Why Tough-Guy Metaphors About Creativity Don’t Work

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the best writers on the web right now, using his Atlantic.com blog and other venues to discuss race, culture, history, and a myriad of other topics. He writes long, thoughtful pieces, and even his commenters can be dauntingly erudite. He's currently debating New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait on whether there's a "culture of poverty" in U.S. black communities, and while the debate is definitely worth checking out for its main points, I glommed onto this statement by Coates: "The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel." Let's talk about that. There is no shortage of grandiose or martial metaphors for writing and other creative work, and no shortage of assertions that suffering and isolation are the natural realms of the artist. You'll … [Read more...]