the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

maggie nelson on obsession and recurrence in writing

Posted by rigorousm on September 29, 2014

In her introduction to Touching Feeling, Eve Sedgwick says, “I’m fond of observing how obsession is the most durable form of intellectual capital.” You write your obsessions. There’s a constant “reexamining” that happens throughout your work. Subjects reoccur. Ideas get turned over, held up to the light, then turned over again. Do you share this notion of obsession as intellectual capital? Do you find there’s an eventual exorcism that happens when you write about your obsessions — whether it’s your aunt’s murder, a breakup, the color blue, or the concept of cruelty?

I am always surprised at how the same concepts or problems recur throughout my work — not always happily surprised, I might add; can’t I get onto new things already? But perhaps the real surprise is in finding the same issues in such disparate places…. Sedgwick herself has written movingly about how knowledge is not something one gains once and then moves on, but rather something one knows and then forgets, and then re-knows differently, and then re-knows or re-forgets again, and so on. The latter process is far more interesting, intellectually and spiritually.

I do find there’s an exorcism to the obsessions. Sometimes this is welcome, other times there’s a little mourning involved. Like, I miss the blue I loved before I wrote Bluets; blue now is not the same as it was then, when blue was my secret. … I relate to that. But there are always new pains and new pleasures around the corner, so there’s no need to mourn for too long! …  Not that any exorcism is total, but my troubles on that account are infinitely more worked through than they were at the project’s start.

— Interview with Bookslut, 2013 (read in full here)

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