Writing in Circles

“You write not after you’ve thought things through; you write to think things through.”
Andre Aciman

An essay about the work of Andre Aciman by Teju Cole reminded me that some authors relish writing in circles.

I love being in Paris because when I am there, I dream about being in New York.

Yes, I love Alexandria but only because when I’m there, I can dream about what it is like in Rome.

When I am in Rome, I yearn only for the times I lived in Alexandria. And when I’m in Europe I miss the Egypt where I could dream of Europe

Those are paraphrases of the way Andre Aciman writes from time to time. His pleasure in meandering, almost contradictory sentences is, as Cole suggests, “intense and catching.”

Here is my favorite one, imaginary or otherwise, from a woman Aciman was hoping to see in Paris:

Since you’re going to Paris, you don’t want to go to Paris. But if you were staying in New York, you’d want to be in Paris. But since you’re not staying, but going, just do me a favor. When you’re in Paris, think of yourself in New York longing for Paris, and everything will be fine.”

Yes, no, I do and I don’t, a way of expressing yourself that conveys the uncertainty and ambiguity of experience. The words circle back to the place you began as soon as you reach the place you were headed.

Once you become aware this writing style, you see it everywhere.

In her short story, “The Lost Order” published in The New Yorker (1/7/13) Rivka Galchen writes:

“I wasn’t happy about it. Although maybe I was happy about it.

“Although I don’t feel like I have a lot time, I feel constantly pressed for time, even though when I had a job I felt like I had plenty of time.”

One more example from a book I am rereading now, Joy Comes in the Morning, by Jonathan Rosen:

“I’d say the opposite is true,” said Lev. “Everything’s figured out.”

[Deborah said] “Yes, you’re right, too. The opposite is correct also.”

“You’re talking like the Talmud,” said Lev.

Why does this type of writing amuse me so much? Surely it is because it is the way I often think. Nothing is ever clear, nothing is without its contradictions and imperfections, certainty is largely unreachable and so I keep coming back to where I began. It’s like swimming laps.

Cole suggests the pleasure of reading Aciman “resides in the pleasure of his company. He knows a lot, and often gets carried away, but he also knows how to doubt himself.”