Why do I write?

Why do I write?

I haven’t stopped to think about it lately, and I probably should. So I sat down for an afternoon and tried to come up with all the reasons why I write. Here, in no particular order, are presented the main reasons I write:

 

1. Because I’m reasonably good at it. I started blogging because I’d learnt I had the knack for turning words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs; paragraphs into chapters; chapters into theses. That’s the essence of what writing is. Turning words into something larger.

Words on their own mean something, but the relationship between words when they are placed in order is vastly more important. Much like binary code in which the significance of any individual ‘1’ or ‘0’ is simultaneously and paradoxically nil and ultimate (the significance coming from a relation to all the 1’s and 0’s that precede and follow) so too every word means simultaneously almost-nothing and almost-anything. Their individual significance is minor to the point of being generally interchangeable. Like any binary ‘1’ on a spinning magnetic disk, swap it for any other ‘1’ and the meaning remains the same. Just so, words together can cumulatively enlarge and grow and warp and twist and crackle across the page with such fire and power that it seems as though the very world was enveloped by words!

The world is not enveloped by words, but one can at least better understand the attraction to philosophy’s near-all-consuming ‘linguistic turn’.

2. Because the act and process of writing helps expose me to my own thinking, and develop my own ideas. When I’m writing a piece and connecting logical dots, when I come to one or more seemingly contradictory conclusions (or, more commonly, am overtaken by a growing realisation of contradiction or confusion) I have to re-examine my premises, or the terms that I am using, or some other aspect of my approach entirely. I have to wonder, what do I really mean here? I have to comprehend my own unarticulated intimations and somehow untangle the mess of connections as though a snarl of many twisted wires.

It’s kind of like The Socratic Method for solo cogito, where you have a lone dialogue with yourself by way of externalising thoughts through words.

3. Because I like the way a particular turn of phrase or a particular use of words can make me think in a completely new direction. Take, for example the following completely functional sentence:

Leaving food in my bedroom attracts rats and cockroaches.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that sentence whatsoever. It contains four nouns – ‘food’, ‘bedroom’, ‘rats’ and ‘cockroaches’ – as well as the transitive verb ‘leaving’ . It carries the meaning efficiently and effectively, warning readers not to leave food lying around in my bedroom unless they want to encourage rats and cockroaches. Now take the following modification of that sentence.

Leaving food in my bedroom attracts vermin.

All I have done is substituted ‘rats and cockroaches’ for the word ‘vermin’. The difference from the first sentence is both subtle and profound. For starters, it has at once simplified the sentence, reducing the number of words and nouns to three – ‘food’, ‘bedroom’ and ‘vermin’). It has also changed the scope of the statement, increasing the range of the implied admonishment to encompass the entire category of creatures that are considered pestilent. Even further, the word ‘vermin’ brings with it connotations of disease. Now, instead of our imaginary food attracting merely two species of pest, it attracts a whole lot more. On Wikipedia’s page for vermin it discusses the word’s scope:

Disease-carrying rodents and insects are the usual case, but the term is also applied to larger animals—especially small predators — on the basis that they exist out of balance with a human-defined (desired) environment…Pigeons, which have been widely introduced in urban environments, may be considered vermin

There is so much more possible meaning to be drawn from the second sentence than the first: now a reader’s mental image of the consequences of leaving food in my bedroom includes a virtual menagerie of all types of vermin; adding it’s presence along with the rat on the side-table and the cockroach on the plate is now the pigeon that flies in my window to nibble on leftover crumbs, the mouse nibbling on some mince, and any other ‘vermin’ the reader’s imagination might conjure up. All this from using one word instead of two (well, three if you count the conjunction ‘and’).

4. Because words are the things that grant me access to ‘things’. Using new words gives me access to new things; everything from thoughts and emotions to new words for composite activities and entire processes. As a process of discovery it’s exciting to be able to attach a word to something that was previously indescribable, held only in the mind as a vague miasma of thoughts, actions or emotions. Try and concieve something that has no word (or group of words) for it, or some that you don’t know the word for, and what results? A vague sense of wrongness, uneasiness, a sense of indeterminacy and a reliance on broad, childlike strokes at attempting to describe something in an inevitably not-quite-right way.

Take a word like ‘thanatosis’, a word which roughly means the act of feigning death in an animal, usually as a reflex action. Sure, you could always just describe that as “the act of feigning death in an animal, usually as a reflex action” but to have a word-tool available gives it the sense of coherence, or a unity. This is a phenomena, it exists, whereas before all we had was a compound series of words/sentences. It’s a relatively powerful aide to thought.

5. Because writing is non-literal (or doesn’t have to be literal). It can be allusive, as well as functional; persuasive as well as descriptive; figurative as well as useful. Computer code is functional in that it does things, and this results in the inseparability of understanding what a piece of code does from an understanding of what it is. The IF/THEN statement is exactly what it does, quite unlike languages and writing which hold a non-linear, indeterministic relationship between what a unit of writing is and does.

Supple.

6. Because writing can be its own reward! Thus, if my words change the world, so be it. If they do not, so be it.

7. Because the end result of writing (having a piece of writing, contrasted with not having a piece of writing) is something that I can point to and say ‘That is something; something that I have made and that reflects something about me, be it my character, my prejudices, my perspective, my limitations and boundaries, my insights, my vocabulary, my speech-thought patterns, my philosophical predisposition, my proclivities and peccadilloes, or my command over my very own thoughts.

8. Because writing is communication and I am hungry to communicate – to reach out and touch other people.

To understand and to be understood is a deeply powerful, even sacred, relationship. Comprehension is both skill and choice; as a skill it’s one that many people seem to lack but it can be developed.

If writing is practice comprehending myself, then reading back over your own writing can be practice at comprehending yourself as comprehended by someone else.

9. Because writing is technical in that there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Words have correct spellings (leaving aside differences between regions) and grammar is essentially a semi-rigid system of rules. Oftentimes there are good and better ways of writing (particularly when writing with a purpose or audience in mind), but there are also right and wrong ways. That is a comfort.

10. Because writing can do amazing things, as well as be amazing. It can do art as well as be art. Out of the same ‘stuff’ is fashioned the most withering critique of the vapid artist and the utmost fantastic exploration into the character of 1920’s Parisian expatriates.

 

Further reading: Lyndon Warren’s ‘Wittgenstein, Games, and Language‘, and Philosophy Bro’s excellent ‘Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty”: A Summary‘.

New web address!

Good news everyone! Ben Abraham dot Net is now accessible via the address: http://this.isnotablog.com/. While my audience’s expectations around my blog are largely out of my control, I can still give hints:

Thanks for visiting. Enjoy your stay.

The Gizzard of Darkness – by Hunter S Thompson

We drove north in the darkness toward Ignacio – just the three of us, huddled nervously in the cab of the old BMW 3.0 coupe. There was a light fog hovering around the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, along with some stains of fresh blood on the deck. . . there had been a massive collision a few days earlier.

Driving the bridge has never been safe, but in recent years – ever since it became a sort of low-tech Rube Goldberg experiment for traffic-flow specialists – it has become a maze of ever-changing uncertain lanes and a truly fearful experience to drive. At least half the lanes are always blocked off by flashing lights, fireballs and huge generator trucks full of boiling asphalt and crews of wild-eyed men wearing hard hats and carrying picks and shovels.

They are never gone, and the few lanes they leave open for what they call “civilian traffic” are often littered with huge red Lane Markers that look like heavy iron spittoons and cause terror in the heart of any unwitting driver who doesn’t know they are rubber. . . Nobody wants to run over one of those things, except on purpose, and in that case you want to take out a whole stretch of them, maybe 15 or 18 in a single crazed pass at top speed with the door hanging open.

We were not brooding on these things, however, as out little car sped through the light midnight traffic toward our strange destination in Ignacio. . . It was Saturday night and we were running late; our appointment with the Clairvoyant had been for 11 P.M., but a bizarre call from Washington had held us up.

The story, this time, was that CIA Chief William Casey – a key figure in the mushrooming Iran/Nicaragua scandal – had long since been “disappeared” by his CIA cohorts, and that the elderly gent now sequestered behind a screen of CIA bodyguards in a penthouse suite at Georgetown University Hospital is not Casey at all, but some cleverly crafted impostor.

“It’s only a dummy,” said my source. “They’re going to shoot him full of cancer or some kind of animal poison just as soon as they can get him alone – and then they’ll call a presidential press conference to announce that Casey lived and died as a true American Hero – who unfortunately went to his death with all the secrets of the Iranian Weapons Transactions and Oliver North and the criminal guilt of President Reagan still locked in his crippled brain.

“That will kill the whole case,” he explained. “They will blame it all on Casey, and them bury that poor old wino in a closed casket and call for a New Beginning.”

My informant is rarely wrong on these twisted, top-secret stories from the dark side. But they tend to be hard to confirm, and this one was no different.

I finally gave up and decided to lay off the political stories for a few days. My old friend Heest, a disbarred attorney, suggested another option. He was on his way “up the road,” he said, to visit his personal psychic in Ignacio, to get some legal advice. He was facing charges of felony assault in Oakland for stabbing a stranger in the buttocks with a fork in a waterfront tavern, and his lawyer had quit for reasons he refused to discuss.

Not even the public defender would touch it, he said bitterly, so he had decided to turn his case over to the psychic, who had never let him down. “She is harder than cheap nails,” he said, “and she draws all of her wisdom from Michael, who is very sharp about politics – maybe she can help you out on this Casey thing.”

“Who is this Michael?” I asked him. “Does he have any links to The Agency?”

Heest laughed distractedly, but I could see he was getting frantic. He had suffered a broken wrist and loss of vision in one eye, as a result of the stabbing incident, and he was helpless to drive his own car. “Please help me!” he screamed.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ll drive.”

It was long after midnight when we finally got to Ignacio, where the psychic was waiting impatiently. She was a nice-looking woman of 39 or so, wearing a stylish white dress and no shoes. There was nothing about her home to suggest a lifetime of witchcraft.

Heest had gone to pieces. It was not his first offense and he was well-known in Oakland as a savage drunkard and wife beater. “What does Michael say?” he whimpered. “He’s the only one who can help me now.”

The woman stared at him for a moment, then she uttered a long sigh and fell back in her Spanish-leather chair. Her eyes rolled up in her skull until only the whites showed, and her lips moved soundlessly, as if talking to birds in her sleep.

Then she came slowly awake and gazed around the room with a faraway look in her eyes. “Michael says he cannot help you now,” she said in a low voice to Heest. “He says you will spend the next two years in an extremely confined environment – probably at Folsom prison.”

“What?” Heest screamed. “Oh God, NO!” He leaped up fro his chair and staggered out of the room. We heard him retching outside on the lawn. I dragged Heest into the car and left him sucking feverishly on a bottle of green chartreuse. . . I went back inside but there was still no sign of Michael, and I demanded to know where he was.

“He speaks to us from the astral plane,” she said. “But tonight he is here in the room.”

Suddenly, the whole thing became clear to me. These people were on a different frequency – like Mr. Kenneth from Park Avenue – and this creature called Michael that Heest had tried to pass off as some kind of hermit political guru was in fact not a person at all.

He was, according to one of the occult handbooks she had on the floor among a pile of stones, “composed of 1,050 individual essences, ex-humans so to speak, who have lived on the land part of earth.”

Well. . . I thought, why not give the bugger a shot? Maybe he knows something. “Where is William Casey tonight?” I asked her. “Is there any truth to the rumours that he is not where he seems to be?”

She seemed puzzled, so I gave her some of the details and she passed them along to Michael wherever he was – and his answer came back like a rocket.

“You must be crazy,” she said. “This man is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Of course he is where he seems to be! What are you trying to do – get me arrested?” She stood up and waved a fat silver stone at me. “Get out of my house!” she yelled. “I’ve seen your kind before!”

Heest died in the back seat somewhere along the way back to town, so I dropped him off with Capt. Hanssen at the harbour master’s shack on Scott Street, where his body was burned with rubbish.

–          January 12, 1987

This exactly-24-year-old piece was written by Hunter S. Thompson. I know it’s exactly 24 years old because it was published on the day of my birth.

Words I-V

This is a series of 5 “downloadable” blog posts that form what I’m calling “Words I-V” because each individual post is either Words 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Seems straightforward enough.

The point of them at the time of writing each one was slightly different for each, but they are loosely united by the desire to be as unconscious in my writing as possible; just let is all hang out for all to see; as little self censorship and self guidance as possible. Whether they succeed or they fail as anything else, they each stand on their own. You can read them in order, in reverse order, or no particular order. Not reading them also constitutes some level of engagement with them, since I take it that you are reading this post about them right now and your decision will be to either read or not read them. Unless you decide to read them and then don’t carry through on that decision because you put them on your desktop and never get around to them which is what I have a tendency of doing.

They are things, they exist. Here’s a download link.

If you like them, or even if you hate them, would you please tell me so?

I guess this makes me a new media artist?

So I’ve got this thing going on over at Facebook. I’m calling it “A Week of Worthless” and here’s what I say about it on the event page:

Have you ever stopped to think about what you are doing when you post ‘links’ to your Facebook profile? Implicit in the act of sharing a link is the idea that a link is worth following; that it is worth one’s time and attention.

‘A Week without Worth’ is an online art performance that will challenge attendees to re-examine and re-think the default relationship with the internet hyperlink as employed by social networks like Facebook. By presenting a series of Facebook links during the first week of May that are completely unworthy of a viewer’s time or attention the artist hopes to spark thought and debate about the impact of the immanent function of the Facebook link, and the internet link in general. It further aims to make attendees consider how deeply entrenched the culture and practice of filtering and ‘ranking’ has become.

By allowing and inviting comments on these ‘worthless’ links the performance will also problematise the notion of ‘internet worthless’ links by potentially demonstrating that discussion can be initiated and directed towards any ‘worthless’ site, thereby revoking its ‘worthless’ status and disrupting the performance. In actuality, the only successful ‘worthless’ links will be ones that attract no comments, likes, re-links, or other attention whatsoever.

While posting links, the artist will also reflect on the difficult process of finding and even conceptualising the ‘worthless’ internet page, despite the fact that we may (and often do) encounter a multitude of ‘worthless’ pages in a single web browsing session, all of which disappear from our mind and memory as soon as we click onto the next hyperlink.

The performance should ideally be followed on Facebook at either:
http://www.facebook.com/ben.abraham or at http://www.facebook.com/posted.php?id=614825217

You will need to possess a Facebook account to view the performance, however you should not (I think) actually have to add Ben as a friend. The links and their comments shall be set so as to be visible to any Facebook user.

As a last resort, RSS can be used to follow the performance, however RSS will not reveal the success or failure of the art project as comments and ‘likes’ will not be visible over RSS.
http://www.facebook.com/feeds/share_posts.php?id=614825217&viewer=614825217&key=dd720f4f7f&format=rss20

Until the 1st of May, any links Ben posts may safely be assumed are not part of the performance.

It’s only been up for about 24 hours and it’s already been a pretty amazing experience. I initally invited only people who I thought would probably “get it”, in the sense that they wouldn’t hate me for experimenting with something different on Facebook. The response has been pretty positive so far, but some unexpected things have happened. I made it an open event, so anyone could invite friends, relatives, or anyone potentially interested in attending a Facebook art-show, and because it was open someone else invited pretty much all their friends to the event. So there’s now 150 or so people, many of whom I have never met, all invited to this weird online performance I’m giving in about a week’s time.

Some people are actually declining to attend. Some of these people will probably just be declining any and every event sent to them – I’ve declined enough events in my time to get that many people just decline them out of habit – but there’s also been at least one person comment (jokingly? seriously? I can’t tell!) that they’re annoyed at being invited. Some people (probably a lot) are also saying they don’t really get it, which was unexpected for me. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have included the passage about “succeeding” as worthless links. I see now that it might seem as thought the actual linking was the important part of this event. It probably shows my predilection towards conceptual art; my cultural eltism; etcetera, etcetera. The event is really meant as a practical demonstration of an idea. In that sense, this feels a bit like game design. And as I’m being a creator, it also feels kinda scary, having to let go of what this event means and let people have their own ideas about it. It’s scary, but pleasurable, to be on the other side of the creator/audience divide to usual.

I’ll be writing some more about it postmortem, about what seemed to work, what I got out of it and some of the reactions people had to it.

Facebook is a weird thing… or perhaps more accurately, the internet is a weird thing. But I kinda love it too, y’know.