But in fact Swing Time is a sober book, even—at times—a depressive one. It feels like the kind of book novelists write when they have come to the end of their own favorite themes and techniques. There is less of the excitement of discovery, of getting things down on paper that have not been observed before, and more of the resigned pleasure of understanding. There is less seeing, and more seeing through.
One of the reasons I like to read critics like Kirsch is that they often tend to illuminate unrelated topics just by virtue of their keen insights. I know nothing of Zadie Smith, and have no interest in her new book, but reading a review written under Kirsch’s byline turns up a gem of a paragraph like this one.
It seems strange to think that my standards for writing could have outgrown my actual ability, but it certainly feels that way. In everyday life, I am an almost-comically predictable creature of routine and habit, but intellectually, I get quickly bored and easily restless. Once I’ve gained understanding or perspective to my satisfaction, the only thing left to do with that topic is to ironically joke about it for amusement. Once that gets tiresome…? I suppose that’s where talented writers reinvent themselves somehow, or find new topics to explore. But I don’t have the breadth or depth of knowledge to be a critic, merely enough to be impatient with my own limitations. Each day spent browsing online feels like more of the same — nothing exciting to discover, nothing I haven’t already observed with tired eyes, nothing I haven’t already seen through with weary cynicism. I don’t know how people like David Thompson manage to keep doing it so well after so long; I feel like the Sisyphean monotony of making fun of the same stupid people doing the same stupid things on and on ad infinitum would drive me insane. I would rather sit in silence and wait for genuine inspiration than to feel trapped performing the role of a stock character of my own creation.
And so I read, and wait, while hopefully, life is slowly weaving together disparate threads that will eventually present themselves in the form of a serendipitous pattern.