An Ideas Guy

I had a friend from New York visit me last month. He works on Wall Street doing corporate finance. We were talking about our fields over a beer. He was describing the millions of dollars he’s in charge of, and I was talking about my papers. We laughed about that. “Cooper, he said, “If you worked in finance, you would introduce yourself as an ideas guy.

The implication is that no one likes the ideas guy. It’s surprisingly accurate. I’m usually really good at writing little make-believe projects in my head—ideas that will never make it to a word document.  

I cannot for the life of me think of an idea for this paper. It’s strange. Modernism is my primary field. I’ve read the canonical novels and poems. I’ve read the scholarship. I have an RR out with The Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies. I’m presenting a paper at the Joyce conference this summer. I’m not an expert. I’m not even close, but I know my way around to a point.

Still, I’ve had the hardest time. First, I was thinking about Camera Work, the photo secessionist movement, and a Marxian read of photography. Then I was thinking of a paper on Stirner and Stephen Dedalus. I even had a name: “The Portrait of the Critic as a Young Man.”

Most recently, I’ve been thinking about the aesthetics of the modernist manifesto—manifesto writers are also ideas guys. But that sounded too broad.

I was reading Mikala’s post earlier, and I started thinking about Margaret Anderson’s infamous blank 1916 issue of The Little Review. What better manifesto than a blank page? It’s a negation the Dadaists and the surrealists could never reach. Anderson’s issue doesn’t write about nothing. It is nothing itself. So that’s where I’m at: “Bully!”: The Invisible Manifesto of the Little Magazines.