Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Writing/Blogging as Learning, Exploratory Experiences

I enjoy checking out various writers talk about the processes of writing. I got a chance to hear and read Colson Whitehead's thoughts on process when he was promoting the release of Zone One, and I like checking out Elizabeth Alexander's Twitter Poetics.

Yesterday, Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a video link on his blog from his air-time on Chris Hayes's television show. Now, long-time followers of Coates know that he typically declines opportunities to appear on television talk shows offering the "black perspective" or the position from the Left. However, the Trayvon Martin case has given him reason to accept a few offers.
At one point on the show, Hayes asked Coates about what made him become more active in television interviews, and Coates responded that he had something to say. He then expounded on the medium he prefers:
Writing and blogging is a learning experience for me. It’s a back and forth between me and my audience. It might be a back and forth between me and other writers. I am taking in as much as I’m giving out. It’s a little harder to do that on tv. I can’t, you know, take in and give out in the same way. When I’m on my blog I’m not an authority, you know? I’m a moderator; I’m talking. But I have the right to be wrong in a way that you don’t necessarily have when you’re on tv.
He adds:
You’re always getting clearer and going through it [writing and blogging]. I mean, just getting back to the Trayvon Martin case, the first thing we did early on was hash out the law. And it wasn’t me declaring “this is what the law is.” I looked up the law “here it is; what do you guys think about this? Do you think he should be arrested?” You have as much opportunity to be a student as you do to be a professor.
Coates's comments seem to confirm an idea I've been having about his blog work for a while now. More than simply being a black public intellectual, he's very much involved in the processes of black public thinking. His views of the processes as "back and forth," as "take in and give out," and as learner and teacher is useful for understanding a communal sense of knowledge production and the value of writing as exploration.

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