Got my copy of AGNI 63 in the mail on Friday and went immediately to the Editor’s Note, this time entitled Finding Traction. Sven Birkerts always has something interesting to say in his essays and this one was no exception. In fact, I would consider it a must read for those folks out there who are writing and hoping for publication:

Keep in mind that while making selections appears to be a process of saying yes, editing is much more realistically an almost continuous search for reasons to say no. One becomes a philosopher of the art in spite of oneself, for after there has been enough of saying no, the realization strikes—as sketchily suggested above—that while I seem to be responding on the basis of taste, of “I like this, I don’t like this,” the taste itself is conditioned by deeper aesthetic biases and valuations, and some reflection on these quickly exposes assumptions about what is viable—needed—in the literary culture, which is in turn a thinly veiled way of pronouncing on the outlook for meaning in general.


I am affirming an aesthetic assumption: Writing communicates its essential nature from the threshold. Sentences, even phrases, are not just units of construction, but organic tissue, encoded with literary DNA. Ten, fifteen strings of words, but for me they carry the breath, the vibration, the electricity of the entire piece. If I am wrong in my call? Then I must live with the conjectured loss of distinguished work. But I persist in my folly.

Read this essay. Read it again. And then read it one more time.

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