Please read the following preface because it contains things of the utmost importance
Kierkegaard’s Prefaces is written by Nicolaus Notabene, a young man whose desire to be a writer is matched only be his wife's desire he not be. Nicolaus’ wife sees writing and marriage as incompatible: writing is infidelity. And so Nicolaus writes only prefaces to the books he wishes he could write, and Prefaces is a delightful smorgasbord of concepts for books left unwritten. I find Nicolaus’ grudging, casuistic compliance with his wife’s wish admirable: it is just the pleasing mixture of irony and loyalty I aspire to in human relations.
Nicolaus’ endeavor is also puckishly anti-Hegelian, since Hegel complained (nota bene, in a preface) about the impossibility of preface-writing in works of philosophy, of summarizing the outlines of an argument you have not made, not in truth. An adequate summary of an argument is impossible, lest it simply become that argument. A preface requires a certain vision of a whole, or a promise of one, but remains outside of that whole. Jacques Derrida, channelling good Nicolaus one hundred years later in the “Outwork” to Dissemination, notes that preface-writing is usually done after the fact: a post-hoc promise of what is to come, superfluous and dangerously supplemental. But Kierkegaard, I think, remained two steps ahead of Derrida in giving us a writer who writes prefaces for books that never come to be.
My wife is very supportive of my writing career. She wishes I would do more of it, and is, besides, a terrific editor: unusually clear-thinking and direct, and very familiar with my brand of nonsense and justly intolerant of it. But I have four daughters and an academic job, so I’m inclined to agree not with my own wife, but with Nicolaus’ when it comes to the incompatibility of the life of the writer with that of the husband (and father). I’m fairly sure Kierkegaard—who maintained a bonkers writing schedule I can’t quite bring myself to envy: milling around in cafes or newspaper offices all day, drinking endless sugary coffee, and writing compulsively all night —de facto sides with Nicolaus’ wife as well.
Nevertheless, this month I have been writing every day. I receive an email with an inspirational writing prompt, which I ignore to work on my various projects. It has been pleasant. Writing comes even more easily, lately, than reading does. Quite like a preface, which is a propadeutic that can serve no legitimate purpose, this newsletter is my attempt to maintain the momentum I’ve gained by writing regularly. This is Prefaces, a newsletter about being a dad, teaching, thinking, life in Canada’s Maritime provinces, and other things I can’t fully commit to writing about without a certain infidelity.