This week saw the end of a quarter, which meant I had two substantial final papers to complete. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, had consequences.
My too-familiar paper-writing process runs thusly: I’ll construct an argument (or, more often, one will strike me), start early, vomit out a gross (and it is gross; my first drafts resemble the symptoms of methamphetamanic hypergraphia) extravagance of text, and put off revisions until the excruciating end, as if the excise of a single word were akin to the cutting of my own flesh. Inevitably I’ll turn in something bordering on flabby: a plump, self-satisfied thing that threatens to rupture the page limit, if not the good graces of its reader. Obviously, I hate editing.
I hate editing, so much that I justify my procrastination as preparation. To edit, I need first to overwhelm myself with literature, and to be so bathed in and so satisfied by the written word that I don’t mind carving down a paper to something more spare. This week–due both to the papers and, perhaps, to a certain end-of-summer panic–had me plowing through a near-record number of otherwise irrelevant pages.
To whit: over the past few days, I’ve finished Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects, a collection of critical essays on literature and art so sensually erotic as to nearly surpass the works under consideration; Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, a readable-if-mostly-due-to-its-subject chronicling of journalists’ David Lipsky’s week-long road trip / interview with David Foster Wallace; G.M. Holder’s cruel and beautiful The Introduction to the World; Geoff Dyer’s two latest collections (I love essayists and Dyer is one of my favorites, despite the fact that his new New York Times column has proved cringingly disappointing); The Shadow of the Sun, a book that by all rights I should have hated–cue white male journalist pontificating on the entire continent of Africa–but which was painful and shattering in its poetic human complexity; a random assortment of chapbooks; Knut Hamsun’s melodious Growth of the Soil, my mother’s favorite book, yet one I’d until now–despite my love of Hunger–not read; and the bulk of The Letters of DH Lawrence (a far, far more entertaining compendium than the Freud / Jung correspondence, the last epistolary set I read). Only the first had the remotest bearing on my finals; the rest were all books I’d been dutifully putting off in favor of assigned texts. Apparently my gift for delayed gratification has rather violent limits.
(An aside: I wrote that I read these over the past few days. “Over the past few nights” would be more precise. Why do so many mythologies feature a god of dreams–Morpheus for the Greeks; Angus, for the Celts; Zhou Gong in Ancient China; even the Basques had Ignuma– but none a god of insomnia? The latter unnamed brute seems to have become utterly besotted with me: the majority of the pages above I read between the hours of two and eight in the morning.)
The comfort of this literary deluge helped, or seemed to, at least in that I turned in everything on time and in conformation; if nothing else the escape was sweet and sublime. Now it is Sunday, and past midnight, and I am not sure whether to I ought shelve the rest of my leisure reading for the end of next quarter–and to take advantage of the holiday tomorrow to explore my increasingly aggravating immediate terrain–or to continue, happily, lapping up words. I have a feeling I’ll end up the latter. I have no excuse. Should I need one? Summer is fading, my papers are over, and I want only, and ever, to read.