- The act of writing nonfiction has always been an act of elision. Only when a writer knows what to leave out, does she know what to leave in.
- You see this so clearly in the work of Joan Didion and James Baldwin and Janet Malcolm and, more recently, writers like Sarah Manguso. This is not matter of style—a baroque sentence can still be as pointed as an icepick. This is a matter of choice.
- Elision is not the same thing as distortion, though it can result in distortions, some of which may be more truthful than anyone’s unabridged whole.
- Abridged is not the same thing as incomplete, which implies unfinished—a house without a roof, a winter without snow. An aborted thought is not the same thing as looking at snowdrifts with one eye closed.
- This is not news, but for some reason we keep needing to hear this report from the front, as if the frontline has ever been anywhere else.
- Elision comes from elidere, “to crush out.” This violence is generative, resulting in “omission” but also “join together, merge, esp. abstract ideas.”
- Any patient in an Oliver Sacks essay may be a composite character, an amalgamation of many patients merged into one, more useful person. This is not a secret. It does not put Sacks’ insights in danger. He has still seen what he has seen.
- “You can’t do that.” Yes, you can.
- “You shouldn’t do that.” Another matter, entirely. And utterly dependent on circumstance. Rules are only useful if everyone is playing the same game.
- Choose your game. Then elide.
Meehan Crist is Writer-in-Residence in Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Previously, she was reviews editor at The Believer and her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Lapham's Quarterly, The New Republic, The Believer, N+1BR, Scientific American, and Science. She is a founding member of NeuWrite, a collaborative working group for scientists and writers, and awards include the Olive B. O'Connor Fellowship as well as fellowships from MacDowell, The Blue Mountain Center, Ucross, and Yaddo. She is working on a nonfiction book about traumatic brain injury.