Tuesday, May 22, 2007

READING AND WRITING

One sin that the Internet induces is a gluttony for information. All knowledge and written information is out there. As long as you have enough printer paper, you can download The Origin of Species or The Phenomenology of Spirit or The Old Testament and not pay a penny. And if you find these tough-going, there is an abundance of "a guide to..."s to help you on your way (just to assure you that specialities are the preserve of those who specialise in them).

This inevitably produces the sensation that it is possible to know and understand everything, if only one has the time (needless to say, nobody does or will). It is part of the injunction of the superego - compulsory jouissance - which seems to me to be Zizek's greatest insight. We have discussed it before : the command to have a nice day, to enjoy yourself, to be happy. If you are unhappy you can get therapy. If you have a disappointing sex-life you can get viagra. If you are ignorant, you can find information to enlighten you. You, as an unfulfilled human being, have no excuses.

Writing on the internet exacerbates the problem, partly because it adds to the glut, and partly because in adding to it there is the need to absorb more of it (and more of it) first. This endless absorption can make writing anything impossible (though, having used this excuse many times, I suspect the impossibility of writing comes first, and the mission of reading is a convenient by-product).

Anyone who keeps a blog seriously will feel the divine presence of the Big Other over his shoulder as he writes. There are blogs whose standards one aspires to, and whose authors one imagines - quite without foundation - read one's every word. When I explore further, often these authors are several years older than me and educated to a much higher level than I am in the subjects that I try to write about. (You see what I mean - even now I'm trying to justify myself to unknown readers against unknown writers...)

So in order not to disappoint them, my imaginary readers, those whose own blogs are my benchmarks, I will try to write a post on a given subject, leaving no stone unturned. I will begin reading and arrive at a choice : to explore other unknown paths, evoked by whatever I am reading, or to continue onwards. If I explore an unknown path, I will be back where I started, for each path has further unknown bifurcations, and so on and so on. The result is that I become so far removed from my original path, that the initial topic will be lost. It is rather like exploring South America, but at each turn having to return to Spain or Portugal, or dash to the nearest museum, to reach the cause, and the cause of the cause (and so on and so on).

Maybe others are less so, but I am terribly guilty of this, and I must stop it. No more seven-books-at-a-time for Paddington! No more terror at incomprehension!

*

On the subject of writing (and Zizek), I went to see Zizek! last night. Lots of great ironies : the first being that (a) the Director of the film, Astra Taylor, has an MA in Liberal Studies and (b) that the party Zizek associated himself with and campaigned for in the early 1990s was called "Liberalna Demokracija Slovenije". Two other highlights were his affectionate idea of Judith Butler struggling to describe a bottle of iced tea, and his comparison between the immanence of surplus value and the objet petit a (more of this in a later post, maybe).

But the most immediate thing I took from the film was his account of how he writes. Apparently resistant to the idea of writing, he simply writes notes, and more notes, and more notes - and then edits it all. This seems like the perfect strategy, for it softens the act of Writing. Writing (with an uppercase W) takes us back to where we started : it is an attempt to write everything. One knows it is thwarted because one knows one does not know everything ; but perhaps, one day, one will, and one will be able to write. Every writer loves taking notes, because notes are the encapsulation of something fresh and, well, noteworthy. Every writer loves editing, because it is the proof that one has finished the act of writing more educated than when one began. Most writers hate Writing because, if for no other reason, it is the most concrete form of the death-drive imaginable. It threatens to fossilise the notes and the education. It makes one feel stupid.

I am terribly guilty of this too, so ... No more writing for Paddington! Only notes and editing!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Mike B said...

Hey, I think you have it exactly right about the difficulties of a certain kind of blogging... Obviously not everyone suffers from this and can blog fairly effortlessly, but I suffer from the same problem as you, and have countless massive unfinished blog posts from dead blogs. Somehow blogs occupy the gap between a drunken conversation at the pub and a journal article. The more I've leaned towards seeing it as the former, the easier I have found it to write. Of course, our drunken pub conversations are not archived for all time and searchable on Google.

1:19 AM  
Blogger Barry Marshall said...

There's an old essay by Isaiah Berlin, "The Hedgehog and the Fox". Hedgehogs know lots and lots about one big thing, they are specialists in one area. Foxes know lots of bits of information, a bit of everything. It's not that one's better than the other (at least not in my opinion, though Berlin hints there is) but that's just how people seem to be.

You're like me, you read and admire others' works, their blogs and marvel at the commitment it takes to update it and have something meaningful to write every day/week. (Try holding down a full-time job and a "meaningful" blog!). But aren't most consistent bloggers hedgehogs? They just write about the same things all the time. Your more sporadic blogger would tend to be a fox, writing something about everything every now and again.

And as for Mr Zizek - doesn't he just repeat himself across his different books and articles? I'm sure I've spotted the same passage about Marx, commodity fetishism and "objet petit a" (and a few others) about four times!

Funny bloke though ...

9:00 AM  
Blogger minifig said...

I think I have precisely the opposite technique of writing. I don't think I've written a note about anything for about 5 years - I never write a draft of anything.

Probably explains why my blog's so rambling and smarmy...

...ah, yes, the Big Other - I think the top subject for bloggers often ends up being blogging in some form or other. That and Jade Goody.

9:43 AM  
Blogger darling vicarage said...

Interesting post. I like writing with a capital W, and love taking notes even more - but I hate editing. It's like analysing your own vomit. Which is odd, because I love working as an editor for someone else; there's nothing quite like the power and sadism of the glossy red pen.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Newfred said...

I keep meaning to comment on your posts but my preoccupation with doing virtually nothing seems to preclude any meaningful contribution to discussion. And I suffer from the same attitude to writing, of course. I remember reading in one of Derrida's books, I presume it was Writing and Difference, that he describes his feeling of lostness and incapacity faced with the prospect of writing a new book or essay, of writing on a new blank page or screen. (I also remember with respect a photo of him with an old PowerMac in his office.) Of course, Derrida's detractors would say that he felt like this because he just wasn't very good at writing, and they might have a point. (Btw, I did finally get round to responding to your comment on my Derrida post -- in case you hadn't checked back)

I also remember the Derrida quote about writing being mediated speech and speech being mediated thought -- and on those grounds I think that a difficulty in writing is really a difficulty in thinking. If we are able to think clearly, we are able to speak clearly and write clearly. The reason Derrida's own writing and views on the act of writing are so fuzzy, confusing, opaque, crazy, is that he is on some level rejecting the possibility of thought, or at least rejecting the validity or usefulness of conventional Enlightenment "logic" in the practice of thinking.

As regards writing, therefore, I think we are probably eventually faced with a choice, however averse postmodernism is to decisions; we have to equip ourselves with logic in the end to live in the world. The real question, in the words of Alasdair Macintyre, is: Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and therefore, Whose Writing? and On Whose Terms?

9:48 PM  

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