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May 1, 2011 / Lee Skallerup Bessette

Finding the Time to Chase Authors

I’m not writing or thinking about Dany (I’m going to start using his first name because it doesn’t have any accents) this weekend, not in any meaningful way. It’s coming up on finals and I have grading to do, as well as a conference presentation to work on (to be delivered in French, no less). The conference presentation is based on a small part of my dissertation, a dissertation that I will be trying to work into a book manuscript over the summer.

So while I chase Dany down, I will also be wrestling with a 300 page document that represents another 5+ years of reading, archival research, and writing. It’s important that I do this now, as it is still relatively fresh work and fresh in my mind. It is also important to start bringing together my thoughts on Dany so that I may be able to get my book out before someone else does. Besides, that’s what I received a research grant for.

I get bored easily, so having two (or more) writing projects on the go isn’t a problem for me. When one thing gets stuck, I can move on and write on the other. And besides, I’m never going to have time for one project anyway. I teach a 5/4 load, I have two young children, and a husband who is on the tenure-track. There will never be an abundance of time at my disposal to sit back and do nothing but think and write about Dany, trying to catch that elusive subject.

I wanted to write a post about why Dany, but that will have to wait. Right now, I’m stuck in why Anne Hebert. And why Dany and Anne Hebert (in translation). All of my research is at least centered on an idea of how we use words to shape our world, both real and fictional, and how those words get misrepresented, misread, reinterpreted, reimagined, and reused. Anne Hebert had people doing it to her words through translation. Dany does it to himself a lot of the time.

Both authors spoke to me in a way and at a time when I needed them. Isn’t that what great writing is supposed to do, reach out and speak to you past culture, time, space, language, and experience? Both authors have spoken or written at length about wanting to be considered an Author above all else. For Hebert, she often spoke of the universal power (for better or worse) of poetry, of language. Dany looked to be something more than just a “Third-World” author. By writing about these authors, I want to respect their wishes and look at them as authors, not some representation of a (slightly) larger movement, region, or language.

Of course, that makes me and my work a hard sell in academia. It also makes the chase that much more challenging. I spent five years digging through boxes and boxes of archival research in order to achieve that goal in writing about Hebert. Who knows how long it will take me to achieve the same results with Dany? What will I do once the chase is over? Perhaps it is like Pound says of poetry: it is never finished, only abandoned. One day, he will either be caught, or I will decide I no longer want to run.


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