Error is an essential part of any real intellectual pursuit. ~Ta-Nihisi Coates
Since I started this blog (oh, so many years ago), I’ve struggled with two things:
- consistency, obviously
- perfectionism, which is part of the reason for (1)
Especially when it comes to writing, I have a tendency to want perfection. Not great. Not good enough. Perfect. (If you read some of my earlier posts you may disagree with this statement).
But blogging is not perfect. Not generally anyway. I’ve learned that it is built for immediacy, not for delicacy. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t beautifully detailed, intricate blog posts out there; it does mean that the form favors speed over precision. It favors writing as discovery. The essay form in its purest sense; or maybe even closer to zuihitsu. Yes, definitely more like 随筆.
Ta-Nihisi Coates (an excellent writer I just discovered) recently wrote a pair of golden paragraphs about blogging, intellectually curious readers, and error:
Back when I started blogging, there was an annoying premium on “public smartness” and “being right” among pundits, journalists, and writers. Likely, there is still one today. The need to be publicly smart and constantly right originates both in the writer’s ego and in the expectation of incurious readers. The writer gets the psychic reward of praise—”Such and such is really smart” or “Such and such was ‘right’ on Libya.” And the incurious reader gets to believe that there is some order in the world, that there is a stable of learned (mostly) men who will decipher the words of God for them. The incurious readers is not so much looking for writers, as prophets.
And Andrew [Sullivan] has never been a prophet, so much as a joyous heretic. Andrew taught me that you do not have to pretend to be smarter than you are. And when you have made the error of pretending to be smarter, or when you simply have been wrong, you can say so and you can say it straight—without self-apology, without self-justifying garnish, without “if I have offended.” And there is a large body of deeply curious readers who accept this, who want this, who do not so much expect you to be right, as they expect you to be honest. When I read Andrew, I generally thought he was dedicated to the work of being honest. I did not think he was always honest. I don’t think anyone can be. But I thought he held “honesty” as a standard….
Ta-Nihisi liked Andrew’s honesty; Andrew’s readers liked his honesty. After reading a few of his posts, I like Andrew’s honesty. Even more, I like his imperfection. Which is like mine. And Ta-Nihisi’s.
I don’t have to be right. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I rarely am. I want to discover, explore, learn, and grow. I want to engage, argue, expound, challenge, and conclude. I will be opinionated, vociferous, experimental, skeptical, excited, critical, and a host of other things. And not perfect.