Monday, May 07, 2012


"The coming to presence of Enframing is the danger."
Martin Heidegger

"Don't write a blog," says Chris Hedges. "Especially," he adds for good measure, "if you're a good a writer." Ouch! Actually, his reasons are pretty good: all good writing is rewriting. That's true. But I find it comical that he puts down blogging and, in the same breath, defends the weekly column as a literary form. He spends, like, days writing his columns, so it's much deeper than anything I could do on a blog, right?

Of course, he doesn't understand what blogging can be. He thinks it's "just sort of banging something out when you get out of the shower". As if banging out a column every week is really going to turn your prose into literature. He "crafts" his columns, he says; well, I craft these blog posts. I think about what to write during the day (sometimes, like last week, I've got the whole week's posts planned out in advance), decide on a core claim before I go to bed, and get up in the morning and write the post in exactly 30 minutes.* I'm not going to claim it's high literature, but I'll be damned if I'm going to let a columnist condescend to me. There's a lot of things I admire about Hedges, I should say, and I've even taken his side on my other blog, but this writerly pose of his is altogether overwrought. Yes, a book is "slow food" for thought but, no, blogging does not mark the absolute limit of meaningful writing. There's a way to mean something in any medium.

So... I just got myself a twitter account. As with my mobile phone, I understand "the danger". "As the danger," Heidegger tells us,

Being turns about into the oblivion of its coming to presence, turns away from this coming to presence, and in that way simultaneously turns counter to the truth of its coming to presence. In the danger there holds sway this turning about not yet thought on. ("The Turning", in TQCT, p. 41)

It's easy to make fun of that kind of Heideggerian bombast. Simon Blackburn did a capable job of it in his review of Contributions to Philosophy. Where he also points out the problem of translating terms like Ereignis as "enowning", which yields passages like this:

Time-space is the enowned encleavage of the turning trajectories of enowning, of the turning between belongingness and the call, between abandonment by being and enbeckoning (the enquivering of the resonance of be-ing itself!)

I'm going to skate along on the surface of all this rhetoric and explain my strategy for using twitter.

I will not simply turn about in an enquivering oblivion that loses itself in the everydayness of the hustle and bustle of commenting on passing events, passing into oblivion. Rather, I will use Twitter to recover forgotten posts from this blog. Keep in mind that many of them were written in that disciplined way I just talked about. This means that each post really expresses a single, well-defined point. And that point is usually expressed in a sentence in the post itself. My tweets will consist of strong claims that are linked to posts that elaborate them. My tweets will not be of thoughts "not yet thought on" but thoughts being recovered from oblivion to be appropriated in the event of being. I quiver (appropriately) at the prospect.

*A confession: this post took a bit longer than 30 minutes to write. I spent a half hour on the weekend drafting the first two paragraphs about Hedges after I came up with the idea. I completely agree with him that "writing takes time", my point here is that this time can be spent in many media, including blogs and tweets. But let's not forget the danger: time can also be wasted there. But then a book can be as complete a waste of time as a tweet if written (or read) carelessly.


Andrew Shields said...

A few comments:

1) I despise that translation of Heidegger. It fetishizes Heidegger's wordplay at the expense of the thin gruel of his ideas.

2) So I'm very sympathetic with Blackburn's takedown of that book!

3) Blackburn wrote a really funny review of my translation of the Heidegger-Arendt correspondence. When I wrote him about it, he wrote back that his immediate fear on seeing my name in his inbox was that I was going to attack him for his review, so he was pleased when I agreed with him that the correspondence is so disappointing.

4) "Each post expresses a single, well-defined point": I'm becoming increasingly convinced (and you've made a huge contribution to that conviction) that teaching expository writing has to focus on how to make "claims". Not only the overarching claims you will cite in your tweets, but all the "sub-claims" that support them. So what students need to learn (and good scholar-writers have implicitly learned) is how any given claim has a "range": it is a claim that will best support a larger claim within in a paragraph; it is a claim that needs a paragraph to be developed; it is a claim that needs several paragraphs (or an article, or a whole book) to be developed. Differentiating these types of claims is what one practices when one writes and writes and writes ... So now I'm pondering how exactly to realize this sense of the "claim" when teaching first-semester undergraduates.

Thomas said...

I get a lot out reading Heidegger, it seems. (I say "it seems" because it actually surprises me too.) I do believe there's a plainer way of saying what he's trying to say and I guess part of my mission is make his idea plain in that way.

I'm of course happy that I've had the effect on your thinking you mention.

As for Blackburn, he has my eternal respect for elaboration an ontology of "dispositions"; in fact, if I recall, he's view is (or was, anyway, when I was an undergraduate) that the world fundamentally *is* it dispositionality. (He probably wouldn't put it that way.) I do think Heidegger was saying the same thing, which may be why Blackburn is being so hard on him. He's muddying the very waters Blackburn is trying to distill.

Thomas said...

PS. You might like this.

Andrew Shields said...

I do indeed like that. It's a kind of Oulipian translation, if you will.

Keith O'Rourke said...

Interesting, used to argue that brain workouts and muscle workouts likely had a lot in common.

More specifically supportive with your ideas here, my old martial arts instructor encouraged us to make as many of our daily activities into martial arts workouts as possible.

For example, when locking your door in the morning, pretend to drop your keys, lower all your weight on the left leg, pick the keys up with your right hand and stand up slowly using only your left leg, but hide that you are not using both legs equally. When you later unlock that door, repeat for the right leg. After a month or two you will notice an improvement in strength and ability to hide which leg you have most of your weight on. Sorry for the long explanation.

The likely relevant point for your point, was his advice not to exert too much energy and time so that it would interfere in any way with your daily activities (i.e. do 20 reps) but simply meld in unobtrusively.

I have been doing this for thinking about applying statistics, maybe there is some room for writing. Maybe not.

Thomas said...

Thanks for this example, Keith. I've already tried it: bending down picking something up. I'm going to try to come up with a similar writing exercise.

Andrew Shields said...

The point is to make your practice an unobtrusive part of your daily routine. An exercise: quietly begin to pay attention to what is happening around you and to transform that attention into a claim. That is, once a day (perhaps even at a specific time), come up with a carefully formulated claim that responds to the situation or conversation you are in. It could be part of a project, but the point is to work on making claims.

Thomas said...

One day I hope to be able to design an entire undergraduate degree program around such exercises. Imagine the minds that could out of that discipline!

I've already figured out what they would read.

Keith O'Orourke said...

Andrew: Took your suggestion of making a claim but its “threatening” to become
obtrusive to my daily routine.

That seems to be the downside of claims.

Here is the claim:
(I have to remain somewhat anonymous on that blog as its content is too close to work stuff.)

Now the claim is wrong (or at least muddled) and if someone points that out, it will be very hard not to be distracted about it.

The good: by making the claim, I had to think carefully about something harder than I thought and now, upon doubting it, I cannot simply ignore or dismiss it that easily (having claimed it somewhat publicly).

The bad: allowing the distraction from my daily routine to outweigh the benefit of what I have and will learn.

The ugly: that ego that needs to be there to want to learn hard but important things but also drives one to hide the error, or at all cost understand it before someone points it out.