Saturday, September 15, 2012

A little bit on process; and a turn of thought

There are telltale signs that I am at the "saturation point" for material for a piece I'm working on:  I have trouble finishing sentences; I cannot think of the right word for things; I sleep fitfully, and when I do sleep, I'm plagued by very odd dreams.  That's when I know that my subconscious is working overtime on the broad landscape of material I've been reading and annotating in previous weeks.  And the fact that I'm working on this at the start of an academic year, when my classes are starting out and I'm trying to figure out the best pedagogical approaches to the material is just exacerbating my overall inability to articulate myself verbally.

Wednesday morning at 5:30am, after dreams in which I was occupying two spaces at once, my eyes popped open and I could see (and hear) the complete introductory paragraph to the chapter I'm writing.  It was an odd experience, and the little pad I keep on my nightstand would never be able to handle the heft of the paragraph in question.  I ran to my study, grabbed a pen, and started to scribble the paragraph down as best as I could, knowing that only 20% of it might make it into the finished piece; but I also knew that there were some key phrases that would act as "markers" for other ideas.  After the paragraph was done, I sketched out a very rudimentary structure/flow chart of ideas.

What's most interesting, however, is that for this particular piece, some of my best nuggets have come from my more "editorial" notes -- where I comment on an author's style or rhetorical choices; or where I document my own difficulty in understanding a point, or in articulating an analysis (i.e. "This is a really tricky bit, I can avoid this argument or try to walk the reader through it").  But there was one particular essay I was reading where, after a very promising first 2/3rds, the author then abruptly stops a deep and thorough philosophical meditation to show "an example" of the philosophy in action in some obscure film of which I never heard.  I was frustrated, because it seemed he was so close to something really profound in the piece, and then there was this ... example.

It made me think of Heidegger's prolonged deconstruction of Trakl's "A Winter Evening," and also my concluding chapter in Posthuman Suffering, where I went on a somewhat meandering analysis of one scene A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.  So I put myself back in that space and tried to think about what was going on when I watched that film and when I was composing that chapter.  The short answer was: a lot.  Actually, it was that particular scene in that film, as well as the ATM epiphany in DeLillo's White Noise which became what I thought were seminal moments:  seeds for the larger book.  But after all of this reading, writing, dreaming, stammering, and procrastinating, my thinking is beginning to turn and I'm realizing that "seed" is very much the wrong word; and that, perhaps, through an elusive temporal slight-of-hand (or is that, "slight-of-mind," what we see in "perfect examples" of our theories are not examples at all -- or at least not examples of what we think they're examples of.  

So as I work though this, I'll be bumping into things and becoming even more inarticulate.

As for the blog, I'm not sure if I'll be updating during the writing of the actual chapter.  I'm playing that by ear.  So if you don't hear from me until October, you'll know why.