The Ruricolist is now available in print.


[Preface to the print edition.]

The Ruricolist is an essay series in the form of a blog. By the time you read this, the last sentence may be unintelligible. What is an essay series? What is a blog? But what the Ruricolist is will be recognizable as long as books last.

In writing fiction we do not hesitate to imagine ourselves as equals with the masters. But when we sit down to write prose we console ourselves with our limitations. The masters could rely on the interest and knowledge of their audience, could coin their own words and bend grammar to their needs without defying spell checkers and proofreaders, could write sentences that needed to be read twice to be understood. They could put as many ideas as they wanted in an essay – in a paragraph – in a sentence – in a very long sentence. For them, style was end and means.

If our work is lesser, if it does not endure, it is not our fault. We are creatures of our time. We have to draft query letters, appease editors, and calculate reading levels. We defer to specialists and hedge against character-limit assassins. We admit concentrated literary effects only on credit, as quotations. Our works are stepping stones, not bricks. We do not build on them; we use them to get ahead, and we leave them behind.

But there was a moment. A chance to meet an audience without editors, without marketing departments, without censors official or self-appointed. A chance to do what would never sell, what would never pay. To write without the need for permission or forgiveness. A moment the work could stand on its own. A moment we stood before an ocean not yet acidified, while our messages in bottles could reach another shore.

I saw other people using that freedom, admired what they were doing with it, and though I am not a joiner, I decided to join in. And I used that moment for all it was worth. I took it as far as it could go.

What would happen if one of us – someone from our century learned and ignorant, our century callow and sensitive, our century then hardly begun – what would happen if one of us assumed the same freedoms, the same scope, as the canon and the classics?

What would happen if a modern writer attempted the classical essay? Opened all the resources of the language? Took the synoptic view? Philosophy, psychology, history, literature – why not do everything at once? It would be hard; but it’s not supposed to be easy. And none of it seemed worthwhile by itself.

That was me; that was the Ruricolist. I was bounded only by my idea of general interest. I never found a large audience; the audience I did find was composed mostly of other writers. I turned the writers I admired into readers.

There was a moment, but it ended. Crisis frightened us. We wanted nothing to identify us as dreamers or thinkers. We retreated from our freeholds into the shelters of social media, only to discover that what we thought was a shelter was, in fact, a barracks. That we were not guests, but conscripts.

There was a moment, but it ended. In the end, I looked up and saw I was alone. And now so many of the writers I admired are missing, gone silent or self-effaced.

The Ruricolist was never meant to be read from start to finish, but to draw in readers as it went. And unlike many of its contemporaries, it is not one of those projects that builds up its own idiosyncratic vocabulary over time. Start anywhere; start with what interests you, and I will try to earn your trust.

It has been eight years since the end of the Ruricolist. Naturally, some of my opinions and conclusions have changed. Only a fool never changes his mind; only a coward pretends his mind has never changed. But I have clarified arguments that could be misunderstood.

This is the point where I am supposed to self-deprecate. I was young, it was a different time, I was writing on a schedule. But the truth is I could never renounce what is here. What is here is who I am.