The Problem with Writing Articles


In academic halls, one writes for one's peers, and to satisfy their expectations--to win friends, to keep sponsors. Articles come first, small projects, research, translation--delicate nibbles at the hand that feeds. But an article is not an essay. Articles lie about the lay of their land. An article pretends to be clear about its objective and then must pretend to reach it. That objective will be minuscule though recondite. Moreover, the article does not halt at any point along the way to confess that its author is lost, or that its exposition has grown confused, or that there are attractive alternatives here and there, that its conclusions are uncertain or unimportant, that the author has lost interest; rather, the article insists on its proofs; it will hammer home even a bent nail; however, it does not end on a howl of triumph but on a note of humility, as if being right about something was quite a customary state of affairs. Polite applause will be the proper response. And a promotion.

- William H. Gass, "Nietzsche: In Illness and in Health"