Going over my Agamben manuscript yesterday, I found myself unaccountably depressed. More than most of my other books, this was purely a labor of love. I don’t think I need to establish my expertise in Agamben at this point, nor do I especially urgently need to add another item to my CV. I wrote it because I had done the chronological read-through project, because I had the opportunity to meet him, because it just felt like time. And as I was going through the text, there were so many layers of good memories — of the first time I read the texts, the reading groups I had done, the chronological read-through itself, the events in Toronto and Prague where I tested my ideas, my conversation with Agamben, the vacation to Venice it made possible, and the writing process itself. The latter was sometimes a struggle, as I was pushing myself to complete the manuscript over the course of an abbreviated summer vacation, but it was also a joy, as I continued to find new creative connections.
All those good memories and associations, though, only served to highlight how much of a slog the editing process was and how little connection I felt to the intellectual energy and excitement that had gone into it. And it strikes me that something similar happens every time I put a book out — getting it out the door means losing that connection to it as a living process. An intellectual adventure runs aground in trying to make sense of formatting requirements and filling out forms. The production process only redoubles the alienation, as copy-editing, proof-correction, and (above all) indexing reduce the manuscript to gibberish in our own minds, a pile of potential errors and clarifications and oh my God why did I use this stupid concept so often.
In the cold light of day, I recognize that this process of decathecting is necessary — even a mercy. It helps us to let go of the project and hand it over to the reading public, who will make of it what they may. And it gives us permission to be done, at long last, as we realize that, even if this book could in principle be improved, we are not in any condition to make those improvements. We only really know we’re finished when we can no longer bear to look at the thing.
2 thoughts on “The last stage of writing is decathecting.”
As I’m about to begin the process of morphing my PhD into a book, this fills me with both dread and hope.
I simultaneously wish I had more thoroughly revised my PhD and am absolutely dead-certain that it would have been physically impossible for me to do so.
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