on authorship

“Although I am going to talk about what I have written, my books and papers and so on, unfortunately I forget what I have written practically as soon as it is finished. There is probably going to be some trouble about that. But nevertheless I think there is also something significant about it, in that I don’ t have the feeling I have written my books. I have the feeling that my books get written through me and that once they have got across me I feel empty and nothing is left.” – Claude Levi-Strauss, from the introduction to Myth and Meaning.

It is nice to see someone else say this. It is something I have experienced with my books – a peculiar sense of not having written them, despite obviously having done so. More puzzling, too, as writing is such an intimate and all-consuming act, for such a lengthy period. But afterwards… it is done, the past.

(Though I would add a caveat to his sense of “nothing is left”. Writing is, in part, an act of purgation, paradoxically through gluttinous immersion; so when the book is done, the self is purged of whatever it was. If the process has been completed successfully, nothing is left of whatever it was, and the author is free to move on to other things.)

Writing is a wee bit mysterious, really.

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