A Proper Blog Post: Writing, Biology, Political Theory

I’ve made a full recovery from yesterday’s outburst. I clarified a few things in comments and others raised some good and completely irrelevant points too. Darwin Catholic wins for the biggest, line-by-line take down of it. He accuses me of being exploitive. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that he’s probably right. Let’s not pretend like blogging isn’t exploitive. I guess it depends on what exploitation is. I don’t know. But don’t get me wrong: the story genuinely upset me and I plan on making good on my word to have more to say about life. I’m still flirting with the idea of doing a short e-book.

I’m an inefficient grader. I try to tell myself  “just gloss for the basics; it’s too much time and they hate you for it afterwards; everybody else does it,” but once I sit down to do it, I can only do it one way. I’m a creature of habit.

That’s why I write. During the past year or so, I’ve really begun to see myself as a writer. I even suspect that writing is slowly becoming my primary craft. I think I like it, but it scares me too. Like falling in love or agreeing to do something you’re not too sure you know how to do. My guitars are jealous. What a sick joke: a patchily schooled, undisciplined student, who never took a single course in composition and failed grammar in Junior High, decides to be a writer at age 30!

I blog for the writing, mostly. For the practice. I need it. Bad. I respond best to negative reinforcement. Piss me off and off I go. Compliment me, make me feel great about myself, and I might reach mediocrity, if I’m lucky.

Posting things on the internet has built-in humiliation and pressure. Like streaking, when you click “Publish” you’re butt naked. I frantically search for typos and phrases that are too precious and writing ticks. Redundancies. It’s my daily exercise. It keep me sharp for my academic writing and editing and whatnot. “Someday,” I tell myself, “you might be good enough to do this for a living if you want to.” Then I read another column about the end of books and writing and libraries and everything.

That’s what I mean when I assert that I’m not a journalist. This is not journalism. I’ve no time to worry about integrity or accuracy. I just need to do my push-ups. That you find these exercises worth reading is a humbling convenience. What can I say? Thank you? I’m so sorry? What?

I also lie. I hide my intellectual dogmas inside my whole “I’m just writing here, pay no attention” routine. My academic work is philosophical in nature and writing is my way of working out ideas. I like to write while listening to jazz or a lecture or a documentary that I’m not watching. Mostly Zizek. Classic, distractedly focused millennial behavior. A place to talk to myself through my fingers.

I used go to have lunch or coffee with a friend or mentor and talk to them for hours. Three or four hours minimum. I’m a terrible conversationalist. I give long monologues and don’t let you finish your sentence. I know what you’re gonna say, so I think, and already have a reply. Often I have two or three. I talk too loud. My interlocutor doubles as a volume knob, turning me down when I become too obnoxious. My coffee gets cold. If there’s cigarettes, even better.

The reason I’m going on and on about this is a rather uninspiring apology of sorts for not being a proper blogger. You know: the links, news, and fun stuff. Friendly comment boxes. All that stuff my colleagues at Patheos do so well.

I like to think that I’m an essayist at heart. I love William James’ homiletic talks and witty essays, like “The Ph.D. Octopus.” I try to be like him. I think he would have blogged too. He wrote letters to newspapers and the press frequently. Who knows?

I said all that to say that I’d like to share some links with you, like a proper blogger should. Each is lengthy and dense in its own way. But they are also fantastic and interesting and, together, make the best trio of online readings I’ve come across in a single day’s time. If you like this, I’ll do it more often. Habits, remember?

The first is on writing, from the treasury of interviews at the Paris Review: Susan Sontag interviewed by Edward Hirsch. I love what she has to say about writing. I shuddered at her dark outlook on mixing the professoriate with serious writing. Her prodigious pedigree is devastating to my confidence — just what I need on a regular basis. This is the best story of the three.

The second is on biology, from Orion Magazine: State of the Species,” by Charles C. Mann. This one, by far, has the most novel and riveting ideas of the three. Here we see a vision of life and history that’s as big and old as it gets without theology or poetry. It also has radical implications for re-thinking lots of things, beginning with ecology. I wonder where it leaves the notion of “human ecology”?

The third is on political theory, in a review of five books focusing on liberalism and multiculturalism, from the New York Review of Books: “Freedom and Diversity: A Liberal Pentagram for Living Together,” by Timothy Garton Ash. This is super fun. Nerdy fun, but good fun. Good, clean fun. Not funny though. Timothy Garton Ash is one of those people with enough personality to use all three names and still be taken very seriously. The only other I can think of is David Bentley Hart. I was able to hear and meet TGA while this topic was just emerging a few years ago, at a graduate summer school in philosophy of education at the University of Roehampton. It will be required reading in a class I’m told that I’ll be teaching on multiculturalism someday.

So there. A proper blog post. Sort of. Not really. I’m (not) sorry.

 

 

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  • calahalexander

    Sam, the more I read your posts the more I like them. For what it’s worth, I really liked your post on Savita. I don’t think it was exploitive, or at least any more so than any blogging is, although I thought Darwin brought up some good points too, specifically as it related to the pro-life movement. Anyway, I learn through writing too, and sometimes blogging can be an unforgiving medium in which to make a mistake. I’ve learned a lot of (humbling) lessons about myself through my commenters, though, and am always grateful for their generosity when I say something foolish. I think you are a really good writer, and I’m kind of amazed that it’s not your chosen field. You write like it is.

    • srocha

      You are very kind, Calah. Thank you.

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