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melancholic intensity and short form writing

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Philip Lopate on Susan Sontag on Walter Benjamin in The Threepenny Review:

Benjamin was […] another exemplar for her of “the freelance intellectual.” Finally, he was a negative model in the difficulty he had finishing books. “His characteristic form remained the essay. The melancholic’s intensity and exhaustiveness of attention set natural limits to the length at which Benjamin could develop his ideas. His major essays seem to end just in time, before they self-destruct.” Her own essay on Benjamin runs a mere twenty-five pages. She later said, by way of explaining why she no longer gave her main energies to essay-writing, that some of the essays in Under the Sign of Saturn had taken her six months to write. From my perspective, this means she should have persisted in essay writing; it was just getting to the proper level of difficulty.

Just as the “literature of the no” (more to come on this) encourages one to romanticize one’s own lack of productivity, reading something like this is suggestive in probably just the wrong way. The ultimate intensity would take the form of aphoristic captions underneath single photos on an underread blog? But why do they require books? No one reads them anymore anyway!

(BTW I think everyone should subscribe to The Threepenny Review, by the way. It never ceases to amaze me that when I write in for address changes or to resubscribe and the like, it’s always Wendy Lesser herself who writes back…)

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 2, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Posted in benjamin, distraction

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