Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Space & Things

Space is to the thing what time is to the person. People unfold in time, we might say, while things occupy space. If, as Bergson says, time is that which keeps everything from happening all at once, then space is that which keeps everything from piling up in the same place. In the beginning, everything was, indeed, piled up in a single place. All matter was pressed into a single pin-head of a universe; there was no time and no space. Then, with the big bang, what Kant called the transcendental categories of experience, Time and Space, were created and what the Taoists call "the ten-thousand things" came into existence. Some time later, writing was invented.

I argued on Monday that your authorial persona is, to a large extent, shaped by the way you organize your writing time. If you sit down to write one deliberate paragraph after another, each expressing a single truth you know, one half hour at a time, according to a plan you always recommit yourself to the day before you write, then you will be one kind of "person" in your writing, one kind of author. You will have a particular style. If you write impulsively, "on inspiration", always seeing "what comes into your head", and put that down on the page, never knowing whether you will write today or tomorrow or the next day, always hoping that at some time in the future a "secret miracle" will happen and your text will be finished, then this, too, will show in your style. You'll be a different kind of author. Perhaps not, or just barely, an "academic" one.

The space of your writing consists both of the room in which you write and the page that the words end up on. The way you organize that space, like I say, has important implications for the things you are writing about. First of all, you should write about things that exist independently of the things you are reading. In your writing space, you should turn your back on the books and papers you've been reading, even on your data. You should bring only a set of notes specifically relevant to the paragraph you have decided to write into your writing space. The page you are writing on, meanwhile, should be situated in a particular part of the text you are working on (introduction, background, theory, method, analysis, implications, conclusion, or whatever headings you are working with), which means the individual paragraph is deliberately directed at a particular part of the reader's mind.

Under these conditions, you "construct" the things of your research, your objects, what your writing is "about". These things are not in your head, or in your reader's head, or in the books you've read, or in "the discourse". They are out there in the world. That's what the world is: it's where the things are. You should write about things in that spirit, i.e., as things that you've experienced and that your reader may well experience too. Things come together in facts and facts make your sentences true or false according to whether or not those sentences say that things are as they in fact are.

There are different kinds of facts, different kinds of things lying around in different parts of space. Some things are available in perfectly ordinary experience, and provide a general factual background for your research. Some facts are very big, pertaining to many or even all things; we call these "laws", and these are what are our theories are about it. Some facts are very subtle, made up of things are that are very difficult to observe. These are our "objects" proper, and we get access to them through our data. Some things make up the delicate instruments by which we make our observations, gather our data. These things pertain to method.

Just as our presence as authors in our texts depends on our organization of time, the presence of things in our writing depends on how we organize our space. We must be deliberately writing about the things that make our world.

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