From 300 Arguments


First Person

Jane Freilicher, Window on the West Village, 1999, oil on linen, 24″ x 28″. On display at Derek Eller Gallery through February 5


Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments is out in February from Graywolf Press. An early excerpt, “Short Days,” appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Paris Review.


I love word games, in which words are reduced to objects, and which kill the intimacy I maintain with the same words when I’m writing.


There truly are two kinds of people: you and everyone else. 


The best form isn’t always the most efficient form.


I’m seldom bored at home, but I’m often bored while traveling. At home, where my daily routine is automatic enough that I can almost ignore it, I’m free to think about what I want.


It’s impossible to fail if one doesn’t know how the end should look. And it’s impossible to succeed. But it’s possible to enjoy.


I failed Chem 10 and gave up on becoming a physician. Then I became a chronically ill person. I know my case extremely well. I’ve been practicing for more than twenty years.


Those without taste smugly praise the thrice-belaureled. Poor taste is something else.


Great talents encourage great incapacities, but maintaining an inability to cook an egg or drive a car won’t make you into a genius.


The will can achieve some things, but one must exhaust one’s will in order to learn which things they are.


I wish someone would tell me what I should be doing instead of this, that he’d be right, and that I’d believe him.


Sometimes ill-informed choices have good outcomes.


Every success story can be told as a series of failures.


When a student surpasses my expectations, I feel proud and betrayed.


I know a woman who runs marathons she doesn’t train for. Isn’t that bad for your joints or something? You just have to be stubborn, she says.


Progress takes place in the dark, when you aren’t trying.


My long romance with efficiency has made me miserly.

Given a year’s pay up front, I produce almost nothing. Given a month’s pay, I produce what otherwise would have taken a year. Given nothing, I work when I can. Time and production must bear some relation to each other, but I couldn’t say what it is.


There’s nothing wrong with being unhappy if you don’t consider unhappiness a pathology.


I used to have a handwriting. Now I just have a signature.


Lack of effort poorly conceals lack of ability.


My friend who runs marathons, throws elaborate parties, sews quilts for everyone she knows, works full-time, and has three children does all of this not in spite of her useless husband but because of him.


It takes time to recover from having run somewhere. But sometimes one just wants to run. Anywhere.


Someone I knew prevented me from getting a job. I fantasized about his death. Years later, he was fired publicly and shamefully. Then he was divorced. Then he developed a disabling illness. With each of his new misfortunes I’m punished further, with secret guilt, for wishing all of it on him, long ago.


After I submitted the final draft of my book about a train-track suicide, the art department produced sketches for my book cover: a needle and a long skein of red thread; a length of fluffy pinkish lace; a yellow hand mirror lying on a patch of green grass. I gave my editor a note for the designers, and the next day they delivered a perfect cover design: a photograph of the book’s subject, a man sitting on a train. This was the note: Pretend this book was written by a man.


Everything has to be paid for, especially money.


Sarah Manguso is the author of six previous books including Ongoingness, The Guardiansand The Two Kinds of Decay. Honors for her writing include a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize.