Tag Archives: writing

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 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.


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.


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.)

Screen shot 2013-01-08 at 7.07.18 AM

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.


Current desktop workspace, January 3 2013

Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 12.22.27 AM

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.