Amateurs and Experts

I’ve come to be regarded as an “expert” in some “fields.” One of those is the study of modern American Literatures. In recent years, I’ve written a lot about Don DeLillo, a writer who I have read and enjoyed for decades. I’ve written a book about his career, I’ve served as advisory editor to publications, I’ve talked at colleges and I have written encyclopedia entries about him and his literary fiction. Currently, I have two scholarly articles in the pipeline, both for esteemed presses, for which I was approached by esteemed editors. These things qualify me in many ways to be regarded as an “expert.” That’s how the business works. Do I refuse it? No, I don’t. Why bother?

To not refuse it does not imply acceptance. Indeed, another more accurate term is necessary: “amateur.” I love to read and write, to discuss reading and writing, to teach it and think about it and to live in and through it. And I love to devote some of that time to the principle that culture, language, the arts and education are necessary, and not only in the obvious economic or moral ways we think about them. They are necessary in the etymological sense of the word in that they do not and must not cease. When they do cease, it’s over and we no longer exist.

Experts function as effects of necessity. They are “spokespersons.”

Amateurs are singularities. We speak and write because we must.

Sometimes, the line is blurred. In this case, I was approached as an expert and replied as an amateur.

I am grateful to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, for asking me to write for the Ransom Center Magazine.

Here are my amateurish thoughts on DeLillo’s latest short book, in which the illusion of the necessary takes center stage.

©Henry Veggian 2020

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