Assembling a Piece at a Time, Composing, 03/05/2017

I’ve never written a big book of philosophy before Utopias without it being my full-time job. That’s not as much of a transition as it seems. I’ve only written one other big book of philosophy. And writing it was my full-time job – as a doctoral candidate, my main task was to complete that dissertation.

I did more than most students on a dissertation. My first, largely stonewalled attempts to publish what became Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity saw editors at academic presses, encouraging me to read pamphlets like From Dissertation to Book, thinking my work was pretty typical.

Most dissertations are over-technical, hyper-specialized, and geared to the research concentrations of the three or four people on your committee. So the pamphlet’s goal was to guide a young academic through the process of making such a market-less document into something that a relatively intelligent general audience might want to read.

In 2013, I had already written a manuscript that demonstrated the needed research and analysis abilities. I just wrote it in a style that used straightforward language. I intended it from the beginning to reach a fairly wide audience. And I banged out the whole manuscript in two years, with only two years before that solidly researching.

James Joyce has been a touchstone for me in
building my self-image and identity as a
writer and artist. When he set himself an
ambitious project, he was prepared to take a
long time if it was needed to get things right.
Finnegans Wake took 17 years.
A couple of months from now, it will have been four years since I started work on Utopias. I haven’t written much of the manuscript, and only recently completed a full outline from beginning to end.

As I develop the manuscript, that outline will grow internally – more steps and arguments within arguments, as are needed when it comes to massive philosophical projects.

Yesterday, I finished the broadest shape of Utopias’ outline, and wrote a short paragraph from what will be the third part of the book. The paragraph was about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of the state of nature being a description humanity’s existence as pure capacity. Shot through with awful colonialist and racist imagery, but ultimately about the material nature of capacity for civilization and society.

I could research and write Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity in about a four year period because McMaster University – and for the last couple of years Ontario Graduate Scholarships too – was paying me to do that pretty much full time.

For the past four years, I’ve worked for several different companies and clients on a short-term basis, entered and finished an intensive college business program, and networked my way into the start of an arts career, recently while working at a physically and mentally draining low-paying part-time in a massive furniture store.

It’s why I pared my research style down to classics and recent primary, creative texts. Why I largely shied away from secondary and tertiary material in conventional academic journals. Not only is that research too packed with expensive paywalls to take part in as a non-faculty writer, most of its content consists of spiralling rabbit holes of commentary and counter-argument that loses its connection rapidly to real-world relevance.

Even with that restriction to the best possible and widely available sources, this has been a long journey. After four years, I still have plenty of research left to go on Utopias, and I’ve only just begun the first jabs at writing the manuscript.

I hope now that things can move a little faster in my philosophical and artistic production now that I’ve finally landed a steady teaching job that won’t cause me the undue financial stress of all those short-term, underpaying positions I’ve had since 2013.

I wrote just one paragraph of prose for the manuscript last night. But I think it’s good. One paragraph at a time. We’ll see how the next four years go.

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