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WINTER

26th February


people are adventures inspired by what he describes as a "durable fascination of unrequited loves". He comes to art and literature with the patience and technical precision of a scientist but also writes of a science with the flair of a novelist.

Poet William Carlos Williams didn't simply have another trade - he was a doctor in Paterson, New Jersey during the early part of the 20th century - but through his practice he was drawn into a profound engagement with the lives of others. For Williams the two professions, symbolised in the stethoscope and the typewriter, enhanced each other. These relationships could be fraught in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s and some of his working class patients were deeply suspicious of him. He was torn about using the lives of the people he attended to as a doctor as a resource for his writing. Yet he was animated by the desire to capture poetically and with sensitivity the texture of working people's lives. The physician, after a lifetime of careful listening, bore witness to "the inarticulate patient [who] struggles to lay himself bare for you, or with nothing more than a boil on his back is so caught off balance that he reveals some secret twist of the whole community... It is just a glimpse, an intimation of all that which the daily print misses out or deliberately hides, but the excitement is intense and the rush to write is on again".

The social landscape in which Williams and Levi practised their respective trades is a strong feature of their

 


"The temptation to disappear into our private space, is, for many academics, a very powerful one..."
Evans, Mary (2004)

writing. Their work contains - both implicitly and explicitly - both writers' deep attachment to place. Part of the lesson contained in their books is the importance of maintaining a hinterland beyond the academy. Sociologist Harvey Molotch captured this in his phrase "going out" which is an appeal to do, live and think adventurously - ie, to become entangled in the life of the city, or a political activity or a cultural field like music or art. It is not only a choice between being a professional supplicant or cultivating an amateurish conscience but also a matter of having a hinterland in which the imagination can be nourished. In the case of Levi and Williams it was their 'day jobs' that fed their craft as writers. It might be simply a matter of getting out more and following our intellectual passions without the inhibiting sense that we are thinking ourselves out of a job.

"... but we might consider, occasionally, the rewards of occupying a more collective space"
Evans, Mary (2004)

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