Doubt is like a divining rod; it begins to tug when it nears something fertile and fluid and underground.
Engaging with literary blogs, I’m often struck by the assuredness with which certain reviewers and critics argue their readings. It’s tempting to suspect a needy side to these writers, as though they need to find something wilfully different to say, to illuminate the right and righteous way, to prove that their understanding is superior to everyone else’s – even to the point of misreading a text. So it was with great pleasure that I came across Stacey D’Erasmo’s essay The Uses of Doubt.
However, if you can stand it, doubt is very useful in that it asks for a conscious commitment to art. This is no small task. It’s infinitely preferable to feel swept up, to feel required in some way, to feel that you know you are The One. But art, arguably, is better when it doesn’t know, and I think the artist is better as well in a conscious state of not-knowing. Art is not, by definition, a sure thing. Buying real estate in certain neighborhoods is a sure thing. Being a certain kind of lawyer is a sure thing. Making art is making a conscious commitment to uncertainty, to risk, to unpredictability. Doubt tells you that this is so, and it is. Doubt requires the writer to say, “I do this because I wish to.” Not because I must, or because I am certain of a reward, or because I know it will be a work of genius. Simply, because I desire it.
I never quite trust those who say they ‘must’ write, that it’s as vital to them as food. Maybe they should try starving – and I mean really starving, not just fasting for a couple of days on a so-called cleansing diet.
D’Erasmo’s whole piece is worth reading, as well as the other essays available at her website.