Justin Balmain In defence of words
NEAR/AFAR, Text for an object
2014




Stet, meaning “let it stand,” is a termed used by editors to indicate that content should not—although it has been suggested—be changed. On the page, stet is indicated by writing the word itself in a circle above or beside the edit or by circling a tick in the margin. The notion of stet is intriguing. Standing in for “do not erase,” stet gives words a double confidence. In place of the absent author it is a small, yet significant, defence. 

As a writer I spend most of my time not writing. I’ll read a little, pay bills. I’ll complete a quiz, fill out a subscription and put my name down for a prize. Before it is done, writing is avoidance and attention in chorus. It is the almost wanton attribution of time to thought. Then, quite suddenly, it is complete and procrastination—uselessly marginalised and unfairly cursed—is not remembered as the futile state it was assumed to be. It exposes enquiry to the calculating processes of doubt, it measures the value of thought. It is the spell-check of the mind. Procrastination recognises the primacy of original thinking, without review or correction, as if time alone gathers its own meaning.

Like stet, sic is a clarification of the author’s intention, confirming—for the reader—that they alone have decided the parameters. Wonderfully, sic is dedicated to the preservation of original error. Appearing in (parenthesis) and italicssic is a foreign object lodged in the body of the text. Sic registers your surprise and then puts it to bed. Yes,” it says, “that wrong is right.”

Recently I made some notes and titled them “why I write”. I stole the title from Joan Didion who, in turn, had stolen it from George Orwell. Didion stole it because she liked the sound of the words, and because she had been tasked with explaining why she wrote. This theft is an exemplar of the way I write. It is not a strategic process; instead it is led by a magpie mind. I take and store, and when I have a problem I throw at it one of these stolen solutions.

In her essay, Didion aims her attention at the periphery, where potential shimmers, and as she sits attentively between her self and the world, between what she sees and what it might mean, both become illuminated. In speaking to the edges of meaning, she polishes her perceptions and gives greater definition to the shape of her interior world. I stole the title from her because that is my motive too, and because I always start with words.