April 12th, 2010 / 11:51 pm
Behind the Scenes

Seek to seek.

Okla Elliot: What should young writers today study or do in order to improve their craft?

Christopher Higgs: Become intellectually polyamorous, cultivate an insatiable curiosity for knowledge and experience in as many different guises as you possibly can, question everything, always challenge, learn that failure and rejection are positive things, subscribe to at least three non-literary magazines in three completely different fields (for me, right now, it’s National Geographic, Juxtapose, and Wine Enthusiast – last year it was Seed, Esquire, and Art in America), forget politics: it has nothing to do with you and any time or energy you invest in it is wasted time and energy you could be using productively to learn and experience and create, do not choose sides, do not agree or disagree, embrace contradiction, watch cinema from as many different countries and time periods as you possibly can, seek out unclassifiable music, spend time in unfamiliar locations, expose yourself to new activities, go to the opera, go to the ballet, go to the planetarium, travel a lot, observe as much as you can, pay attention to the way people talk and the way people listen, eat strange food, watch at least one sporting event but instead of thinking about it as entertainment think about it as narrative, ABR = Always Be Researching, carry a notebook and pen at all times, remember it is more important to ask questions than give or receive answers, seek to open up and never close down, seek to seek, do not seek to find, fall in love with language, think obsessively about language, about words, about sentences, about paragraphs, about the sound of words, the weight of words, the shape of words, the look of words, the feel of words, the placement of words, and most importantly be your biggest advocate, think of yourself as a genius, think of yourself as an artist, think of yourself as a creator, do not despair, do not listen to criticism, do not believe naysayers, they are wrong, you are right, they are death and you are life, they destroy and you create, the world needs what you have to say.

-more here

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227 Comments

  1. brittany wallace

      working a minimum wage job isn’t gonna get me a bunch of magazine subscriptions, trips to europe, and tickets to the opera.

      i know because i work a minimum wage job, zusya.

  2. brittany wallace

      working a minimum wage job isn’t gonna get me a bunch of magazine subscriptions, trips to europe, and tickets to the opera.

      i know because i work a minimum wage job, zusya.

  3. (not) Brent Newland

      “And I can’t say enough about tattoos. Tattoos are key…”

  4. (not) Brent Newland

      “And I can’t say enough about tattoos. Tattoos are key…”

  5. ryan

      private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience. perhaps experience generally.

      my dreams. my hallucinations.

      All of these are not purely social experience. There is the relations between things, and there is what it is to be the thing itself. Art obviously doesn’t exist in isolation, but it’s also not wholly social. In fact, I personally think that the greatest things about it—the magical stuff, the reason literature has been something we’ve loved and cherished for so very long—lie outside (or inside?) of its social function.

  6. ryan

      private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience. perhaps experience generally.

      my dreams. my hallucinations.

      All of these are not purely social experience. There is the relations between things, and there is what it is to be the thing itself. Art obviously doesn’t exist in isolation, but it’s also not wholly social. In fact, I personally think that the greatest things about it—the magical stuff, the reason literature has been something we’ve loved and cherished for so very long—lie outside (or inside?) of its social function.

  7. ryan

      Or prior to? Inevitably in the foreground of its social function?

  8. ryan

      Or prior to? Inevitably in the foreground of its social function?

  9. magick mike

      private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience. perhaps experience generally.

      my dreams. my hallucinations.

      touche. i’ll give you that. i’ll admit to being slightly hyperbolic to make a point– i don’t think it is honestly that black and white, but this kind of shit just really pisses me off. (and higgs has been utterly dismissive of politics in places besides this interview, so i think i’m more responding to a larger context than just this interview).

      i am pretty obsessed x a million with both bataille and artaud and the thing is they are both wrapped up in INNER EXPERIENCE (the entirety of bataille’s somme atheologique is looking for that), but bataille, writing in the midst of two world wars, despite what looks like an occasional apolitical standpoint, is a very political being, and this social engagement is what leads to his quest for EXEPERIENCE. artaud is also writing the body, and he is writing out of REVOLT, he is revolting against society, against the body, against god. you can praise his language all you want, but if you ignore what he’s doing then you are completely NOT engaging with his work.

      so while maybe inner/private/spiritual/mystical experience is outside the realm of what i am calling ‘politics’ sometimes, i wouldn’t say that it always is by any means.

  10. magick mike

      private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience. perhaps experience generally.

      my dreams. my hallucinations.

      touche. i’ll give you that. i’ll admit to being slightly hyperbolic to make a point– i don’t think it is honestly that black and white, but this kind of shit just really pisses me off. (and higgs has been utterly dismissive of politics in places besides this interview, so i think i’m more responding to a larger context than just this interview).

      i am pretty obsessed x a million with both bataille and artaud and the thing is they are both wrapped up in INNER EXPERIENCE (the entirety of bataille’s somme atheologique is looking for that), but bataille, writing in the midst of two world wars, despite what looks like an occasional apolitical standpoint, is a very political being, and this social engagement is what leads to his quest for EXEPERIENCE. artaud is also writing the body, and he is writing out of REVOLT, he is revolting against society, against the body, against god. you can praise his language all you want, but if you ignore what he’s doing then you are completely NOT engaging with his work.

      so while maybe inner/private/spiritual/mystical experience is outside the realm of what i am calling ‘politics’ sometimes, i wouldn’t say that it always is by any means.

  11. ryan

      No, totally, of course not. It’s relatable, communicable. We can talk about it, we know what we mean. Conversations are possible, and great—I mean, this is the realm of art, of human intimacy, of everything great.

      But somehow those are all still vastly different than one person’s inevitable conversation w/ herself. I resist the “everything is politics” line so much because I believe that these conversations truly are inevitable, but if we lose balance and focus exclusively on the social conversations—easy to do—then we lose awareness of our self-conversations, and unless we’re blessed with an uber-healthy constitution, these conversation will become demeaning, nasty, and self-abasing. We will stop truly conversing w/ ourselves in the way we converse with someone we care deeply for—rather, we’ll scream, yell, demean, act passively aggressive.

      In some sense this is all an overblown restatement of a typical Recovery phrase—”You can’t take care of others unless you’re also taking care of yourself.” It is maybe embarrassing how much of my “intellect thought” constitutes bland overstatements of my experience w/ recovery, but oh well.

      I feel like I need to read these guys you mention. Recommended starting points?

  12. ryan

      No, totally, of course not. It’s relatable, communicable. We can talk about it, we know what we mean. Conversations are possible, and great—I mean, this is the realm of art, of human intimacy, of everything great.

      But somehow those are all still vastly different than one person’s inevitable conversation w/ herself. I resist the “everything is politics” line so much because I believe that these conversations truly are inevitable, but if we lose balance and focus exclusively on the social conversations—easy to do—then we lose awareness of our self-conversations, and unless we’re blessed with an uber-healthy constitution, these conversation will become demeaning, nasty, and self-abasing. We will stop truly conversing w/ ourselves in the way we converse with someone we care deeply for—rather, we’ll scream, yell, demean, act passively aggressive.

      In some sense this is all an overblown restatement of a typical Recovery phrase—”You can’t take care of others unless you’re also taking care of yourself.” It is maybe embarrassing how much of my “intellect thought” constitutes bland overstatements of my experience w/ recovery, but oh well.

      I feel like I need to read these guys you mention. Recommended starting points?

  13. stephen

      this is just a thought-experiment, so don’t bite my head off…
      if one really, truly, profoundly doesn’t care about, like, anything, and is just surrendered to the world, isn’t it true that for that person there are no politics, there is nothing political? now, please, if you feel liking humoring me, don’t just say the first thing in your head, which is something along the lines of “but, but, but not-caring is a political action.”

      rigorous detachment is, maybe, something different than ‘apathy as a political action by someone who claims to not care about politics or claims to not be political.’

      or maybe this line of thought is wrongheaded, or putting it this way is wrongheaded, because buddhist monks, which is who i’m thinking of, of course once quite famously set themselves on fire, and that was definitely a political action. so….[insert logical statement based on the preceding]…you know…

      maybe what this is ‘about’ is people who like art and buddhism and such, don’t like thinking about politics sometimes. and since we have control over how we think about things [via “this is water”], we can choose to think of ourselves as ‘operating blissfully unconcerned with politics as they may or may not manifest themselves around and in us, even though maybe that is “bad” or something.’ or something. ha…

  14. stephen

      this is just a thought-experiment, so don’t bite my head off…
      if one really, truly, profoundly doesn’t care about, like, anything, and is just surrendered to the world, isn’t it true that for that person there are no politics, there is nothing political? now, please, if you feel liking humoring me, don’t just say the first thing in your head, which is something along the lines of “but, but, but not-caring is a political action.”

      rigorous detachment is, maybe, something different than ‘apathy as a political action by someone who claims to not care about politics or claims to not be political.’

      or maybe this line of thought is wrongheaded, or putting it this way is wrongheaded, because buddhist monks, which is who i’m thinking of, of course once quite famously set themselves on fire, and that was definitely a political action. so….[insert logical statement based on the preceding]…you know…

      maybe what this is ‘about’ is people who like art and buddhism and such, don’t like thinking about politics sometimes. and since we have control over how we think about things [via “this is water”], we can choose to think of ourselves as ‘operating blissfully unconcerned with politics as they may or may not manifest themselves around and in us, even though maybe that is “bad” or something.’ or something. ha…

  15. stephen

      also, just realized my description at the beginning ‘probably’ doesn’t even describe buddhist monks. eh… well…

  16. stephen

      also, just realized my description at the beginning ‘probably’ doesn’t even describe buddhist monks. eh… well…

  17. stephen

      to continue my merry, clumsy way down “logic road” [it’s the morning, people, or something], perhaps the only zen response to people palavering over politics is to accept their palavering and rest on/over/around/through/in it, lightly.

  18. stephen

      to continue my merry, clumsy way down “logic road” [it’s the morning, people, or something], perhaps the only zen response to people palavering over politics is to accept their palavering and rest on/over/around/through/in it, lightly.

  19. mimi

      Hey guys. I’m enjoying reading this comment thread conversation (in addition to the original post). Don’t know that I have much to add, but I think there exists on an individual level:

      1) “inner” politics – what one believes in, the guidelines by which one would ideally live one’s life, and hope to see the rest of the world function or “be”

      2) “outer” politics – how one actually lives and functions “in the world”, where attaining one’s ideal may be impossible and one “does his best” to stay true to his beliefs

      3) an “inner life” outside of politics – the “private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience” ryan mentions

      Sometimes I enjoy contemplating “subversive anarchy” as a personal politics.
      I do not in fact “live” it (well, maybe sometimes just a little) but I fancy myself being a “subversive anarchist in my head” to awesome subversive personal comic effect. That is “the private experience” and “a thought experiment” and grim silly fun.

      What I just wrote probably makes absolutely no sense to anyone but me.

  20. mimi

      Hey guys. I’m enjoying reading this comment thread conversation (in addition to the original post). Don’t know that I have much to add, but I think there exists on an individual level:

      1) “inner” politics – what one believes in, the guidelines by which one would ideally live one’s life, and hope to see the rest of the world function or “be”

      2) “outer” politics – how one actually lives and functions “in the world”, where attaining one’s ideal may be impossible and one “does his best” to stay true to his beliefs

      3) an “inner life” outside of politics – the “private experience, spiritual experience, mystical experience” ryan mentions

      Sometimes I enjoy contemplating “subversive anarchy” as a personal politics.
      I do not in fact “live” it (well, maybe sometimes just a little) but I fancy myself being a “subversive anarchist in my head” to awesome subversive personal comic effect. That is “the private experience” and “a thought experiment” and grim silly fun.

      What I just wrote probably makes absolutely no sense to anyone but me.

  21. Janey Smith

      Janey threw down her dildo, said “Fuck this!”

  22. Janey Smith

      Janey threw down her dildo, said “Fuck this!”

  23. stephen

      hey thanks, ryan, that sounds nice. i live in chicago. where do you live?

  24. stephen

      hey thanks, ryan, that sounds nice. i live in chicago. where do you live?

  25. stephen

      there’s some ancient persian one or something where this guy comes to a river and he sees a man on the other side of the river, and the first guy tries to find some wood to use to help himself get across, and he can’t find any, he’s getting frustrated, and he asks the second man across the river: “How can I get to the other side of the river?” And the second man says, “But you are on the other side of the river.”

      Heh…

  26. stephen

      there’s some ancient persian one or something where this guy comes to a river and he sees a man on the other side of the river, and the first guy tries to find some wood to use to help himself get across, and he can’t find any, he’s getting frustrated, and he asks the second man across the river: “How can I get to the other side of the river?” And the second man says, “But you are on the other side of the river.”

      Heh…

  27. zusya

      that really sucks. i’ve been there. email me your address, i’ll mail you something.