Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

True Grit

What is the essence of the writer’s art? For Joseph Epstein, it’s making the work look not like work at all:

Grit, the overcoming of serious obstacles through determined effort, is most impressively on public display on the battlefield, in athletics, in every sort of comeback in the larger game of life, with its all-too-frequent peripeteias. To watch someone showing grit, winning through against impressive odds, is always a grand, exhilarating experience.

Where grit must always be hidden, though, is in art. Art is by nature about hiding the struggle: the wrestle with words for the writer, with time and sound for the composer and performer, with the stubborn materials in the hands of the visual artist. Art is about emerging from that struggle victorious and showing not the least sign of strain, which is to say grit, for having done so. The artist in effect says, Look, Ma — you, too, World, look! — No hands! Art is about making things seem effortless, or so at the least is the art I most enjoy.

Do my two previous paragraphs seem effortless to you? Do you suppose I revised and reworked them several times, or did they just roll out, like the barrel in the famous barroom song? And whence did that roll-out-the-barrel simile derive? Did it come from the same place where notes of music go, or was it the result of deep struggle, emerging only after bullets of sweat formed on my forehead, allowing me to force it into life? If I may say so, it’s none of your damn business.


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This entry was posted on September 13, 2009 by in Language, Literary, Writing Life.
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