Prompted by the launch of this new blog, I’ve had an all-too-familiar command percolating in my thoughts: Make it new.
The adage that launched a thousand books.
It is the writers’ horizon and our nourishment, two especially appealing features given the typical image of our emaciated selves huddled away into dimly lit corners, subjecting our eyes to the scourge of a computer screen’s glow. With make it new, we emerge—squinting, of course— into the seldom seen sunlight, perhaps to scavenge a long-delayed meal, perhaps to return a missed call from Mom and Pop. They’ll be glad to hear that you have not slipped into an underground crime ring and were, in fact, just writing.
But what, exactly, are we to do with this sentiment of make it new? What if Ecclesiastes 1:9 looms over our task as writers? “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ugh. Maybe relocating to a new solar system is the easier solution after all.
Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about conceptual writing, or as Kenneth Goldsmith, the movement’s figurehead, calls it, “uncreative writing.” Goldsmith abides by an alternative guide to “make it new.” His book Day, for instance, is a retyping of a day’s issue of The New York Times—every single word and number, left to right down the page, transcribed into his book without margins: a single monolithic block of type. His is an aesthetic less of creation and novelty and more of an ecological data management. “The world is full of texts, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more,” he says, which seems to challenge our dear make it new.
But lest this entry sound like a defeatist acceptance of the thorn festering in our side, perhaps Goldsmith’s notion of data management offers us something as writers (preferably before we all become conceptualists). Artistic expression has a funny way of popping up in writing, even if that writing is essentially reframing or recontextualizing. It’s really all about the particulars here: the particular resonance a piece of writing gives to the particular time and place of its readership. If the devil is in the detail, the writers are there too, and the choices we make in terms of style, form, content all contribute to the writing’s particular meaning, revamped, even if the general sentiment has appeared before.
In order to reframe our writing, we need to see the world through a writer’s frame. What experiences, once put to words, will make compelling literature? Or start a discussion? Or, in their tedium, force readers to confront their boredom and test out what “counts” as art? Admittedly, what I’m advocating has, of course, been advocated before. Forgive me. But this notion of viewing all of life, and all the things within it, as potentially artistic seems to be the greatest strength of the blogosphere, a nebulous locale in which everyone has something to say and wishes to say it.
So, my challenge to my fellow bloggers here, as well as to the casual reader who questions the motive behind certain writings, is to consider the first step to make it new: living new, refusing to discard an experience without considering its expressive potential. In this sense, the writer’s mindset is as important, if not more so, than the writer’s production. It’s a rehashing of math’s input-output function. Without creative input, a bombardment of expressive potential, the writer will be hard pressed to have an output that feels fresh, lively.
Granted, too many lackluster blogs swirl about us; too many tweets don’t say anything except Hey, here’s a 140-character arrangement of letters for your consumption. So maybe not all of daily life qualifies as fine art. But it is the writer’s work—be it in a food blog for the grilled cheese sandwich or a short story about sweet tea shared during a neighborly conversation—to resuscitate the tedium, to valorize the quotidian, showing how and why the stuff of life is ripe for commentary.
At least while we write under our same old sun.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.