Thoughts on the very strange process of writing philosophy, or, On the affectivity of buliding a conceptual diagram
I’m not sure if there’s any commonality between the way I write philosophy and the way this is done by others. But I find it is quite a different experience than I’ve encountered with other types of writing.
Certainly the writing I’m doing now, the editing of Networks and Philosophy, doesn’t have me doing criticism or theory. No, this is metaphysics. And writing it is very different than writing on other thinkers, doing critique, or writing to analyze a cultural product like a film or work of literature. No, this is creation. And though it’s certainly not ex nihilo, to some extent, the form of this mode of production obscures its very traces.
For writing philosophy means that one writes, as Goethe famously said, with the whole of the history of philosophy in your mind, but not within your words (I’m paraphrasing, of course). Overloading the text with context, justification in light of your influences, arguments with others, none of this will do. These in fact generally get in the way. And though all of this must be going on in the back of your mind, or needs to happen in other works, they aren’t necessarily directly part of the writing of philosophy. They are the connectors, the supports to the wider world, but little more.
No, writing philosophy is building. I find that I have trouble conceiving of it in other than sculptural, architectural, or other 3D types of terms, and yet, of a particularly dynamic and self-intertwined sort, an emergent sort.
Why sculptural? I think often when writing philosophy about Michaelangelo’s famed quote that in sculpting, one must simply remove the marble that should not be there to reveal the sculpture lying beneath. However, I’m also reminded of the quote cited by Deleuze in The Logic of Sensation (I forget if it’s his or not), that a blank canvas is never blank, it is covered with the images of all the prior paintings that have ever been made, and which must be cleared away if one is to actually paint.
Writing philosophy is a sculptural process, an architectural process, because one needs to make an architecture of concepts. They must intertwine, fold, join, support, articulate. Concepts allow for volumes to form between them, arguments to circulate, they open a space and time between them. In this sense, creating them is to create in a virtual sort of third dimension. One sculpts the concepts, then architects their relation, and from this, one builds a whole.
Of course, the whole is a moving whole, one which allows arguments and examples and digressions to flow through it, just as the whole moves in an out of various other field which it seeks to refract by means of its conceptual architecture.
And writing it is a process of moving. It is a constant moving from concept to concept, argument to example, tightening one, tweaking another, until the abyss opens within a section, and threatens to suck the whole thing into it, until one forges new concepts where the abysss once was, just as the entirety of the construction once came as an answer to an abyss. And in between abyss and conceptual architecture, there’s intuition, an image which mirrors, if in refraction, the whole.
I find that writing the work I’m doing in particular is an experience of constant patching of voids, each time producing conceptual architectures which then alter shape of the whole, leading to a process of tweaking, which leads to breakage between conceptual joins, which opens up new voids, which starts the process again, often leading to fractal branchings at deeper levels of scale.
At some point the process must stop. But not until it has a gravity that is strong enough to make any void that opens ultimately inconsequential. The parts must shimmer with the whole, and vice-versa, yet each differently, and each a differential refraction of the contexts from which they emerged in the wider culture as well.
A crystal, a dynamic, four dimensional crystal, formed of flows and void and architecture and spacetime, refractions and tensions.
Writing theory, or writing commentary, it doesn’t quite work like this. For in writing these types of work, you don’t leave out all the intermediate steps that got you somewhere. No, in philosophy, you only present the results. Like with math proofs. Which isn’t to say that you remove argument or illustration, or even digression. But the concepts are what matter, and how they interconnect, not the personal process whereby you got there.
Writing and rewriting, opening and closing voids, doing surgery to repair them. Each time the fear that the hole will not close, that it will swallow the whole. And yet, at some point, confidence in the power of the intuition that guides the whole. For it has proven itself in the past.
This, at least for me, has been the process of writing Networks and Philosophy.