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AUTUMN

8th November


outside chance of being read. To my surprise at the end of the lecture a dozen or so people stayed behind to get their copies signed. One woman waited until all the others had left. She approached very timidly and then said, "I really enjoyed your lecture but I just wanted to say 'thank you'." I looked back a little confused and said that it was nothing and that I'd really appreciated the questions people had asked. She shook her head - she wasn't referring to this evening. "I read one of your essays when I was really stuck with my own work. I just couldn't find a way to get beyond this sense of being stuck. Then someone recommended your work and it somehow helped me find a way out and a way to move on."

She told me about her ethnographic study of young working-class boys' experience of schooling in a part of Dublin inspired by Paul Willis' classic Learning to Labour. There was such sincerity in her voice, something that cannot be simulated for effect or advantage. It wasn't a networking opportunity, I never knew her name and we never met again and she never told me which piece of my writing had been of help. Her sense of being stuck was as much about the discomforts of authorship as it was with the technical challenges of written argument. "I felt like, who was I to say anything? Your essay - which was about your own biography and work - just helped me carry on, helped me finish."

More than any other measure the value of what writers do, even academic ones, is to provide companionship for

 


further thought. Writing here is less an achievement that is measured extrinsically but an invitation to imagine beyond its own terms of reference. Books and essays here befriend and encourage thinking with interlocutors that remain - except on rare occasions like this one - anonymous. This value cannot be audited or cheapened through the mechanisms that aim to judge, measure and distribute repute and ultimately money.

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