“Afraid of assertion. Always trying to get out of “totalizing” language, i.e., language that rides roughshod over specificity; realizing this is another form of paranoia. Barthes found the exit to this merry-go-round by reminding himself that “it is language which is assertive, not he.” It is absurd, Barthes says, to try to flee from language’s assertive nature by “add[ing] to each sentence some little phrase of uncertainty, as if anything that came out of language could make language tremble.”
My writing is riddled with such tics of uncertainty. I have no excuse or solution, save to allow myself the tremblings, then go back in later and slash them out. In this way I edit myself into a boldness that is neither native nor foreign to me.
At times I grow tired of this approach, and all its gendered baggage. Over the years I’ve had to train myself to wipe the sorry off almost every work e-mail I write; otherwise, each might begin, Sorry for the delay, Sorry for the confusion, Sorry for whatever. One only has to read interviews with outstanding women to hear them apologizing. But I don’t intend to denigrate the power of apology: I keep in my sorry when I really mean it. And certainly there are many speakers whom I’d like to see do more trembling, more unknowing, more apologizing.”
– Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, p. 98, Graywolf Press, 2015