By Ronald J. Pelias
photography by Heather Maxwell Hall
The essay I wanted to write was entitled, “The Possibility of Errors and the Writer’s Accountability.” Each time I would begin—and there were many beginnings—to write this piece, I would outline a series of arguments I planned to make. I would decide on a persuasive structure, line up citations for support, and anticipate what objections might come forward. I would be convinced that the essay I was about to write had promise. And then, time after time, I thought I could just as easily argue for another perspective, that my commitment to the ideas before me was at best ambivalent, that my allegiance was wavering.
I could not bring myself to push arguments forward that didn’t carry the force of my conviction. What I do believe, though, is that my understanding of errors comes to me from a multiplicity of literary arguments and theoretical regards, from an historical, cultural, and personal location, and from a career of reading and writing. I came to realize that, at best, what I could offer is an index, rendered as a series of potential epigraphs on errors. I see each epigraph as the beginning of a more traditional essay I might have written. They follow, likely carrying their own errors, available for your corrections:
Programmatic thinking produces errors. Writers are positioned and paralyzed by their own logic, trapped by their allegiance to their own postulates.
What is found by language’s pointing is never innocent. What is lost by language’s usage lives in the cracks between words. What is gained by language’s claim is collected by desire.
Literary history is the story of errors.
Errors are personal judgments that reflect back on the judge.
It’s the fluff, the easy grab offered in the quest for applause. Applaud loudly to convince yourself you’re getting your money’s worth. Applaud so you can’t hear yourself think.
Errors come when the possible is left behind, unfulfilled.
In some cases, fiddling forfeits fidelity. Be forewarned, following your folly may be a flimsy freedom.
Value is calculated by the positive moments remembered minus the errors seen. “A” equals “almost” and “B” stands for “because” in the algebra of it all. The final answer is dependent upon the unknown properties of “X.”
Writing is never free from the obligation of clarity, even in cases when the writer is in pursuit of intentional ambiguity. No writer enjoys being misunderstood. Knowing when to accept the blame when readers miss the point is the difficult part.
Being published is to live in error. The chance for rewrites is gone.
Revision pushes errors away, but never promises complete protection.
Errors invite parody.
There are basics. Failures here are considered amateurish, unprofessional blunders. Everything else is a choice. Some decisions just don’t work, and sometimes all one can do to explain why is to allude to art.
Defects find companions in the recycling bin. They look to each other for a fix.
Make choices, be exact, polish—the writer’s pursuit, the critic’s chew.
Craft easily gets everything into the expected design; the puzzle for writers is how arrangement might create desire. Failings lurk with each added word.
Named errors become wounds, some minor, some not. They reside in the ache. They can, in certain circumstances, be terminal.
In the face of flaws, compassion saves face.
Even after the hours bent over a keyboard, all the proofreading, and all the feedback and careful editing from others, hidden errors may still haunt the writer.
Just going through the motions leads to no motion, no emotion.
Error equals damage felt.
Liability is error’s ethical estimate, its terror.
Fault-finding is an easy task, a tactic sometimes deployed for self protection. In actuality, it denies the self what might be gained from a labor of generosity. Finding what’s of worth is worthy work.
Errors are spotted by already made maps.
Cultural clashes over what some might call errors operate in the minefield of politics and morality.
Pointing a finger at oneself surfaces as an obligation and as a bid for forgiveness.
Positive responses to a faulty work are a watery soup, served perhaps with kindness, but such remarks offer little sustenance.
Errors are never consciously chosen from the realm of possibilities.
The distance between “must” and “might” is the writer’s madhouse.
Good and bad decisions can generate satisfaction. Knowing the difference is the writer’s task.
Finding errors is a practical task, like good housekeeping.
Being wide of the mark is a reminder that the bull’s-eye belongs to those who are responsible for its location.
Some blemishes appear as noticeable as a pimple on the tip of a nose.
Writers take away mistakes. Errors are actions found guilty.
Error is marked by disappearance; the correct is found in its continual appearance. It thrives on excess.
No text is perfect. It always lives with its imperfections.
Ronald J. Pelias spent most of his career writing books, e.g., If the Truth Be Told (Sense/Brill Publications), The Creative Qualitative Researcher (Routledge), and Lessons on Aging and Dying (Routledge), that call upon the literary as a research strategy. Now he just writes for the pleasures of lingering in bafflement.