Introducing the Introductory, Composing, 29/01/2015

Things have been pretty busy between school and the manuscript work, but I finished my chapter edits yesterday. My next task, which I only just started and won’t finish until after I move this weekend, is writing the new introduction to Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity

Frankly, the introduction to the original dissertation version of this manuscript just wouldn’t do for a book whose audience is a wider community of intellectual people. It was the only part that stuck to the more unfortunate aspects of dissertation style. I mean, I never did a lot of the stuff that makes a dissertation project completely unpalatable for popular consumption. I always approached my dissertation as if it was going to be my first book.

I took that approach for two reasons. One was that, when my career was dedicated to the university faculty route, I wanted to get ahead of the game by as many directions as I could. An excellent way to stand out among a crowded field of applicants was to have a book out as soon as possible, so designing a dissertation project to be easily modified for mass publication was a great way to jump the queue. Instead of writing a dissertation then beginning a completely new project to be my first book, I’d write both at once.

The problem I encountered when I first began approaching potential publishers at the end of my doctoral program was that no one believed me. They were all so accustomed to dissertations being hyper-focussed, jargon-filled works written according to the micromanaging directions of committee members that my own strategy was inconceivable to them. It was only the support of my friends and colleagues that I knew through SERRC that helped me represent myself to publishers with any credibility. It still took three years to get there.

Even then, I never mentioned that Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity had been my dissertation until after they accepted my proposal for publication. They promised me that its history as a dissertation wouldn’t have affected their decision, but I still felt safer not saying anything until I got some assurance of publication.

Really, I'd just like my writing career to generate a big enough cult that
I land in the Library of Congress. If that's the pinnacle of my creative
life, I'll be more than happy.
But the original introduction probably suffered from the most dissertationese. Originally, it was just a breakdown, little more than a list, of what fields of philosophy and science it covered, and a brief account of the manuscript’s overarching problem. It did the basic job of an introduction, telling you what would come in the manuscript, but was mostly a jumble of references whose connections wouldn’t become clear until you had read the entire thing. And the only people who would still read it, after an introduction like that, would have been the people who were reading it because it was their job.

Instead, the new introduction takes a more direct look at the concepts of Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity. The introduction still has to be short too, because I have word count limits here, and I want the main part of the book to do the main part of the work. 

So I start by talking about why my book about environmental philosophy is in a post-humanism series, because building an ecological humanity means developing a new conception of what it is to be human. Then the concepts start. There’s singularity, the profound uniqueness of every body and process. Then interdependence, the fundamental principle of ecological science.

The other fundamental concept, though there are other concepts that I won’t get into right now, is contingency, the fact that nothing is inevitable in the strongest sense. Even deterministic systems are still contingent in their being complex enough that they’re described with non-linear mathematics. A set of initial conditions will always have multiple possible outcomes, with its environmental situation determining which of those possibilities actually happens.

The chapter-by-chapter breakdown will still come, but it will be much shorter, and will focus more on the topics as ideas than a list of the referenced authors. 

This has to do with one of the purposes of dissertations, proving to your supervisors that you can research and lot of whole bunch of stuff and synthesize them into a single project with reasonable coherence. A general audience has no investment in this, however. They know that you can write and research because your book was published by a reasonable company. 

An audience for a book wants you to blow their minds a little. More books should be written like that.

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