March 4, 2008

Typing on the fly; new blog policy.

Filed under: Self indulgence, Self reproach — duncan @ 8:40 pm

So I walk home from work, and stop off at Goldsmiths library to do some reading.  Joan Robinson, ‘Economic Philosophy’.  Something makes me think of Derrida, because almost everything does, so I dig out his great essay ‘Economimesis’.  I might copy down some quotes from it and post them up here – nothing better summarises what I’m trying to do in this blog; trying to take my bearings from this essay, and issues related to it.  Then I think – hold on, I haven’t read Kant’s Third Critique.  How can I read ‘Economimesis’ in any sort of informed way without even having read the Third Critique?!  So I dig out the Third Critique.  And there I am, sitting down to start to read the Third Critique (Joan Robinson forgotten on the table beside me), when I think – wait a second.  Why on earth would I read the Third Critique before I’ve even read the Second?!  Fine, the First Critique is done and dusted; I spent a lot of time on it at university.  But really, if you want to try to understand what Kant’s doing, it makes a lot of sense to read his work in order.  So I go and get the Second Critique.  And there I am sitting down to read the Second Critique, and right away he’s making all sorts of claims that remind me just how long ago it was that I read the First Critique.  For instance – Kant’s saying, plain as day, that the self is noumenal.  Is that really what Kant thinks?  If someone had asked me to summarise Kant, I wouldn’t have tried to put it like that.  Obviously I don’t have a proper handle even on Kant’s theory of the subject?  Should I revisit the First Critique?  Probably I should; but I’ve got it at home; I can do that when I get back.  So I’ve read maybe thirty pages of Joan Robinson, and a page of each of the First and Second Critiques.  And already my mind is in chaos.  It seems one has to have read everything before one can begin to read anything.  And now I can’t even concentrate on the Second Critique, I’ve got too much stuff going on in my head.

So I’m holding my head in my hands in Goldsmiths’ library, and wondering how on earth I’m going to carry on with whatever it is I’m doing here.  I’ve just seemed to require of myself a digression so enormous it’ll take at least several weeks of studying (that’s insanely optimistic, because I read about as fast as a reptile.)  What to do?!

I originally started this blog because of problems like this.  I just can’t concentrate unless I can my thoughts out of my skull.  But the blog doesn’t seem to be fulfilling this function, at present.

Solution: a change in blogging practice.  I’m writing this on the fly, in an internet cafe; whereas normally I try to at least proofread what I’m typing.  No longer.  The blog will from now on, I think, be basically a stream of consciousness.  This will, more than likely, make it totally unreadable; it won’t even be funny; I might as well type random characters as a form of therapy.  But maybe maybe maybe this’ll help me make some progress in whatever insane project I’ve decided to attempt.  You never know.

Apologies to any readers who are expecting (or even, though it hardly seems likely, have come to expect) lucidity.  I’ll now be tapping away, Kerouac-style, at a single infinite piece of paper, scarcely even pausing to punctuate.  It goes without saying, I’ll be writing about stuff I don’t understand, and that I scarcely even know anything about.  That’s why I’m writing it.  Oh lord – what cultural factors made this a paradigm of writing that can seem, from a certain perspective, in the right light, praiseworthy?  Don’t blame me!  Blame the times!

And so on.  Hope everyone’s keeping well.

January 31, 2008


Filed under: Self indulgence, Self reproach — duncan @ 8:16 pm

I’ve lost my mobile phone. Since I was stupid enough not to get it insured, I’ve still got to pay for the bloody thing, in monthly instalments, until 2019 or something. (Note to economists: consumers are not rational. Many of them will not buy insurance even when they’d be idiots not to. This is why John Edwards’ health care plan is better than Barack Obama’s. [1]). Since my phone was (bar internet cafes) my only access to the web, I’ve pretty much got bugs crawling under my skin, the withdrawal symptoms are so bad. It turns out I did a simply ridiculous amount of reading on that gadget; now my eyeballs are popping out into the information void.

Some advantages mobile phones have over computer-based browsing.

1) You can read academic articles in public without looking like a freak. Everyone in the world (everyone in south London, anyway) spends their waking lives staring at their phones. I guess they’re reading text messages or something. But it means I can happily read whatever I want (provided it’s on line, which most everything is) and not look like a maniac. Try reading an economics textbook at the bus stop, and see the kind of looks you get.

2) It enforces a certain kind of attention. I find it pretty difficult to read stuff on a computer screen – the urge to skim (which I rarely feel when reading actual physical paper books) is almost irresistible. (Not entirely clear why that would be; something to do with your distance from the screen, your inability to physically hold the thing you’re reading, a certain discomfort or lack of bodily engagement? Who knows…) On a mobile phone, you have to scroll down all the time – you can only read a small portion of text at any one moment – so you have to pay full attention to every word, even when you’re reading casually. I find this helpful.

3) Plus, of course, you can just carry a mobile phone around with you. Even if you’re only got a minute and a half to spare, you can pack in a small amount of self-education or pointless blather. For those of us whose actual lives are mostly distractions from reading, this is good.

No mobile phone for me now, though. My Google Reader account is piling up bile and analysis from around the world. Unreachable! Unread! This blog is soon going to get radically less well-informed – which I didn’t think was possible.

Maybe I should buy an internet connection of some kind. Or – I’m thinking outside the box here – another mobile phone… I’m just not sure I can bear to pay for two monthly contracts.

That buzzing sound you hear is the world’s smallest violin, on mute.

[1] Though neither is exactly unimprovable. This debate is one of those things I just don’t understand. Why wouldn’t you have a progressive-tax-funded, single payer, universal coverage health care system? What’s to dislike?

May 7, 2007

James McGowan is a hero

Filed under: Self reproach — duncan @ 4:39 pm

Already, this blog’s revealing more about me than I wanted to know. It turns out that I’m not only mindlessly cruel to poor James McGowan, who has done nothing to me. I also read the Guardian too much. This week’s Jon Ronson article is about the mindless cruelty of blogs. “Blogs are bringing out the worst in people.” “We sit alone in our rooms, becoming more and more isolated from society. And, inevitably, this turns us into mad, yelling, wild-eyed loons.”

I wrote the other day that James McGowan is a moron. But of course James McGowan isn’t a moron! He’s translated Baudelaire! He’s very nearly a genius! I can’t even speak French!

While I’m at it, I seem to remember mindlessly insulting David McDuff as well. A poet and a scholar! A hard-working man of letters! Labouring to bring us the best of Russian literature (not just Bely but Babel too!). For, no doubt, less money than he deserves!

How could I be so cruel to these talented men? What if they Google this page? James McGowan; David McDuff: I’m sorry. If you get in touch, I’ll send you each twenty pounds, as an apology. You’d better send some proof of identity. A photocopied passport or driving license, perhaps. We can work it out when you contact me.

And what about John Browne? Didn’t I imply that he was some sort of servant of the devil?

But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need money. And there’s a letter of support in Saturday’s Guardian signed by 67 names. (Virginia Bottomley; Philip Gould; Nicholas Serota). So I guess he doesn’t need support either.

Still, I’ll try not to be so rude in the future.

May 5, 2007

But what am I doing?

Filed under: Self reproach — duncan @ 1:13 pm

But what am I doing?
What am I thinking?

Here I am writing about Andrei Bely – holding forth on Andrei Bely – and I’ve only ever read one book by him! One book, out of his life’s work, and not even in the language of its composition. Still worse: what do I know of the culture and tradition of early twentieth century Russia? I could at least have re-read Petersburg with care and thoughtfulness before descanting on it. But I merely flicked through it! Casually! Hastily! Oh such laxness!

But then my defence: care has no limits. I think I will do justice to Petersburg and Bely; I plan to write with authority and rigour. But what would this mean? Months spent tracking down Bely’s corpus; months spent reading it. Months spent on his influences, his ideas, his biography. And then his language! Learn Russian; for this it is essential to move to Russia. Get a job there, make a life there, perhaps raise a family. Already one is seventy years old, staring out over the steppes, pen in hand, laptop on knee – one’s researches are almost complete, the judicious phrase is approaching the tip of one’s tongue. But then one is dead, and buried, and forgotten, like poor Andrei Bely and us all.

Crippling obligations. Impossible demands. No: carelessness and injustice must be chosen. For we aspire to truth! But we aspire to action! We act in ignorance, or, awaiting knowledge, fail to act.

Certain things are being evaded. Certain things are being approached. Tacking away from honesty, in order to take it by surprise. Or at least…

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