I’ll be spending all day in the library today, so I won’t have anything interesting to say (do I ever?) so instead I’m going to type in a lengthy quote I saw in one of the books I read this semester. (Because it was the only part I wanted to hold on to, so if I copy it down, then I can sell back the book without regrets.)
The quote is from Jean-Paul Sartre, Between Existentialism and Marxism, written in 1974 and translated in 1976, and it was quoted in That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession by Peter Novick, on page 629. A few of the early sentences may not actually connect to the rest; Novick had some of his own text in between. I’m just assuming that they go directly together for the purposes of re-quoting it here.
In all the domain of expression, success is necessarily failure. It is impossible to succeed, since at the outset you set yourself the goal of failure (to capture movement in immobile objects, for instance). The moment comes when you just can’t take the work any further….At this point, my friend Giacometti explains, you can throw your piece of sculpture in the rubbish bin or exhibit it in a gallery. So there it is. You never quite grasp what you set out to achieve. And then suddenly it’s a statue or a book. The opposite of what you wanted. If its faults are inscribed methodically in the negative which was present to the public, they at least point to what it might have been. And the spectator becomes the real sculptor, fashioning his model in thin air, or reading the book between the lines.
I don’t know how moving that is for other people, but to me it’s awe-inspiring, because it’s so very true. (Except none of my failures to achieve what I set out to do can rightly be called a book.) If someone that skilled, that lucid, that famed for his writing, felt that his works were only “negatives” pointing at what they “might have been”, it makes me feel both a little bit better about utterly failing to have my books live up to the ideas I came up with, and yet also a little worse, because if even someone like that can’t achieve his goals, what hope do I have?