Capitalism and the Writing Process

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So I picked up a primer on German Idealist philosophy from the bookstore recently. One of the great things about poetry is that anything can be inspiration and so you can read just about anything and justify it to yourself as material for your next poem. Or something. Bottom line is I’ve been reading some Kant and he’s so fascinating and such a sharp thinker that I’ve been quite inspired.

One of the passages I read that really quite inspired me is available online and so I’ll quote it below.

Thanks be to Nature, then, for the incompatibility, for heartless competitive vanity, for the insatiable desire to possess and to rule! Without them, all the excellent natural capacities of humanity would forever sleep, undeveloped. Man wishes concord; but Nature knows better what is good for the race; she wills discord. He wishes to live comfortably and pleasantly; Nature wills that he should be plunged from sloth and passive contentment into labor and trouble, in order that he may find means of extricating himself from them. The natural urges to this, the sources of unsociableness and mutual opposition from which so many evils arise, drive men to new exertions of their forces and thus to the manifold development of their capacities. They thereby perhaps show the ordering of a wise Creator and not the hand of an evil spirit, who bungled in his great work or spoiled it out of envy.


I know capitalism is a dirty word with some people, so maybe I should get to the point with the connecting to poetry. That point is this: the graduate school environment will push your work. While it’s by no means trouble and something one must extricate themselves from (and by no means unsociable!) it is quite likely to be a driving force for you to really give it your very best shot, and in that way, it’s similar.

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The last paragraph is muddled and really something of a detour to what I’ve been thinking about lately, but I’ll leave it in because it’s at least true. What I’ve really been thinking about is reader-intuition and its relation to the selective force of capitalism. This stems both from the passage above and from the recent Gladwell article on Steve Jobs in the New Yorker. Gladwell argues that Jobs was a “tweaker” whose primary strength was his taste and his unceasing need to express that in the process of iteratively developing better, more beautiful products and user experiences.

As a writer of any kind, I think it’s important to also have good taste as a reader so that you can judge your own work. The only way I know to develop taste or intuition in anything is to have lots of examples and then to articulate your reactions to those examples. You do this all the time in graduate school in the workshop and elsewhere, and that pool of different informed opinions helps for mutual development.

This, in a way, strikes me as similar to the way a start-up industry works, and to the way Jobs worked throughout his professional life. Perhaps I see it this way because I was an Economics major (along with English) in college, but I think the read/articulate/apply cycle is an important model for thinking about how to get at your best work.