Finishing a Book: Part 3

wp_20161027_23_04_19_proTeaching and other things stole most of my time today, so I did not have much to think about the book. I decided to finish a book review in order to write something and it is turning out to be something very different from what I normally write. This time, the journal’s editor asked me if there was something I wanted to review instead of simply suggesting a title. I said I would like to review Dustin Griffin’s Authorship in the Long Eighteenth Century. Not sure why I said that. I guess I really liked the book, but I honestly did not think that far ahead. Thinking about the book, I decided that there should be something that links my previous research to my own book project, but found only a weak tangent to do the job. This will have to do.

The main point of Griffin’s book, as I read it, is that we too often tell ourselves cartoonish stories about topics like the Birth and Death of the Author. There are no representatives of the pure categories of the gentleman author who just writes for pleasure and the career hack who writes for money, for example. Not in the real world. There has to be more attention to detail than that in order to make claims about authorship in the eighteenth century. Scholarship does not boil down to a few talking points and grand stories about how concept X has been transformed over time from point A to point B. You cannot rely on knowing just a few tricks of form in order to complete a study like this. Nor is doing this type of research like passing your midterms, writing a term paper or even a thesis. There is a broad claim in Griffin’s book, but it is not that important. With forty years of experience behind him, his command of his materials is convincing and his perspective on his discipline is incredibly deep. It is a book of what the author himself calls a “careful historian” who is more interested in the personalities behind a dedicatory poem than the grand essence of someone’s imagined idea of what an author is or should be like.

I may never be able to write a book that is this mature. I realized this today while sitting at a table surrounded by the loveliest bunch of philosophers and philosophy enthusiasts you will ever find anywhere. Two or three minutes of staring into the void and everything was fine again. The company of the niin & näin crowd and the location of the party — a tea shop I had never noticed but was obviously the nicest and coziest little tea shop in Helsinki — helped me get over it. Walking back home in miserable weather felt fine. Feeling tired and blank was fine. Everything was fine: I would meet my deadlines, get the word count up to a decent number, maybe add that extra chapter, finish everything in time. And if I didn’t, who cares? I have been taught to resent feelings of contentment that run this deep, but it’s impossible to resent them when your friends are just so damn cute.

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