Burdensome chaperones


Wayne Koestenbaum interviews himself for The Nervous Breakdown.

When it comes time to defend your beliefs, you often cite one of your beloved writers, some of whom appear, briefly or at length, in My 1980sRoland Barthes, Frank O’Hara, Gertrude Stein, Robert Walser, Susan Sontag… Why hide in the enveloping shade of dead writers?

“Dead” is a matter of opinion. Barthes is famous for having claimed that the author was dead. (Or did Foucault get there first?) I find it comforting to read living words by dead people. Each of my favorite writers — role models — discovered something crucial about taste liberation, and their written works are blueprints for how to reactivate these stimulating procedures. Byron wrote: “I hate tasks.” Sontang quotes Manet’s advice: “You must constantly remain the master and do as you please. No tasks! No, no tasks!” An essay, to many readers and writers, seems a taskmaster — a form bristling with requirements, including the demand to be informative, to educate, to argue, to behave responsibly. Every time I sit down to write an essay I’m aware of false tasks — unnecessary restrictions — that accompany essay-writing like a burdensome chaperone.In my essays, I try to ditch the chaperone. Of course, I am the chaperone, as well as the delinquent trying to escape supervision. And so I must confront myself-as-chaperone, as well as outwit my own unseen strictures.