Tag Archives: writing

On Hiatus, working on a Mystery Project

I’ve been taking a break from updates about writing my books, because I’m taking a break from writing them. Instead I have been devoting time and effort to a big creative side project that is more in line with what the market currently values and pays for.

(Quite a bit more than my previous attempt to get ideas out into the market by writing a novel, before I learned the hard way about the reactionary tastes—genre, identity, and word count first—of lit agents gatekeeping for the big 5 octopi, err, publishers, or about the glut of manuscripts in NYC for a dwindling literature market.)

This new project, a union of game design and world-building, is still something I don’t consider an artistic compromise—never do that—and don’t worry that I’m wasting my time creating rules and story-telling for a game instead of philosophical-psychological literature. If produced, my game will contribute some value to the cultural hunger for richer myths and engagement with meaningful stories. Also, it does teach valuable insights about life without appearing to do any such thing, for the people averse to education and self-improvement if you use direct words. The same people love “playing a game” and “escaping” to a fantasy world. Without knowing it, they’re already getting ideas about the real world from such activities, and from immersion in imaginary worlds. I’d prefer they have access to a less superficial, more inspired mythos and rules set.

In the long run, I hope this side project will give me the solid financial support to devote my time to important writing in the future, without worry—and more crucially, fund broader access to my work and adequate promotion of it. It does little good for me—especially with my visual disability—to slave away to complete a grand project like The Constellation of Man, or new models for human nature and philosophy of mind, if there isn’t yet a path available for me to publish and promote all this (and more) properly.

Forgotten corners of the internet might host far more substance than social media does, but I can’t be satisfied with enlightened obscurity and a pat on my back for knowing better. (For me, opening other minds and enriching other lives is the greater accomplishment, without which, I almost feel that my creative and philosophical life has been conducted in a sort of exile, plotting a return.) It matters what other people see, and learn, and internalize—especially when the desert needs water. The world needs genuine humanism now more than ever, and it’s always been my mission not only to develop better ideas, but find a way to communicate them.

This has led me down a meandering path, no question, but these are strange times, are they not?

PS. I might throw some aphoristic content or other short-form excerpts online here in the meantime if I can’t help it. I’ve missed expressing myself as a philosopher as I’ve worked on **********, and I have quite the unpublished backlog, besides.

[EDIT: expanded, with more background info.]

In Defense of… [on thoughtful critiques of ‘The Cult of Letters’]

Not long ago I was writing some notes for The Constellation of Man about certain self-deceits of abstract thinkers, and in particular—to put a page of discussion succinctly—why philosophers (in a broad sense) feel accomplished about verbal descriptions of the world that do not match it. Even writing about false models yields an inward sense of order, and (like scientific knowledge) some sense of control over the world or orientation within it.

Every time I make a case along these lines—about the limitations of language, or against relying on any intensive subculture & psychological type built on systematic thought (e.g. men of letters, academics, scientists, philosophers)—it is intended to be constructive, in my Nietzschean fashion. But resistant, worrisome notions do spring to mind:

  • that I am going against the grain of defenses of the “life of the mind” which intellectuals tend to write today, in possibly-vain attempts to popularize it;
  • that attacks on dumbed-down culture depend on endorsements of linguistic and mental prowess that I could be seen as undermining;
  • that I am aiming at easy, marginalized targets—groups which have included or still include myself;
  • that I might be read as though I’ve succumbed to the pervasive disease of self-disgust.

It’s difficult not to write in solidarity with a marginalized group that one belongs to. I am keenly aware of writing for (against?) a modern audience, a quasi-literate world, which largely rejects my kind.

By “my kind,” I don’t simply mean intellectuals in the enterprising sense.

This world barely knows what to do with a generalist, the “Renaissance man” who once would have occupied essential roles, and renders almost every deep thinker an outsider if not an outcast. This has become so normalized they do not imagine their abilities could ever be welcomed. People dislike introspection, shrug at philosophy, and dismiss challenging literature. Intellectuals have few opportunities that pseudo-intellectuals have not taken. Fakes thrive in a culture tolerant of superficiality, and selling-out. The “literary world” is replete with an embarrassment of writers who should not have bothered, inspired by third-hand moral notions from ideologues, and boring formulae for creativity. Quantity proliferates while investing in quality seems pointless or quixotic. “Philosophers” are either dead, academic, or popularizers recycling old ideas. (Admittedly the sometimes-aligned categories of psychologists and scientists are more popular categories and aspirations, but these oftener refer to technical professions that don’t have much to do with being a “thinker.”)

My kind are infrequently persecuted today, but only because we are hardly seen. We feel as if we are, but much more to the point, we are ignored when we crusade, and superfluous in our hiding places.

What I do, and what I stand for has no purchase in a world that seeks not the transformative power of understanding, but nodding in agreement, and vituperative argument. The outspoken detest nuance and repel curiosity. Elitist snobs, smug about nothing more accomplished than a highfalutin philistinism, look down on the coarse folk who are proud to spite them with the lowbrow kind.

Everywhere we witness the unspiritual work of the uncreative, uninterested in profound human experience, and worse, contemptuous of it. Humanism no longer means anything useful. It is a world which has left behind both the apolitical (or antipolitical) values of culture, and the virtues of Man.

So I feel that I should stand up for philosophy, for genuine intellectuals, for long thoughts and real books. I am very sympathetic.

But I see it as part of my task to sincerely address the limitations of words and the foibles of thinkers. It may have to come across as self-effacing, when I least wish to be.

Struggling to grasp and to tell discomfiting but important truths is one of the distinctive habits that sets us apart from other people—if “we” aim to be more than merely literate or articulate, and also aim to question things. Certainly the great many who believe what suits them do not relate to that habit, or appreciate it.

As far as claiming an identity, however, I think it is more important that turning that microscope toward ourselves distinguishes those of us who pursue genuine intellectual, psychological or philosophical effort from poseurs, who only retell the familiar truths they already overcame, knowing they might disturb or uproot someone else.

I count among these the “skeptics” who feel no duty to be skeptical of their own convictions. Those who no longer challenge their own justifications while they challenge others to reexamine theirs are more properly referred to as moralist than intellectual in any progressive or inquisitive sense.

In any case, the unexamined limitations of thinkers, and of philosophy—especially second- or third-hand ideas, in academia, journalism, and authorship of popular media—have poisoned or imperiled so much progress, there is far more at stake than being true to oneself in the tradition of thinkers with an intellectual conscience.

Scribes

The Cult of Letters

Intellectuals have long wished for other people to agree with them about the value of verbal ideas in themselves. They prefer a life of ideas, so their affinity is natural. Of course they also have an interest in bringing ideas to others, and interpreting them for others, for the status and influence it brings. At the same time they have some interest in opacity, not unlike that of priests who interpret the enigmas of a mystical religion. Intellectuals do not wish for transparency about their motives, and they do not wish to have their value questioned. They are no freer of ego than anyone else, as a rule, and no more disposed to introspection.

Questions are reasonable. What is the value of books, beyond selling books? What is education for, besides enlarging the industry of education, or providing technocrats able to perpetuate a system? What can language change? When we talk about things, what are we really accomplishing? Are we really getting to the bottom of anything? Is an intellectual life more profound than, say, a visceral life, or a life spent in nature? Is “book learning” more important to self-development than say, sexuality, or traveling?

What specific and personal reasons could an intellectual have for the ideas they subscribe to, other than the neutrality, objectivity, or intelligence they prefer to presume? More importantly, what will paying attention to what they say bring to someone who does?

What is the point of philosophy or philosophers, besides their own purposes, interest, fascination, or importance? Why should others pay attention to something they write, instead of—for instance—learning an ostensibly more practical skill? Why should it hold more value than say, manufacturing a better refrigerator, shipping trade goods, or planting a nice garden?

(I believe I know the long and unflinching answers to questions of this sort, but my point is that it’s truly extraordinary not to ask them. How usual, yet how egregious of the intellectual ilk to simply feel entitled to respect from others, like an aristocrat or bureaucrat, without earning it by doing serious work and making a real contribution to  life. A contribution need not be measurable, or quantifiable, or immediate, or tangible, but surely one could explain it, or demonstrate it, if it were real.)

Making a case for Art instead of mere entertainment bears a similar burden of proof. Art diverts personal, temporal, material, and financial resources to be lavished upon its creation, and appreciation. Art is difficult, and it makes demands. Why a troublesome mental exercise instead of a diverting story? If the mental exercise is our diverting story, we think the answer is straightforward: art, surely, should speak for itself. The artist, whose creative experience is so profound, also thinks art should not need justification, as does the aesthete. But art does not speak for itself, except to those who are already convinced by their emotion and perception.

We deceive ourselves to think that—unearned—a civilizational value like self-knowledge, or the means of the written word, speaks to those who have never known its worth personally. Justification is precisely what we must provide, if we wish to make the extraordinary case that our business, our cause, our purpose, our great project should become the business of others who presently see a perplexing waste where we recognize a necessary investment. Why should others who see an abstraction where we feel much more, join us and devote themselves to furthering its reality in some way, or support us in our work to do so?

It’s tempting, sometimes necessary, to write defenses of what is being lost. What is really called for is not idealization of these things, or of the types of people who are already persuaded by them, but first: transparency in admitting why certain people might already be won over. Sometimes, they have a liking as instinctive as any other. Unflatteringly, they might have motives as aggrandizing or indulgent as any.

Second, and only after establishing credibility with the first: communication which deepens the shallow appreciation others have. Demonstrate the value of a life, if you wish others to adopt any part of it.

If a philosopher is drawn to philosophize partly for the benefit of setting his mind in order—comparable to what practicing yoga does for others—this makes a surprising argument for learning to think in just such an ordered (precise, careful, or systematic) way—if not specifically as a philosopher, then as a critical thinker, perhaps under the label of a scientist.

(I remember hearing this sort of argument made for studying classical languages, back in prep school—in the traditional, philological manner, with formal grammar and linguistics. I thought it strange at the time, but in retrospect, it makes excellent sense to me. Even as the specifics of a Latin and Greek education fell into disuse in my memory, habits of explicit mental order continued to be useful.)

Another illustration: a poet is almost certainly a pretentious thing to be, a verbose and vestigial role about as vital as an appendix, to anyone who has not written poetry because they felt it—or else, heard their sense of life echoed in poetry, having understood that imagery and cadence are the birthrights of a tongue.

We are used to disingenuously speaking of the social good, instead of the personal good, when the personal good can be an easier case to make and a more persuasive one. Societal virtues from “creativity” to “learning” remain abstract, until they can be personally appreciated. That is true even if consequences of eroding a virtue—for enough people to fail to express it personally—are grave. The utilitarian argument for a virtue is weak by itself. Imagine the position of defending “romance” that way to someone who had never felt it!

A brief digression: conversely, what if the consequences for neglect are not dire? The same exercise of demonstration—of including others to understand, or at least participate in what they are missing—indicates selective importance when it is not persuasive; people find out what they are missing, and it is not much.

Narrow intellectual interests that have been claimed, justified, even trumpeted as “socially relevant” turn out to have relevance to a very few who articulate them. These have marginal importance to “society,” as this is comprised of nothing other than actual people. Personal knowledge obtained from familiarity is a valid microcosm of consequence, albeit incomplete.

Like an aesthetic that appeals to a certain type, some subjects are trivial and dispensable to anyone else who gets to know them. They aren’t merely specialized areas of expertise that are useful to others indirectly, like engineering—a fact which familiarity with the subject would reveal. They turn out to be extrinsic to civilizational needs, as well as the marrow of human pursuits.

(As an aside, I would argue that a case of precisely this is ongoing, as ideas about “identity” originating in academic cul-de-sacs reach a larger audience, third-hand, through mass-produced fiction with a see-through agenda, and internet media. To be lectured tastes like bitter medicine, particularly without the coating of a good story, or a dramatic proposal. But more than this, a wider audience finds these ideas themselves inapplicable, vacuous, or tiresome instead of liberating or redemptive [like any resounding myth]. The interested group may have expected to acquire importance like the medical experts the public willingly deputizes at great expense to cure disease; we need not understand the details to believe that specialists studying them conduct valuable work. Promulgators of identity politics may have hoped to awaken others to an ethic, or hoped to inspire existential discovery, much as promoters of class theory had hoped. Instead, today their diagnostics of “identity” are revealed to be—for most intents and purposes—neither remedial for social problems, nor inspiring to most individuals, as interesting as they seem to a self-appointed group.)

I see it as my task to show many of the virtues I wish were more prevalent, so they can be believed. I see it as my task to lay bare faults that can be remedied only if we are pointed to them, but also to concretize these things—like “the life of the mind”—that devotees want others to see as magical, too, and describe with an air of gnosis, things which more often appear unreal to others and therefore unconvincing.

If we claim anything as a pure good—as people have done with comprehensive knowledge, subversive knowledge, and every approach to “truth”—people will know this for a lie. They will suspect we are being vague about why it is a good at all, because it is not good for much. They can even dispute its substance completely, except as our favorite form of frippery, which they have no need of. Perfection is unconvincing.

Without acknowledging that there presently exists great skepticism, and perhaps for good reasons, toward many of the expensive, strange, troublesome, sometimes self-sacrificial values that generalists, artists, outsiders, crusaders, mavericks, psychologists, intellectuals, thinkers and philosophers take for granted, we will never convince those who subscribe to specialized, bourgeois, materialistic, literal, popular, and conventional values today that they are deprived—nor (as I believe) that they are taking terrible risks with the future, and with things that matter to everybody. This is a case we can make only by earning the right to make it.

We should be willing to say “Perhaps they are right!” and even dare to say, “Maybe what I am doing is useless, or unimportant,” or at least wonder in what particular ways that might be so. There is no other way but to admit the possibility, and entertain it provisionally, so that the impractical can be shown to be practical—or so that it can be made so by developing it with greater substance, relevance, and honesty than before. Unproductive occupation, and trivial preoccupations can be abandoned, so that other lines can be taken up with energy.

These are the gifts of criticism. Centuries of cloistered assurance and praise have enfeebled the life of the mind, gutted the profession of the philosopher (except for those who followed Nietzsche, who reformed by asking the hard questions), and debased literature and intellectualism.

With all our technology, we are scrabbling for the stuff to repair civilization, mixing one mortar after another that will not hold. I would not ignore those who do not trust thinkers (as they know them), or value thinking deeply. I would listen to people who are not satisfied by ideas today sooner than I would blame them.

We should keep asking the same questions they do, on the face of it: “What good is it?” And good for whom, and good for what?

This is a radical impulse, instinctively resisted by those who are invested in depth and complication. Nevertheless, it is a good one intellectuals neglect. They will not hear it. Their habitual inner rejoinder is always, “if only you knew the depth and complication I do!”

The doubts and questions seem superficial—and they are—when (as the intellectual knows) they are challenges that come from simplicity, from unfamiliarity with intellectualism, and ignorance of that “depth and complication.”

In fact, it is the intellectual who can take the doubts and questions deeper, enrich them, and fulfill their exploration, which is so essential; a life of study, and working with ideas, is essential to knowing how to question itself properly, and not just essential for instructing others. But insofar as carrying on with these simple, pragmatic questions appears to be a quest to destroy oneself—to undermine a reason for being, to unmask triviality, to obsolete oneself—the intellectual refuses to take it up seriously. The intellectual calls those simplistic questions.

In fact, so many intellectuals resist explaining themselves as clearly as they can—preferring the obfuscation of jargon, and to write in academic formats—that it suggests genuine, existential doubts about what and how much they really have to say, and even their professions. Do they know what they are good for, and why anyone else should care? Confidence does not always mean a reason to feel confident, and of course many poor amateurs with ideas convert credentials into popular books or platforms. But the lack of confidence to speak clearly and speak out oftentimes suggests the construction of elaborate and preposterous facades to distract—from what? Perhaps, from foundations that no one looks forward to testing. Perhaps from a Potemkin village, or a show city for no one to really live in. Perhaps also a construction project that is continually built, ripped down, and rebuilt so that its architects and laborers have eternal work.

Those who work, in some sense, to build civilization would not be afraid to say so, or at least to take pride in their part of it. Otherwise, people will rightly suspect this is not their business, at all. Creators who have a promise to fulfill, and a humanistic reason to act, would not be reluctant to explain how and why.

Video Journal Episode 2

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth on the art of writing original philosophy (in the Nietzschean tradition), with insights into the creative process of writing a 3-volume work of literature, “The Constellation of Man.” Recorded August 11, 2017.

Included in this second episode:

  1. The big news that some excerpts are now online at my blog, Wisdom Dancer.
  2. the importance of failure along the way, or
  3. Why This Second Episode Took So Long.
  4. (Not) getting comfortable with failure in ambitious creative work, in which failure is quite natural.
  5. Lateral, associative thoughts versus too much deliberate planning, or methodology.
  6. Most written philosophy is boring.
  7. How I’m trying to let resonant images organize material according to a different intuition, which is counterintuitive to a systematic writer.
  8. … the occasional pause, and a bit of inarticulate meandering. Brought to you by sleep deprivation (also natural).
Video

Video Journal, Episode 1

Video journal by underground philosopher Colin Patrick Barth for updates on recent writing and insight into the creative process. Recorded January 10, 2016.

Included in this first episode: a little too underground; giving a name to my current project; uses of metaphor and archetypes; thinking differently about philosophy.

Resonating

Things the irrepressibly original Tom Ellard recently said:

Six years ago I took stock of the vampires and creeps that populate the ‘independent’ music industry and figured that there was nothing there for me anymore. The whole thing could blow it out its copious arse.

Thing is, music industry isn’t music, which I love and need and would still make if the last person on earth. So that wasn’t going to stop.

When we closed shop it signalled a whole bunch of new people in my life. Unlike the last lot they seemed bright and caring and to be really into what we had done. It was great to have new family but after a while it dawned on me that we’d swapped our vampires for undertakers. These new guys throw a hell of a funeral! They like funerals so much they dig up the old bones over and over again.

I love these guys, but they get all anxious if you mention any year past 1980 something and, you know, I ain’t dead yet. So I just did my music. The weird thing being that I started to get jealous of my old self.
Man, that guy got all the praise, the smug bastard.

Maybe I should have been working on some grand project that would throw music into the future but I like to listen to strange pop songs and so that’s what I have made. For the longest time I didn’t think they were worth sharing and then realised that was more pretentious than just putting them out here.

In a industry where every fool claims to be a genius all I am going to say is here’s my new tunes. I have reworked them 1000x each and have to stop.

Also, when his early 80s Severed Heads work was complimented:

Like many artists I am really happy with the things I am currently exploring, because it’s always about growing and learning. I’m happy that you like the things you mention but please understand that it was all awfully long ago, and so much has happened since that time it hasn’t the same meaning to me as it once did.

Yes.

I love and need the processes of thinking, creating, and writing—cascades belittled by these bottled words, when they happen. The degree of overlap between meaningful philosophy and the publishing industry, or academia, or indirect interactions online for that matter, are really beside the point.

Like Ellard, I have a secret ‘album’ that isn’t all that secret. (All right, mine is a grand project, but no one will believe that until or unless they’re changed by it.) It will be done when it is. When it’s done, I’ll likely move on, and gradually stop caring about it so much as I have. That will be when other people get the chance to care about what’s finished for me—or not.

I have had occasion to find out that my former efforts were an influence on various people in the past, either because I was referenced, or (transparently) copied, or complimented. I also have more experience in lamenting receptions that were not what I’d hoped for. The truth is that a thousand awards would likely be irrelevant in equal measure to obscurity, or perhaps more horrifying. Short of the miracle of being understood by someone, which rarely happens but delights me when it does, I suppose the only thing that matters greatly is my understanding and experience of what I’m creating at present; surely it is also creating me.

How odd, really, sloughing off these skins. That’s how art works, it seems. (Otherwise, you’re in marketing! Clinging to old things…) Even stranger if strangers try your old skins on. They’ll never know what they felt like when you were living in them.

No, that doesn’t matter, either way. The creator has already lost something, and must make another skin.

One of Nietzsche’s loveliest passages comes to mind:

Alas, what are you after all, my written and painted thoughts! It was not long ago that you were still so colorful, young, and malicious, full of thorns and secret spices—you made me sneeze and laugh—and now? You have already taken off your novelty, and some of you are ready, I fear, to become truths: they already look so immortal, so pathetically decent, so dull! And has it ever been different? What things do we copy, writing and painting, we mandarins with Chinese brushes, we immortalizers of things that can be written—what are the only things we are able to paint? Alas, always only what is on the verge of withering and losing its fragrance! Alas, always only storms that are passing, exhausted, and feelings that are autumnal and yellow! Alas, always only birds that grew weary of flying and flew astray and now can be caught by hand—by our hand! We immortalize what cannot live and fly much longer—only weary and mellow things! And it is only your afternoon, you, my written and painted thoughts, for which alone I have colors, many colors perhaps, many motley caresses and fifty yellows and browns and greens and reds: but nobody will guess from that how you looked in your morning, you sudden sparks and wonders of my solitude, you my old beloved— wicked thoughts!

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.”

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.

Some thoughts on showing writing

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.)

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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.

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Current desktop workspace, January 3 2013

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Snapshot of the work that kept me busy during 2012, and will continue during 2013. It won’t all fit on the screen at once, unfortunately. (It’s difficult keeping it all in mind at once, as well.)

For that reason, it probably comes across as cryptic, especially as the file names are (mostly) not titles and I can’t show the files themselves yet. Forgive the indulgence in commemorating what I (will) have to show for the past year, but I think it’s interesting to consider how different thinkers and writers work and I’m contributing a little bit to that sort of insight here.

Just want to add: probably the most interesting thing in terms of the organization you see in the picture is how much I learned about not only organization of writing, but organization of thoughts from the experience of writing an extensive and complex novel that required different ways of working. I can’t recommend a better sort of practice. It’s really too bad most academic philosophers seem to think exercises in writing well have little to do with thinking.

A fallowing time…

Here is an update for those who follow my work, and possibly wonder what I’ve been up to since I finished my novel manuscript, especially if they haven’t read my posts from earlier this year under the category of Philosophy.

In terms of writing, this autumn has been less productive than I tend to expect from my favorite season. So for me, November is all about getting back on track with the dual books of philosophy which were my focus for the first half of 2012 (and sporadically in 2010–2011).

Call them Gnosis and Praxeology for those who are familiar with those terms, and because I’m not going to go into their actual titles, back stories, or present aims right now. I will offer more information in time, and actually, I already have in previous posts you can find from the category link above.

In short, these two interconnected projects comprise by far the most ambitious attempt at a synthesis of thought & magnum opus I have made so far. I already know they will not be finished this year, but I think a reasonable goal is to have decided on the organization and division of their material into parts by the year’s end, and to have as much filled out as possible.

The organization of Gnosis is mostly finalized, which goes to show that one is far along. The precise organization of Praxeology remains a bit more up in the air, although the amount of quality material for it hasn’t lagged too far behind.

I am able to draw on notes and previous work collected over fifteen years, so there’s no shortage of material. The challenge is raising the standard in every way, and bringing disparate material together elegantly.