Rereading oneself

Spinning My Wheels

Procrastination: Take Three.

photo by Gregory Phillips

photo by Gregory Phillips

Failing to progress on my summer projects, I reread the work where I left it last year. Although rereading literature can be an amazing and even exhilarating experience, rereading oneself is, well, not. As I started thinking that rereading one’s own work would be my theme for the week (I’m already behind on my posting schedule) I had a feeling that Roland Barthes had already nailed the experience. Indeed, I find in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (rereading him is always a treat), an entry that captures my sense of activity with no achievement. This entry is called “La Papillonne” (in the English translation), which is to say butterfly―in the feminine. I set aside the fact that Barthes is a man, a gay French man, and a world-famous writer nicely settled in his country house for a summer of leisure outside the city. Oh, and let me set the stage: the previous entry Doxa/Paradoxa ends with a sigh of weariness: “Where to go next? That is where I am now.”

Here’s RB:

Crazy, the power of distraction a man has who is bored, intimidated, or embarrassed by his work (my emphasis): working in the country (at what? at rereading myself, alas! [my emphasis, Barthes’s parenthesis]), here is the list of distractions I incur every five minutes: spray a mosquito, cut my nails, eat a plum, take a piss, check the faucet to see if the water is still muddy (there was a breakdown in the plumbing today), go to the drugstore, walk down to the garden to see how many nectarines have ripened on the tree, look at the radio-program listings, rig up a stand to hold my papers, etc.: I am cruising (emphasis, Roland Barthes).

And all that before email.

What captivates me is less the list of potentially infinite distractions (we all can imagine our own), as much as the notion that rereading one’s work is somehow inherently embarrassing. Why is it embarrassing to reread one’s work? Barthes almost shrugs it off with his “alas,” but that’s just what interests me. And know I’m not alone. Still, it’s not as if one was rereading juvenilia. No, just yesterday’s prose.

I look at what I take to be the last draft of a piece I was working on (of course reading through drafts to figure out which is the latest one is a great distraction in itself) about friendship and loss. I see some nice lines. But I also see paragraphs lacking transitions, sentences bordering on cliché, fudged emotion, and a confused relationship to potential readers. Ew. No wonder I abandoned the essay. Still I saved it for future reworking and I’m not all that different from the author circa 2013.

So, onward into the abyss.