Re-cranking the writing machine

(I’m trying to get back to publishing my ideas, even when they are far from perfect. For some reason I’ve been inclined to leave most of what I write private, but I’m going to make myself start putting things out there again. )

My immersion in the philosophical work of Jan Zwicky has given me a much sharper sense of what I want my book to 1) be and 2) do.

I want it to be a beautiful and dense work — of the kind I, myself, love. As much as I’d love readers to understand and be persuaded by my thoughts, explanatory or persuasive writing is not what I enjoy doing. Even more importantly, it is not what I love reading. I put enormous effort into cracking into difficult ideas —  if I sense something momentous and sublime in them. I am bored and impatient with books that take on too much of the task of explaining and persuading. I don’t want that understanding done for me. I don’t like reading examples and stories. I’ll find my own meaning, connections and applications.

My book will be as simple as possible, but for the sake of aesthetics, not for making things easy for lazy, complacent, merely curious readers. Those lacking urgency and pain-tolerance are invited to give up. That is a virtue, not a flaw.

I want my book to do several things.

  1. I want by book to defend that mode of understanding that Zwicky calls lyric and connects with gestalt psychology. Lyric understanding responds to reality in a way independent of, irreducible to, but intimately related with the form of thinking she calls analytic. She acknowledges the value of analytic thought, but believes it is currently failing to coexist with lyric understanding, one result of which is seeing nature as something to dominate. She outlines a different relationship — one which balances lyric sensitivity to the real with analytic practicality (and for beings like us an unavoidable necessity) in a stance she calls “domestic”. I have a different vocabulary from hers, and I think it has some powerful application in everyday social life, especially social life infused with design practice. I think design represents not only a way to produce domestic artifacts, but a way to think domestically. I want to design a simple, practical philosophy equipped with sharp, hard, gleaming vocabulary that can be deployed with confidence, force and grace against analytic hegemony — (that mindset I’ve been deriding as “wordworld”) — a language-dominated worldview that according to itself is justified to reject as unreal, or at least irrelevant, whatever cannot be made explicit, said, and, ideally, measured.
  2. I will insist that when words and logic fail to do justice to our intuitive relationship reality, it is the words and logic that must yield — ideally to new and better words and logic that do. Perhaps the words and logic will conform to the intuitive sense, or perhaps word and logic will provide new intuitive access (that is, it will spark a conversion). But both the intuitive sense of reality and the language and logic must be satisfied, neither dominating the other. What absolutely must go is the this modernistic conceit that we can change our nature and sense of reality through brute effort. Whatever we do — whatever we are coerced to do for a long time — will eventually become habit and seem natural.  Change is possible — profound change is possible — but it must, must, MUST answer to our lyric sense, not rape it with logical and conceptual constructs.

  • This is true for art. For instance, serial music is purely synthetic production, and its embrace by the classical music profession helped sink its relevance. It did not become familiar and beautiful to any but a small, determined and concept-bound few.
  • It is true for technology. People have lost the new perspective on digital devices that Steve Jobs taught us (or at least some of us) — that the difference that really makes a difference is experience. We’ve relapsed into spec lists, feature lists, superficial styling. Consequently, the experience of digital interfaces in use (what “user experience” used to mean) have degraded precipitously. Because, for many, these digital interfaces serve as interfaces to much of life itself (we interact with each other, transact through them and learn most of what we know about the world through them) — our lives have degraded with it. Indeed, we ourselves have degraded in ways we are too degraded to notice.
  • And it is true for the ways we think. I do not mean what we think. I do not mean our facility with logic or math. I mean how we intellectually relate ourselves to reality. This intellectual relating produces truth (of varying quality) but is not reducible to truth content. Truth is instaurated in the process of collaborating with reality, not constructed according to our meager stock of concepts and our hopes. To believe truth is purely constructed and that reality will eventually conform to what we construct could be called toxic Apollinianism.

Not every truth construct or art construct or art construct will become, with time and practice, second-nature. Forced exposure or use of a purely synthetic construct will only desensitize our intuitions and alienate us from reality until we no longer expect intuitive contact or miss it if it is absent. The consequence of too much alienation from conceptivity, with too much reliance on synthetic substitutes is nihilism and anomie. I believe this is the core cause of our current cultural crisis. We do far too much synthetic thinking-about, and far too little intuitive interacting-with or participating-in. Consequently reality has become unreal to us. It feels horrible, but the worst afflicted — our children — don’t know there is any other way to be.

  1. I want to lay out a framework I’ve been using for the last fifteen years to think about design research and craft.
  • Like art, design is a coordination of meaningful wholes and parts (which are themselves wholes): this is conceptive. It “together-takes” new givens, which can then be thought about synthetically.
  • Like engineering, design is a coordination of functional parts into systematic wholes: this is synthetic understanding. It explicitly “together-puts” givens into theories, arguments, proofs and so on, which sometimes but often cannot be conceived as new givens.
  • Design, unlike art and engineering, attempts to accomplish both orders at once. When we do this successfully, we achieve what I believe Zwicky calls “domesticity”. I’ve suggested to her that the book I am writing is an outline of domestic philosophy.

I’m ending here. This is pretty bad, but it will help me rebuild momentum.

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