Elderblog Sutra: 7

This entry is part 7 of 13 in the series Elderblog Sutra

In the opener for this blogchain, I mentioned Edward Said’s idea of a late style and argued that elder blogs need to be the opposite of that. I found some clarity on what exactly the “opposite” of a late style is in this reflection by Argentine novelist César Aira whom I’ve never read or even heard of before. Aira has this lovely reflection:

Also, after the happy recklessness of youth, when things get done, if they do, in spite of the doer’s aspirations, it’s counterproductive to persist in striving for quality. I have always subscribed to the idea of High or Highbrow Culture, Art with a capital A. And art is not something that should be done well. If doing it well is what counts, it’s craft, production for sale, and therefore subject to the taste of the buyer, who will naturally want something good. 

Aira’s response to the siren song of “quality” was to reset his sights internally on a private project that is impossible to finish by construction: an encyclopedia. That way, all actual output becomes marginalia around the core, invisible, black-hole project. If you’re solving for an invisible infinite game at the core of your work, then the finite games around the periphery cannot turn into mind traps.

I felt a shock of recognition reading this essay. It mirrors my own thinking in an uncanny way, down to my own private, half-serious idea of an encyclopedia (though I’ve been thinking of it as a glossary for a private language), and the associated psychohistory project as the core of what I’m up to. It also harmonizes with my growing suspicion that mediocrity is The Way.

The heuristic here is the opposite of “live every day as though it were your last.” For creative work, it makes sense to live every day as though you were going to live forever, even though that’s obviously not true. That’s how an elderblog can avoid the trap of late style.

(ht Matthew Spencer, for the Aira link, in response to one of my mediocratopia posts, so some nice thread crossing there)

Series Navigation<< Elderblog Sutra: 6Elderblog Sutra: 8 >>

Get Ribbonfarm in your inbox

Get new post updates by email

New post updates are sent out once a week

About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Nicholas S. says

    If I could do just one near-perfect thing I’d be happy
    They’d write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes
    On second thought, I’d rather hang around
    and be there with my best friend, if she wants me

    A nice bit of serendipity provided by Belle and Sebastian. Elderlife? I’d take your life analogies a step further: write (and live) like you’re already dead. :P

  2. If doing it well is what counts, it’s craft, production for sale, and therefore subject to the taste of the buyer, who will naturally want something good.

    I like the complaints about the trades and the markets ( “production for sale” ) from a modern artist who is totally the creature of those markets but contrary to the entrpreneur, whose evil twin he is, the artist has to stay innocent. The original genius has to be child like in order to be consumed.

    mediocrity is The Way

    How can I become mediocre, master?

  3. https://zettelkasten.de/posts/overview/

    This is basically the same concept as this “personal encylopedia”, just named with a nice German word. I’ve found the stuff on zettelkasten.de about the topic useful, altough I haven’t quite gotten my own working yet.