When I was first thinking about and planning this series of posts, the idea was to base them on a close reading of two essays, the classics on the subject: “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes, and “What is an Author?” by Michel Foucault.

B O R I N G!

Actually, no, not boring, not at all. But if the intent here is to look critically at authorship now, then staying within just those two (authoritative) essays doesn’t make much sense. Refined approach: use the reading of the essays as a structuring principle, but build the “text” from in situ writing and other sources. Keep the authorial on its guard, and do not be beholden to just two powerful voices, no matter how insightful they are, no matter how much you may want to agree with them.

& keep up the interchange of this series on authorship with the other series on The Hand-Mechanical and The Democratic Multiple. The switching between the three is the movement of this practice.

& a new book this weekend, related & humane, and bringing other things back around. From Richard Sennett, The Craftsman, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 37-8:

The modern era is often described as a skills economy, but what exactly is a skill? The generic answer is that skill is a trained practice. In this, skill contrasts to the coup de foudre, the sudden inspiration. The lure of inspiration lies in part in the conviction that raw talent can take the place of training. Musical prodigies are often cited to support this conviction—and wrongly so. An infant musical prodigy like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did indeed harbor the capacity to remember large swatches of notes, but from ages five to seven Mozart learned how to train his great innate musical memory when he improvised at the keyboard. He evolved methods for seeming to produce music spontaneously. The music he later wrote down again seems spontaneous because he wrote directly on the page with relatively few corrections, but Mozart’s letters show that he went over his scores again and again in his mind before setting them in ink.

We should be suspicious of claims for innate, untrained talent. “I could write a good novel if only I had the time” or “if only I could pull myself together” is usually a narcissist’s fantasy. Going over an action again and again, by contrast, enables self-criticism. Modern education fears repetitive learning as mind-numbing. Afraid of boring children, avid to present ever-different stimulation, the enlightened teacher may avoid routine—but thus deprives children of the experience of studying their own ingrained practice and modulating it from within.

Skill development depends on how repetition is organized. This is why in music, as in sports, the length of a practice session must be carefully judged: the number of times one repeats a piece can be no more than the individual’s attention span at a given stage. As skill expands, the capacity to sustain repetition increases. In music this is the so-called Isaac Stern rule, the great violinist declaring that the better your technique, the longer you can rehearse without becoming bored. There are “Eureka!” moments that turn the lock in a practice that has jammed, but they are embedded in routine.

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