Thursday, March 10, 2005

Getting Your Facts Straight (2): a handbook supplement

I shall derive my emotions solely from the arrangement of surfaces.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

If the email response to my last post (for which I am very thankful) is any indication, it has left the reader with the impression that I am some sort of monstrum de profundis, a rough beast slumming it to Atlantis through the vast wash of the sea of discourse, a leviathan of the language. So in order to avoid any confusions, let me emphasise that my point was really quite a superficial one, and an of entirely practical kind.

What I am proposing is that researchers begin to compile a set of individual pages (text files), a sort of loose leaf system for the organization of one's intellectual accounts. At the top of the first page of each file you should write "A1", "A2", "A3" ("A" for "accomplished", the numbering in order to keep track of your facts) or "C1", "C2", "C3" ("C" for "contentious") or "P1", "P2", "P3" ("P" is for "pax", "peace"). You should then write between one (1) and ten (10) words that names your fact; set this in bold type. Leave a blank line, and then write around 300 words that does greater justice to your knowledge of the fact you have just named. New page. Same letter and number at the top. You now have up to 3000 words to say what's on your mind about the fact you have numbered, named and briefly described. You need not use all of them.

I think, to start, we would do well, each of us, to have at least three facts of each kind on hand, i.e., in our files, in this form. At least nine facts in all, more or less accomplished, more or less contested, more or less restful. They may never be published in this form, but they are nice to have around in case of trouble.

Create two folders. Call one "Active", the other "Inactive". If you ever discover that a fact of yours is wrong mark it "x" after the number, i.e., "C2x" and move it from the active to the inactive folder. Likewise, if you ever discover that a fact has stopped being especially relevant to your research (so that you are no longer keeping tabs on it in any serious sense), mark it "i" (A1i) and move it to the inactive folder. The file names should of course simply use this this numbering scheme, and it will be useful for you in the long run to note the date you last updated the fact file, right next to its number. Feel free to change your mind as often as you like, moving the files back and forth between the folders accordingly.

Working in this way ought to make it clear to us that as researchers, thinkers, knowledge producers, or whatever we choose to call ourself, we derive our concepts from the arrangement of appearances, and that our knowledge is nothing other than specific, factual arrangements of matters of fact, and statements to their effect. We engage with the facts and note down the results of these engagement. The trick here is to keep your composure. We may also arrange facts in order to undermine especially dominant facts, if we are "critical" for example, or "deconstructive". In which case we are dealing with the delicate art of losing your head with style. But there is nothing especially "deep" about it. The whole point is simply to assign the monsters a place in the aquarium.

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