I am the sort of person who likes to be very patient about plans coming to fruition, and endeavors leading somewhere, especially when I am highly invested. However, eventually there comes a point we all love to reach (ha), known as “cutting my losses,” cutting back to what’s more doable, and trying something different. Sometimes changes also need to be made simply for the sake of injecting some new energy. After years of doing things in certain ways, the accumulation of history and sense of responsibility to it can get to be a burden. Well, I think I have reached the “cutting my losses” point with a number of efforts I have made over the past several-to-15 years and setups to which I have committed a lot. I have decided to try to see this process of shaking things up strategically and personally as less funereal, and more freeing. After all, attachment to ideas and projects that haven’t worked out as you thought they would also ends up feeling funereal—there’s an air of decay in living for the past. My favorite of all images was always the phoenix, to embrace the idea of starting anew, and I’m going to try to embrace that once again in earnest. No particulars to announce at the present time (and please, no questions about that). What I can say is that I have made some higher-level decisions I have been wrangling over for years, quite literally, and am making new plans and preparing to set them into motion.
We’re in an age of big, politicized science, dirtied by the knowledge that almost everyone will “trust the experts,” and buy 90% of whatever the press publishes as a false consensus in their name, or whatever “scientific” bombshell tickles their fancy. People believe whatever best plays to preconceptions, or their paranoia, fear, contrariness, obedience, need to be reassured, or need to be entertained, and this is well known by those who prepare press releases, agitate for political causes, and collect money for their scientific credentials.
In this age, everyone needs to be a scientific skeptic and stop uncritically trusting claims from sources (big and small, independent and professional) on any contentious issue: evolution, GMO, fracking, climate change & its causation, HIV/AIDS, vaccine risks, you name it.
Some of these many claims will be bourn out by repetitive investigations in time, and some will shown to be fabrications and frauds, many shameful, many politicized, many embarrassing for anyone to believe in hindsight. Some will be designed to bring about a result through fear and even panic—sometimes a result so against the grain that few would otherwise accept it.
That doesn’t make facts, and it’s not proper science.
Proper science isn’t just technical procedure, or institutional respect in academia, or “scientistic” presentation. Science is a way of thinking. Science demands skepticism, above all.
Just one thing to add: how many people who were afraid of Y2K bug scenarios at the time will admit they were wrong to believe as much as they did, and overreact out of fear? (raises hand) I’ve tried to learn from that experience (and others like it that testified to gullibility). I’ve tried to learn how to develop more healthy skepticism, and an understanding of what makes for reliable scientific evidence, substantive argument (true or not), and substantiated information. I highly recommend you do the same.
Here is a thought that occurs to me from time to time, especially when I am particularly annoyed by the followers of certain thinkers, and many factions in politics.
It is typical to consider the content of doctrines in the abstract, and to argue for and against their rightness, justice, or pragmatism. Put these ways of judging them aside for the moment.
In the end, an important measure of the influence of any particular doctrine, anyone’s body of work, any set of ideas, can be taken in whether it has encouraged more tedious people on the Earth or fewer, and more interesting people or fewer, especially among those who espouse it.
More broadly—what has it made of them; what have they made of themselves with it?
Many grandiose-sounding doctrines breed lamentable and pathetic specimens. Other humble-sounding doctrines breed officious and arrogant specimens.
Finally, has a doctrine taught those who learned it—and those for whom it was meant—something they were able to use to become something more? Or have they even become something less?
Of course it is reasonable to ask and to wonder how much the thinker has been misunderstood by deficient followers. But one can also follow this by asking:
How do the living paragons of the doctrine of a thinker stand before the world? —remembering that the creator of a thing may not best deserve to represent it.
The problem with writing truth-based philosophy is how very often I find myself obliged to write about how much, and in what ways words—words about things, words to form ideas—don’t matter, at least not remotely as much as people think. There are perhaps far fewer ways they do matter. There are select ways to make words matter, and those all depend on carrying through, and doing things other than words.
If I were a better liar, like Plato, I could make a more grandiose place for my chosen profession. If I could dissimulate, like an academic… well, you know.
Err… philosophy—it’s the best hope we have? Yes, that’s pretty much the size of it. We resort to words for a reason, and the fundamentals cause all manner of havoc if they aren’t resolved. But an unassuming defense of words talking about ideas also explains the desire to obfuscate more than a few matters in order to play the great and powerful Professor Oz (with tenure).
There is a reason why Nietzsche inducted art into philosophy along with science; of this we are more able to become proud, and find a place for an inspiring, grand and humanistic Philosophy again. Splitting the same hairs since Plato should hardly crown a philosopher-king, should it?
Some random writing about writing, and complaining about the writing business (or, what writers do on their blogs)
The original idea behind writing my novel Pyramid of Babel was to devise a converse of the usual single-protagonist-versus-the-system formula for a dystopian novel. (It sure did change a lot as it matured.) Today, vaguely echoing Jonathan Swift, I’m thinking about a new idea for a novel or short story: what if you dropped someone who expects the factors of a modern dystopia into a different and free (if not utopian) society, someone like an insufferably politically-correct political columnist? What would they spend their time complaining about, and what kind of window might it provide into that society?
OK, so part of me wants to write fiction again—this has to be the fourth or fifth story concept I’ve generated this year and kicked around in my head for a day or so. But only if an idea absolutely compels me will I give in and commit the personal investment to it. Taking the trouble to write excellent fiction is simply asking for misery in this market, which is all about gatekeeper agents looking for genres catering to masses of readers with awful taste, indifferent to quality.
Finding a home for a serious, important novel (like 1984) with a caring literary agent and publisher is a lot like winning the lottery. You’re much more likely to find a patron or patrons, in today’s environment. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t imagine a writer like Orwell who did something new and challenging becoming half as successful today. (1984 would probably be relegated to a sci-fi niche next to teen space vampires series, or something.)
If you’re not a writer at all, or you are an economically-fortunate writer of genre-fitting fiction, trust me, you think it’s easier out there than it is. This is not to say that there isn’t necessarily some good writing passed along the ruts on the bar serving the usual, nameable, marketable mix-and-match genres. But those of us who aren’t interested in dispensing with art and ideas in order to engage in a writing career are inclined to create different things. And we have reason to curse the immoderate influence that percentage-seeking “literary” agents, with all that implies, now have on the selection of those who will even have the opportunity to reach the desks of publishers.
I see the bestsellers, I see what’s “popular” (because many pandered and made it so) and what we’re charitably calling “literary.” I have some similar feelings about the business to those that many people began to have about record companies in the 80s and 90s, because of what they were doing to artists in the music business, and what popular music became, all so that the money could manage the artist and his/her process (and “the product”), and not the other way around, with the artist and the process driving the business end. They didn’t need to do it to make money, and in fact, ended up killing golden geese in various ways by eroding the special cultures of artists and enthusiasts with respect for artists. The publishing business is different, but it could learn a lot from the way the music business treated music and musicians as fungible, and presumed to tell the consumer that garbage was good—that counterfeit culture was great culture.
Some once-great publishers and once-great agencies have reason to be ashamed. (If you are not one of these, that’s wonderful. I congratulate you. I might very well want to work with you. But I can’t deny the obvious decline in standards.) It saddens me how many creative and insightful works may never be finished because of the economic disincentives to invest quite that much thought and labor.
To be crystal clear: I have no objection to making money at all, and I believe that literary agents and publishers provide valuable services and play valuable and necessary roles. Many both earn their money, and deserve it. And yes, the market is consensual (well, except for the corporate structure and law involved); no one’s making consumers buy the crap. However, the enemy of great art is my enemy, and I make no apologies for that. Also, dumbing down the culture, lowering standards, and counterfeiting artistic quality is a way to get on my bad side. Someone has to stick up for art in culture, and count me in as one of the volunteers.
In my latest non-fiction news (don’t get me started about the business prospects of non-fiction), I am coming close to finishing the rough draft of an eight-section series on various facets of extraordinary and potentially transformative experiences, such as revelations and other experiences with “spiritual” aspects. I’m looking forward to passing this along to my small group of volunteer readers for their feedback.
Though it will serve as part of the much larger grand-tour-of-gnosis book/series that I’ve been working on for the past couple of years, if I like how it turns out enough, I might just consider pre-releasing it as a standalone thing online; this bit is the epitome of relatable-yet-important philosophy, I think. Otherwise it will be a much longer time before it’s publicly available with the rest.
The process of working alone on a creative work for a long time can be such a strange one. Even stranger to emerge from those depths, and show any of it to someone else who has spent the time differently.
Three years ago, I would have been talking about the uneasy prospect of showing a rough manuscript of my novel to beta readers after living with it for years. A year or so ago, I would have been talking about stepping away from working on the novel to the surreal experience of trying to interest agents in a literary epic instead of the latest mix-and-match genres, vampire immigrant experience biography or young adult fantasy memoir. Now, I’m not talking about either experience.
I’ve been thinking about a working group.
For a while, I’ve been thinking ahead to when I will want to show drafts of my next project, the non-fiction philosophy I’ve been working on, to a small number of readers. I figured this would be a good way to solicit valuable feedback, but also help me with catching errors, especially important for someone with a visual condition that can cause fatigue and omissions. (I developed a rare, unexplained visual-brain handicap called palinopsia during 2011. Among other things, it makes editing my writing more difficult.)
I have a better-defined idea now, though. I am thinking about a working group for perhaps five or ten of my best readers with whom I have communicated, who have supported my work in the past. I could always expand the initial number.
At first, I would occasionally send them selections, and get reactions back (if any): whatever they thought, whatever the work made them think of, basically anything at all. I wouldn’t send a lot at once, in order to ensure a short turnaround remained easy, and that focus would stay on one selection at a time. I would mostly be sending selections from my main project for the foreseeable future, but if I wanted feedback on other projects I might pass those along too.
Getting their reactions would help to stimulate ideas on my part, which is a very important part of the process.
In the future, I’d perhaps also ask them to deliberately look for errors in more advanced drafts. I know from previous experience with volunteers how most people are averse to serious editing/proofreading, though, so I think soliciting focused musings is an easier goal for a while. Besides, I currently have no projects ready for a critical magnifying glass.
Eventually, I would make an entire draft available for those with the time to read a whole manuscript.
The main perk for participants would be the opportunity to read some of my favorite material far in advance of anyone else. And of course, the chance to become involved and help make the work better, for themselves and everyone. As a perfectionist that is always my goal.
I want the work to be the best it can be, and I want people to obtain a special experience from interacting with it, and have their ways of thinking changed.
One of the greatest tasks of an intellectual creator and realist, especially one who aspires to “the highest rank” (Nietzsche), is to ignore the inanity circulated around him as though it were the lifeblood of the age, and write instead for an entirely different age, and the kind of person he hardly finds around him.
To do this, he must ignore the temptations to feel relevant, and to have others pay attention to him, and to be rewarded as others are. That would require a Devil’s bargain, to forego and foreswear important work for the nonsenses others call important.
He must even refuse to argue against triviality and stupidity on the same debating grounds on which issues of triviality and stupidity are habitually debated, lest these debates take all his time and vigor. He must yield the battlefield of politics and social mores to the unserious, so that he can be serious.
He has a Renaissance to design.