This week I had a wonderful moment while reading More’s Utopia and John Donne’s The Blossom. While reading and re-reading these texts I realized I cared more about how the authors made their point than I did about the underlying ‘story’. It was incredibly interesting to realize I focused on language rather than on character, theme or meaning. Utopian texts, satire, and poetry have always interested me as a genre, for historical reference and conventions, but I always felt like an element of understanding was missing from my reading. I am a late bloomer and knowing this about myself I just kept on reading and reading through drama, prose and poetry.
Poetry has always interested me because of what I called ‘economy of language.’ Until this week I did not really understand what I was saying; what does ‘economy of language’ mean exactly? When I first began studying English and Comparative Literature ‘economy of language’ meant poetry uses fewer words than prose to tell a story. The tangle of tropes, structure, condensation and displacement seemed impenetrable, or even repellant. This was very frustrating to me and it seemed impossible to master the terminology and vocabulary necessary to comprehend what was happening at the level of language and unlikely that I could master analytical skills and the craft of writing.
The craft of writing is something that is learned and mastered. In a recent interview Stephen King said he had the idea for his latest novel, 11/22/63, thirty years ago but literally could not write it because he did not have the skills or understanding of structure. Another successful author, Ben Fountain, quit his law practice to write fiction. On the second day of his literary career realized he did not know how to describe things. He then worked on his writing skills for eighteen years before becoming and ‘over-night’ success. That’s very comforting to know; I like having distinguished company as a late bloomer.
Being a late bloomer can actually be an advantage. Malcom Gladwell wrote a wonderful article for The New Yorker in October 2008. He asked a wonderful question, ‘Why do we associate genius with precocity?’ He points out that artistic prodigies like Picasso take a ‘conceptual’ approach to expression with a clear idea of where they want to end. Another approach to expression is more ‘experimental’. Experimental artists like Cezanne build skills slowly over time and are perfectionists. He notes that ‘on the road to achievement late bloomers will resemble a failure’ as they revise again and again.
Revision season is just beginning for me as I prepare to start writing research papers and attending e-seminars. It is worth mentioning another point Gladwell makes in his article, ‘late bloomers’ success is contingent upon others.’ In the case of Cezanne and Fountain their patrons made their creative process and expression possible. I like to think our tutors and essay marking faculty are my patrons, hopefully nurturing and encouraging genius.
Encouraging genius is a good business to be in; and it is a little selfish since I have just this week had a break-through experience in my text analysis and reading skills after several years of study. Gladwell makes the wonderful analogy that late bloomers’ stories are really love stories because they show the mundane work behind great expressions of genius. Late bloomers show that genius is not necessarily rarefied, but rather the product of long hours of hard work. The great thing about being a late bloomer is engaging in my experimental process. Fellow late bloomers: read, write and be merry because it all comes together in the end.