be burned, completely and unread, as should everything written or drawn in your possession or in the possession of others whom you should ask, in my name, to do likewise. People who do not want to hand over letters to you should at least be made to promise that they themselves will burn them.
Yours, Franz Kafka.
It is possible to take too many notes; the task of sorting, filing and assimilating them can take for ever, so that nothing gets written.
The awful warning is Lord Acton, whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him. An unforgettable description of Acton’s Shropshire study after his death in 1902 was given by Sir Charles Oman. There were shelves and shelves of books, many of them with pencilled notes in the margin. “There were pigeonholed desks and cabinets with literally thousands of compartments into each of which were sorted little white slips with references to some particular topic, so drawn up (so far as I could see) that no one but the compiler could easily make out the drift.” And there were piles of unopened parcels of books, which kept arriving, even after his death. “For years apparently he had been endeavouring to keep up with everything that had been written, and to work their results into his vast thesis.”
“I never saw a sight,” Oman writes, “that more impressed on me the vanity of human life and learning.”
On the night of March 6, Mill arrived on the Carlyles’ doorstep, semi-coherent and deeply distraught. There had been a domestic accident and Carlyle’s “poor manuscript, all except some four tattered leaves, was annihilated!” Allegedly, a servant, either at Mill’s house, or at his mistress Harriet Taylor’s, had mistaken the only manuscript of Carlyle’s history of the French Revolution for waste paper and put it into the fire. That night in bed Carlyle suffered the symptoms of a heart attack, feeling “something cutting or hard grasping me round the heart.” He dreamt of death and graves, but in the morning he wrote to his publisher Fraser to explain what had happened and resolved to try again. The labour of five steadfast months had “vanished irrecoverably; worse than if it had never been!” With astonishing resignation, Carlyle wrote:
I can be angry with no one; for they that were concerned in it have a far deeper sorrow than mine: it is purely the hand of Providence; and, by the blessing of Providence, I must struggle to take it as such.... That first volume (which pleased me better than anything I had ever done) cannot be written anew, for the spirit that animated it is past: but another first volume I will try, and shall make it, if not better or equal, all that I can. This only is clear to me: that I can write a Book on the French Revolution; and that, if I am spared long enough alive I will do it.
Thomas Carlyle at the Barricades
is simple enough. The Latin grammarian Servius, writing about A.D. 400, coined the term to describe a common figurative device in Vergil’s Aeneid: the use of two substantives, joined by a conjunction (et, atque, or -que, all signifying “and”), to express a single but complex idea. The most frequently cited example, however, is from the Georgics (II.192): “pateris libamus et auro” ‘we drink from cups and gold.’ English translators normally suppress the oddity of this phrasing (the phrasing and oddity, we might say) by interpreting one of the nouns as dependent on the other: “we drink from golden cups.” Similarly, “membris et mole valens” ‘powerful in limbs and weight’ (Aeneid v.431) is usually rendered by some such phrase as “mighty in mass of limb” (J. W. Mackail).
Recent scholars of Vergil have questioned this traditional way of interpreting such phrases. It suits the name of the figure (hendiadys means, literally, “one through two”), but it does not account for the poet’s deliberate stylistic choice of two parallel substantives instead of what we would call a noun phrase (noun and adjective [golden cups] or noun and dependent noun [cups of gold]). They wonder, indeed, whether there is such a thing as hendiadys. For when Vergil, they tell us, describes the ceremonial sacrifice at which the celebrants drink wine from cups and gold, he means us to grasp two ideas, not one: such an occasion requires the appropriate sacred vessel and an appropriately rich material. In the same way, to anyone observing the old hero Entellus in action, what is impressive is not simply his mightiness “in mass of limb” but, successively, his powerful limbs–his muscles and, indeed, his whole massive figure. In both examples, and in many others, Vergil accurately conveys our dual perception of a dual phenomenon. The et in each phrase precisely registers the separateness and successiveness of the two distinct segments of the event. The perception may even be a triple one–of each idea in turn and then of their combination or fusion.
George T. Wright
“Hendiadys and Hamlet”