Voice

I sat down to take my next step, to write the next post, and soon had 100 lines of text in someone else's voice.

It was someone I admire and whose writings have been a part of my thought for over a decade. I was then filled with a sense of dread. How could I live up to such a voice? Was that really the voice I needed?

The dread turned into frustration, then a sense of being overwhelmed by the scope of what I wanted to write about. In my mind, the phrase:

I want to create a historically maintainable, hegemonic alternative to the social-metabolic order of capitalism.

sounded sensible, precise, and inspiring. I doubt it rings like that in other ears though. I thought I would explain all the terms, unpack it. Soon I was planning out a grand essay, or a book. I would have to be rigorous and extensive in my presentation of my thought. I would have to defend it against critics who had no interest in improving it, only destroying or discrediting it.

So I took a break and had a beer.

The Conversational Voice

I get into conversations at bars frequently. I am careful. I start slowly, let questions indicate further interest, and I limit my scope and detail to appropriate levels.

This could be a useful voice, but I have some issues with it, and as a voice for writing it suffers from lag in feedback. Its vocabulary adjusted, its pace tuned, as I learn more about the audience. That voice is not a very precise guide here, where an audience is only an abstraction for now.

There is another problem, though.

I am practicing my writing in order to develop the ideas I have, and to share them with others so they can grow. A conversational voice that is torn between where the audience is at, and where my head and hopes of the future are at.

The Academic Voice

I enjoy reading critical theory and philosophy, but it has taken me years to absorb the jargon and context. In a few cases, it could be avoided, but it serves a purpose -- letting a community talk about a very large and complex topic for several generations. Mix in all of the nuances of human expression, desires to perform a given aesthetic, or differentiate oneself from subgroups in the topic, and you have a rich, florid, extravagant field of language that makes a rococo cathedral look like your high school's trophy case.

Since these are conversations spanning lifetimes, we find ourselves going back to the words of the dead. Many times you only read a summary of the ideas, or one take on what was said. Eventually you will find that the retellings lose alot of the original story, intent, and depth.

The obvious downside here is that you are asking your reader to be responsible for alot of work. The not so obvious penalty is that you are tying your ideas to a big network of thought. You will find yourself spending lots of energy differentiating your use of the word from other peoples use, and fighting ancient wars whose generals are long dead.

The Obligatory Synthesis

So what components of these two voices can we use within the framework of a blog?

  • Serial Presentation -- blog pieces are distinct installments, with a presentation in series when archived. This can record some aspects of the development of the conversation, and the mutations of the thoughts over time. Bit by bit a corpus can be built, with later pieces developing previous topics further -- as the reader feels fit to progress. Lastly, the pace and order of presentation can be tuned as feedback trickles in.

  • Short Pieces -- with the largest piece being perhaps a short essay, specific topics must be chosen, or light sketches must be drawn. This can help preserve simplicity, and supports a conversational tone.

  • Hypertextuality -- referring to previous posts, and linking to external references helps build a network of thoughts. It also eases the burden on the reader to learn jargon if links are provided for new terms, or terms with less orthodox definitions. Links to original sources make it easier for the reader to check the words of the dead against the stories we tell about them.

  • Aggregations -- After a corpus has accumulated, new pieces can be built by following threads across topics, or by providing an overview of a multi-faceted topic.

  • Feedback -- Having survived Usenet, I am skeptical of the value of comments. As a curmudgeon, I am loathe to type into web forms. I think email is still the preferred way to get feedback, and it lets me read and respond in my native environment, Emacs.

Where that leaves me

Sitting in the bar, trying to build a path to the future, one conversation at a time.