The Problem of Cutups and Continuity, Composing, 10/07/2013

Sometimes, you just stare at the screen and yell at it a little. Tuesday morning was one of those times. 

I’m currently working on some revisions to the first chapter of my dissertation to transform it into a seriously publishable manuscript I’ll be able to shop to university presses in the next year. The revisions to this chapter are probably the most radical in the dissertation text. It’s largely an examination of the concept of intrinsic value of nature, its benefits and limitations, and introducing my game change on the idea to make it viable again. While my original dissertation concentrated on Arne Næss’ approach, and I still consider him to have had the most potential in the intrinsic value of nature team, I think I have to give notice to approaches from more traditional analytic philosophy of the environment. Some press editors I’ve consulted with have recommended this (though that particular press didn’t accept the manuscript, I’m adding some material on Nicholas Agar and Paul W. Taylor in case an editor at a future press is concerned about intrinsic value of nature advocates in the properly analytic tradition). 

But shortly after weaving Agar’s valuation of all individual organisms into a passage that originally focussed on animal liberation, I’m a little stuck. I have a diagram on a piece of paper next to my computer showing how to weave the rest of the intrinsic value of nature context discussion into the established text, but I’m not totally sure how to incorporate the new material into the old and still have it flow smoothly.

This is where the difference between how I think and how most humans think starts to cause me problems. When I make a conceptual connection, it’s very clear to me and I jump straight through it, following the pattern I can see in ideas that most other folks don’t notice. This skill has served me very well, because I can spin an idea in different directions than most people, giving me a peculiar insight that makes my work a little remarkable. The problem is, all this jumping is normal to me. So most of the problems I’ve encountered in my writing career is that I’m not sure when another person is going to look at the pattern I’ve drawn and will have no idea why I’ve made the connections I have. This happens to me in social situations too, when I'm not sure if I understand what other people think, or if they understand what I think. 

My philosophical ideas are generally on target and insightful, but I’m never sure when I’ll have to put the hood up on my ideas and expose the underlying pattern rather than the reader just jumping with me. This chapter and its revisions are probably the toughest place in the whole project when it comes to this problem.

I've had some intriguing ideas for some kind of fiction
project about William Burroughs (who gets general credit
for the cut-up writing technique that I say I use in part) and
Joan Vollmer, his wife whose head he blew off.
What’s more, I tend to revise in a cutup style, which fits the slightly different wiring of my mind. If a sentence that works as an introduction shows up in the middle of a passage on a first draft, for the second draft, I’ll simply shift it to the beginning. Same with inserting new material. I’ll squeeze it in between two paragraphs, and work a little on the transitions to make it seem smooth. 

Imagine trying to describe an entire 360º view of a cityscape to someone. You can’t just dump the whole thing on them at once, because language only comes out one sentence at a time. But where do you start? In what direction does your explanation move? What aspects do you focus on first — little details or major landmarks or some intermediate feature? The answer depends on the priorities of the project, and while I have a sense of that in regard to what I already wrote as part of the dissertation, I’m still not 100% sure about how the new material fits those priorities.

This project has come together in fits and starts since I first started writing the dissertation in summer 2010. The middle third was written in Winter 2011. What turned out to be the concluding chapter came together at the end of that year. Revisions saw chapters merged, and some material ejected altogether. Sometimes, I have no idea how I managed to get a unified, quality dissertation with a clear argument arc finished inside the four years of a four year program.

I guess I’m just that good.

No comments:

Post a Comment