In 1946, George Orwell articulated the reasons why he put pen to paper in an essay entitled Why I Write.
In this Web series, authors talk about their literary habits and reading preferences,
and examine Orwell's question that lies at the heart of being an author—why they write.

Thomas S. Mullaney

Coming to Term with-the Nation


Thomas S. Mullaney is the author of Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China about the history of China’s 1954 Ethnic Classification project (minzu shibie), a joint social scientific-Communist state expedition of a group of ethnologists, linguists and Party cadres who traveled to the country’s most ethnically diverse provinces to determine which minority communities would be officially recognized by the state.


Why I write
I write in order that I might think.


Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
I cannot say that I write every day. Projects go through distinct phases, with some requiring unfettered output, and others requiring scrutiny. One of the most essential phases of writing is not writing at all.


Worst source of distraction?


Best source of inspiration?
Commentary from colleague-friends, music and songwriting, long walks, the first cup of coffee, teaching my lecture course and, in general, sense deprivation followed by the reintroduction of the deprived sense (in other words, the two-part process of defamiliarization and refamiliarization through which ‘common sense’ is scrambled just long enough to permit the mind’s natural abilities to notice interesting patterns that had been eclipsed by, or were hiding within, the patterns I had assumed to be true).


How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
I doubt my own ability every single day, but I have never experienced writer’s block.


Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Tom Waits.


Favorite Chinese writer?


Best book about China?
I cannot answer this question.


Favorite book?
The Oresteia.


Favorite writer?
Bruno Latour.


The book you should have read but haven’t?
Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
“I can see what I was trying to say.”


Does writing change anything?
Writing changed everything.

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Posted on: March 7th, 2013 by JFK Miller No Comments