On not fitting in a nutshell

Well, it has been quite some time since my last appearance on this blog, hasn’t it? All I can offer at the moment is a brief reflection. I’m trying to focus on substantial books as much as possible, and much less on talking online about doing that work, or offering interesting asides. There is not enough time and energy for everything a person could do, and my books demand protracted focus—sometimes more than I can manage. My publishing intentions have also been obliged to move from screen to paper over recent years. Sorry, internet!

There are a number of disadvantages to not having a short phrase or word that adequately communicates what I do, and secondarily what I write. I’ve long thought about the baggage associated with the word “philosophy,” which I’ve never been able to correct satisfactorily by supplying various modifiers like “underground” or “humanist.” To illustrate just one sort of baggage surrounding the word, imagine if “musician” generally meant “musical theorist.”

I have sometimes wondered if I should prefer “psychology.” My ancestor-in-spirit Nietzsche, and many psychologists who followed him, asserted that philosophical problems (including social thought) were fundamentally psychological in nature and fresh progress depended on psychological insights, models, and understanding, sometimes down to the physiological body, or the unique and specific person. As my books in progress have reflected consciousness of that even more, it looms larger. But if I were to say that I write “psychology,” I would inherit another set of baggage and misunderstanding instead. If I were to say something like “psychological philosophy,” I don’t think anyone would understand that either, and they would probably file it under “pretentiously long phrase” and not bother to decode it.

I like the term “naturalist” as well; in a number of ways it fits my attitude towards psychology/philosophy—e.g. emphases on observation, evolution, physicality, complex systems, epoché, etc.—though I’m not really sure what to do with that angle. Combine it with “humanism” —another possible angle, but another one fraught with baggage—and you could get “human naturalist” or the like.

As usual, I still have no conclusion I’m happy with, and I really don’t know what to say to people who ask what I do without going into it. Usually I mention that I wrote a novel, because I did, and they think they can relate to the normalcy of that to an extent. (Little do they know how foreign that process was from normalcy.) If I say the novel was “philosophical” though, it will usually become obvious that saying so did not help them to know what I mean.

Maybe I should just begin mischievously experimenting on people by saying things like “I write books of secret knowledge.”

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One response to “On not fitting in a nutshell

  1. In the few times I come across good conversation, I’ve also noticed the difficulty of packaging the subject matter into a neat word. Having conditioned myself to ignore ignorance, this is actually a serious problem in the grander picture of getting others to contemplate it, and has to be remedied at some point in the future. Ultimately, I think it boils down to potential applications of linguistic theory; growing social awareness of a phenomenon at some point leads to it being labeled through language to facilitate conversation about said phenomenon. Is it wise to attempt to engineer a word? I’ve been toying with the idea of re-introducing (and to a degree, re-inventing) the word “intelligentsia,” which hasn’t seen serious use in quite awhile. At least to differentiate from typical academic ventures into philosophy. Floors still open to better nutshells.

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