On The Problem Of Writing

“A” Is For Pyramid, Said Hegel

The problem with writing is that to write is to produce some thing from thought.  I think something; I should write it down.  Like, I reckon that’s pretty insightful observation about lo-fidelity music I’ve got there, I’d better record it so it doesn’t get lost.

And so, writing is an obligation on thought, a labour and a labouring of thought.  The writer extricates writing from thought like a mineral (which Chuck D will no doubt find and call “a beat”) to be orthographically shaped into a commodity, some thing tangible that can then be exchanged.  The otherwise idle pursuit of contemplation becomes work, and this always runs the risk of becoming tiresome.

See, I’ve already got disinterested in expressing this idea I had; the original sensation has gotten lost as I’ve typed the above paragraphs (and, I write in revision, I wasn’t sure here if this was all gonna coalesce and that perhaps I should just go get something to eat).

And that’s just it: thought is a free flow, like a playful dog that doesn’t always stay when and where you want it to and opts instead to run after a squirrel or car.  Perhaps it finds conversation with friends and intoxicants more suitable for its expression.  Sure, that’ll work in the Agora when you have a scrupulous minutes-taker like Plato around, but now, if an idea’s worth expressing, it’s worth recording for posterity and broadcast (on tape delay, though — there is no live writing).  Gotta whip that playful dog into submission.

And so, you must set to work, with your head and with your hands (why on earth did Dictaphones not catch on?) and make something so’s we can put it out there.  It’s no coincidence that our daily lives — and the industrial processes that produce them — are and have been for millennia driven by mechanisms for the production of writing: the alphabet and the law, moveable type and the assembly line, the Internet and, uh, the Internet.

But penultimately, even in its Bronze Age form, what writing does (and writings do) is render thought into a commodity.  Whether it’s an inscribed tablet or a stream of electrons in a tube, it is now a thing, which, by the transitive property of capitalism, can slip into a good.  And even if the goods are never for sale, work must still be done just to produce them.  Always a task at hand to be completed, and you’d better get at it, son.

It’s as if to write is to not bear the thought of losing thought, letting it fade away.  So we toil with ink and with bytes at erecting memorials for our contemplations.  A trace, or tag, saying, “Hey man, this idea was here”.

Finally, the writing above assumes “thought” and “language” to be basically synonymous.


~ by Isaac Bickerstaff on May 14, 2010.

One Response to “On The Problem Of Writing”

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