Saturday, May 31, 2008
(8:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Computers for LifeI have been tempted of late to post things about my dissertation, presumably on AUFS (if someone could explain to me why I created a blog whose name I cannot easily type or pronounce, that would be great). The point here would be to "think out loud." I have already indulged in such behavior via various electronic communications media (of the one-on-one style) with my advisor and Brad. Attentive readers will note that I did not even mention the existence of my Zizek book until I had already submitted the manuscript, and I found that one-on-one style electronic communication provided adequate feedback. Why I think that I should adopt a different model that I am likely to find frustrating for an objectively more important project is unclear to me.
There is a point to this post, however, and that is to indicate the deleterious effects of computers on the composition process generally. In a discussion with my advisor about the writing process, he said that his shift to the computer also led to a shift away from rewriting toward mere editing. As a result, he felt that one of his books had a markedly worse prose style than previous books had.
It was difficult for me to relate exactly, since I have been using a computer to compose papers ever since I had any serious papers to compose. When I was writing my Zizek book, though, I did find that in order to make progress, I had to be able to tear out and write fresh material. My strategy was to have a file (entitled "Remnants") open at all stages of the process, as a receptacle for any significant deleted blocks of prose. I told myself every time that I could reuse the chunk at a later point, but I never actually did. Nevertheless, the ruse worked -- I could delete text without the sensation that I was destroying what word-processing documents almost always feel like to me: the final product.
Perhaps that's what I'm thinking about when it comes to writing blog posts about my dissertation -- it will enable rewriting. At this stage, I would be writing and rewriting something more like a revised proposal (which I need by the fall) or an introduction. There's something about starting fresh several times, testing out what works and doesn't -- that's something that's been lost, at least for me. It's ironic, because word-processing should make everything "easier," but they seem to make everything more carved in stone. Maybe that's not the case for people raised strictly on computers, but for me, the typed version was always the final version.
In the case of the Zizek book, I was able to short-circuit that effect somewhat simply by composing in single-space rather than double-space, a convention I have adopted for subsequent writing as well and that I can't believe I'd never thought of before. Another more radical option might be the kind of no-frills text editors that Steven Poole discusses here -- or perhaps even the no-frills text editors provided by blogging services. The advantage of the former is, of course, that they lack comment functions.