The things you think of to link are not in your control. It’s just who you are, bumping into the world. But how you link them is what shows the nature of your mind. Individuality resides in the way links are made. -Anne Carson
too severe an application to study sometimes brings on lunacy and frenzy -Adam Smith
“So, what are you writing?” It’s the question every academic hears. Sometimes, an old friend asks as you sit down for a whiskey and hopefully this old friend is also a patient friend as you meander through the pleasures and boredom of the Word document that stubbornly greets you every time you open your laptop and the notes you’ve scribbled in your Moleskine.
Other times, the question is posed at some conference as you stand awkwardly balancing your bag and your program and your paper and your phone, trying to drain the last of the burnt coffee from an urn in the book exhibit. And, still others, it’s uttered by someone you have known vaguely but have never really known, someone who is busy measuring you up. (Note that, in this instance, it’s a step up from the nametag read and dismiss.)
“What are you writing?” is also a question you’re asked even as you are finishing a book (when you are in a fugue of the whole thing, dreaming of specific sentences), about to publish a book (when the book still requires the caretaking of proofreading and rewriting and indexing and “developing a social media presence”), or have just published a book (even before the champagne is uncorked and you are still “developing a social media presence” and “writing op-eds related to your book for the popular press”).
It’s a question that, at these times, reminds me of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory and their frantic efforts to keep doing what they are doing, the frantic effort to keep up.
What is it about keeping up that is so endemic to the life of a writer, to the career of an academic? In a world of work in which slow study is our shared currency, we are vulnerable to the pressures of novelty—of fast fashion.
The tension between the slow and the speedy yields another side effect, at least for me. Between the long arc of history and the minutes ticking by, between the tedium of reading thousands of pages of eighteenth-century essays, poems, novels, and plays, and the quick jolt of thinking when I run or shower or nap or snack, I find myself bumping into things and, as luck would have it, making some kind of sense of them.
So I’m stopping by The Rambling to make my announcement.
These are “Books I’d Like to Write! A Listicle.”
Tita Chico teaches at the University of Maryland, is Editor of The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, and just published a book with Stanford University Press, The Experimental Imagination: Literary Knowledge and Science in the British Enlightenment. She is currently writing 10 new books.