Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Thursday, September 1, 2011

of late

So during a month of "fasting" from the blog, I discovered to my great relief that I could still think with a pen in my hand. Typing words on a screen and writing on paper are very disparate modes of composition for me, more different than I can even articulate. There's something about the instant revisability of pixels that makes composition slower and more unsure, for me. I've found this translates to how I read online as well: on a screen, I am always scrolling down, before I've finished the paragraph; always looking for the bullet points, the money quote. After months and years of this, I began to get the queasy worry that something impatient and lazy had my mind its slovenly den. Would I be able to write anymore? Well, yes, as it happens, yes it is kind of like riding a bike. But the experiment demonstrated something more to me. I'm just plain happier composing on paper. The words covering the page in their indelible lines gives a shape to my thinking that the discrete increments of typing and the cut-and-paste-able blocks of computer text completely up-end. It's plain that this is an idiosyncracy of my own. Others have their own mental and creative hygiene, other conditions in which they can reach "flow," as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the state of optimal creativity and production; for me, nothing beats a smooth-flowing, extra-fine-point rollerball, on the unlined white pages of a hardbound notebook. The lines are laid down indelibly; I can cross them out but I can't select-and-cut to make them vanish, or scoop them up and replant them three paragraphs later, and these restraints help me produce: without them, I'm just floundering. But of course transferring this to a blog post involves typing and transcribing, which besides being extra work always invites the revisionary demon, the "inner editor," who yes does valuable service but needs to learn how to be a little less pushy. The point here is that my posts will be fewer, not because I'm writing less but because I'm writing more. What I post will likely be shorter and just an indication of what I am thinking about off-screen. Questions are still welcome, more than welcome, because I think best of all when I'm actually engaging with a live person whose thoughts I can't anticipate because, well, they aren't mine.


  1. Wonderful! Yes, it is different, and you actually made me realize that I, too, in a sense read "slower" on a screen. I read PAINFULLY slow when reading a book, but once it's read it seems to be implanted in my brain more firmly and with a greater range of discourse surrounding it. On the screen, I whiz through only to realize I haven't read anything, then whiz through a little more slowly, then forget nearly everything as soon as I've closed the window. And there is no geography of discourse surrounding it in my mind, because I'm lucky if I retain so much as a tidbit of the written piece itself. I confess I have destroyed trees on more than one occasion in order to actually absorb something I suspect of being valuable.
    It is fascinating to me, though, how differently people respond to different modes. You mention unlined pages, which render me speechless. But one of my best friends uses graph paper because even lined sheets are too pell-mell for her.
    What I really wonder about is what different peoples' goals are in reading and writing. I assume that writers generally don't want their work, whether creative, academic, or journalistic, to simply be forgotten. But I do find it intriguing and slightly disturbing that, this being the case (we'll assume it is, anyway), readers and writers continue to interact in environments which are notoriously forgettable. I'm thinking here of online discussion forums, social networking sites, and yes, even blogs. (I say this as a fellow blogger who is pained by the forgettable nature of the format I submit my poetry to.)

  2. Thanks to both for raising the topic. I enjoy blogging (and sending emails to friends), but I have always been writing more "serious" staff on the side of it. As you aptly say, communication through a blog is quite different, since readers are different when they read a blog. Yet, I enjoy sharing thoughts in a way which would hardly if ever happen in the case of an article or a book (yes, it does sometime happen, and it's a joy).
    Anyway, I look forward to read your next posts and the papers you will be writing meanwhile…

  3. To avoid flitting on the web I keep a notebook by me and take notes. I never look at them again but it’s a help. Using my Olivetti Lettera DL is a great way to keep alert. There’s a pseudo-distance that print gives that allows one to better judge it.

  4. I think some people engage in these forgettable online modes in part because they are what's happening now, and it just makes sense to be involved in what is going to be (we stipulate) the Wave of the Future. Others of course are doing it because of specific up-sides it offers; for me (as, I take it, for Elisa), it's above all the possibility of making contact with a community; one that I'd more or less lost. This has to be weighed against the down-sides, as with everything. But it isn't really a question of careful cost/benefit analysis; it's partly a shifting matter of finding what's working now, and partly (this is more tricky) trying to guess what are likely to be the long-term effects. I say this last bit with full awareness that it sounds reactionary; but anyone who thinks the question "what is this doing to our minds?" is pointless, is fooling themselves.

    As for Ombhurbhuva's point about the notebook: I haven't been sans notebook (minus a few lapses of memory) for decades, literally. Among the many benefits, it's saved me thousands of dollars in books. I can note down a title, & feel delivered from the need to buy it right now.

  5. Dear Skholiast,
    I see your point. Using a computer, reading on a screen and writing a blog surely affected my way of reading and perhaps also of thinking. I am annoyed by too long posts, for instance, or ones which do not have any reader-friendly devise (such as lists, paragraphs, indents…). But I still would not dream of expecting the same from a physical book. I am fast and impatient while reading on line, but not while reading at home (I have not persuaded myself yet of skipping a boring description in a novel). In short: I seem to adjust to the medium. What about you?

  6. Elisa,

    I worried I had "adjusted" too much, but I seem to be able to still read long books. Of course, my reading habits were formed by books in the first place. I am watching the youth keenly, since "growing up online" they will indisputably have different scope and ease than I have. Sometimes I wonder if I will understand them. Judgment about all this (good/bad) is not a meaningless question -- I am not a simple relativist -- but too complex to answer with an easy thumbs-up or -down.

  7. Dear Skholiast,

    I see your point about younger generations and I am not in the position to really answer. The younge people I am more in touch with either read books (possibly with more images than the ones I used to read at their age, but still proper books) or do not read at all. But the latter are the kind of children/teenagers who would have never read, even if they had been born 30 or 60 years ago.

    What surprises me, instead, is how technologies alters one's autonomy. Young people can always communicate through mobile/iphone and the like and are, hence, never really without their parents and friends. Can this lack of the feeling of absolute solitude produce less thinkers/poets/artists/…?

  8. It reminds me of Herman Melville, when he wrote Moby Dick...I can't imagine taking the time to write it, only to have it swept overboard in a storm. Moreover, I can't imagine sitting down and writing the entire thing AGAIN...you've got to admire that kind of dedication. I've definitely gotten spoiled by the ease of the Internet/Microsoft Word...I'm just grateful we've all collectively moved past the age of feather quills, or else I'm not sure I would have taken the trouble to write at all. ;)