Reasonable Words: Adam Kirsch on writing

Tipped by the the Poetry Foundation Web site, two bits from an essay of Kirsch’s entitled,

Rocket and Lightship
Meditations on life and letters.

The fireplace at Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Fenway Court. It would be a noble destination for deathless tomes.

Every writer needs a fireplace. On publication day, an author should burn a copy of his book, to acknowledge that what he accomplished is negligible compared to what he imagined and intended. Only this kind of burnt offering might be acceptable to the Muse he has let down.

Literature claims to be a record of human existence through time; it is the only way we have to understand what people used to be like. But this is a basic mistake, if not a fraud, since in fact it only reflects the experience of writers—and writers are innately unrepresentative, precisely because they see life through and for writing. Literature tells us nothing really about what most people’s lives are like or have ever been like. If it has a memorial purpose, it is more like that of an altar at which priests continue to light a fire, generation after generation, even though it gives no heat and very little light.

Granted, it’s a little arch, but the first one puts me in mind of Brecht, who wouldn’t seem to be one to be precious about his words (he makes fun of poets who memorize their own poems somewhere, but I can’t find the quote).

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