What is this book, and why am I writing it? I've been reluctant for a long time to try to write anything in the form of a book because there is just too much left to figure out before a truly coherent thesis worthy of that level of exposition will arrive in my head, but I've also been botherered by the amount of concepts and connections between concepts I've inferred that I consider very important but have only alluded to in a cursory manner if I have at all; and if I fail to write them down, it will inevitably become an increasing hindrance on my ability to justify things with a solid foundation.
All that being said, I do not believe in obsessive documentation: to never let any of one's output get distorted or even disappear is poisonous to the ecology they both live in and comprise. But at the same time, it's time that I begin creating an archive that gives some of my ideas an ecology in which to embed themselves. The idea of a text as an ecology rather than a treatise will be what animates the form of not only what I write but how I write it: a network in which nodes are created, destroyed, copied, mutated, and linked, each idea acting as an affordance for both the reader and the rest of the text alike, facilitating the unfolding of not only my intuition and yours but also that of the text in its own right.
As such, I will make an effort to create specific points of entry but also give the reader a chance to take advantage of whatever openings they can, finding their own path through the roads they find useful. The concepts and issues in this book will be extremely variegated, coming from all kinds of situations and projects from both the past and the present; but I am obviously putting them in a single place because they're all "connected" in some way. That being said, I have zero interest in forcing paredolia on anyone, and the very format of this book opts to just shut up and let people decide for themselves where things are connected intsead of telling them it's all just facets of some nebulous force that rules everything around us.
Okay, so what's it about and why is it called what it is?
If I had to name a central animating concept that every one of my philosophical and practical ideas seems to trace back to, it's narrative, but I hate using that word because it's become hijacked. Perhaps it was the popularization of the idea of the "Narrative Fallacy", but people now associate narrative with some kind of naive summary of events, something that compresses information and slaps some implied sense of cause and effect on events that might not have any relationship at all. If you don't understand those terms, don't worry, part of why I'm writing this book the way I am is so I can seamlessly inject deeper exposition on subjects for those who feel compelled to learn more.
So instead, I chose a title that picks two related ideas that comprise a decent entry point into the process of making myself clear:
- (1) "There is nothing beyond the text" (Derrida) and "all the world's a stage, the men and women merely players." (Shakespeare)
- (2) "Text" is not something symbolic to be "mentally" interpreted, it's the formal nature of the ultimately material substrates we move through, and one's "interpretation" of text is the way in which one physically interacts with, utilizes, and ultimately moves through it. The text should not be thought of as a novel so much as a combination of scripts and stages that we play out as actors, each of us addressing the matter at hand. There is no one single substrate, however, or at least one should not assume such; instead, one should think "the text" as a multiplicity of matters.
What is the purpose of this theoretical speculation? Is there anything practical about it?
Yes, these ideas did not come from idle curiosity. Contrary to popular belief, I've never given a fuck about the ultimate nature of reality; but the more I found myself stuck in paradox after paradox trying to figure out the answers to very real dilemmas, the more I needed to reach for increasingly theoretical ideas. These include but are by no means limited to:
- What is pain and why does it not always correspond to being physically hit? I had, and continue to have lingering traces of, a debilitating chronic pain problem that came out of left field several years ago. It was clearly exacerbated by psychological factors and mediated by the central nervous system, but no one framework seems to make the causality of this clear.
- I've had serious ADHD since I was a kid, and it took me forever to even find a half-decent vocabulary to explain to people what it means to have executive dysfunction. It's often felt like being trapped in a prison of fractured subjectivity. Medications have helped a lot, but drugs are not a satisfactory answer to the semantics of how the mind works and how to develop more agency. And this matters on a practical level: besides the problem I just mentioned, I can say from my on and off experience with insomnia that chemical inputs are not a sufficient explanation even if they're a necessary part of the equation; the mind clearly organizes and channels inputs in some way that can vastly change outcomes.
- Why and how should one respect the subjectivity of others? We know from the malleability of memory and the ubiquity of bias that one can easily fabricate a situation that would differ from what would be captured on a video camera, but the pain is still very real, and the "distortions" in their own point of view might capture something that cameras can't capture: context. And yet, one reply with "hey, if they're allowed their truth, then I guess I'm allowed mine." Concepts like "empathy" usually amount to mere buzzwords taht don't tell us why and how to truly listen, and how doing this could move us forward.
- We've been hit by one economic crisis after another, and now environmental crises begin to pile on top as well. Most discussions of this come down to abstract numbers where few people try to ask what they mean in the last instance. Ineffective metaphors pertaining either to mechanisms or equilibrating substances make a mockery of a more earnest attempt at investigating what we're fundamentally talking about when we talk about "the economy". The one thing everyone agrees on is a lot of stuff doesn't work, but how do we find some kind of empirical or theoretical certainty about how to find prosperity?
- How do we manage to control, understand, harmonize with, or overcome something? Is a science of something like the economy even a reasonable concept? What would it take to build a generalized "artificial intelligence" and what would that even mean? Why is it that it seems to work to "give up the illusion of control" even though we obviously wouldn't succeed if we decided to spend all day in front of the TV eating potato chips? Is will or volition a thing? Are our current political inequities a problem of direct action, a problem of miscalibration, or a deficiency of spirit? Current conventional wisdom about both the personal and the political is a confused oscillation between mechanism and moralism.
- In general, what is the validity of scientific or mathematical truth? An electron is real insofar that it's true according to experimental observation, but that itself requires an abstract framework that itself must be justified, which itself is in some way experimentally verified, and so on; all of it "believed" because it "works". But works for whom and in what ways, and how much stuff works for the reasons we think it does? If one approaches this problem for its own sake, they're setting themselves up to fail: without a conflict that motivates the search for knowledge, we can't even define what knowledge is.
- Why make art? Isn't it a selfish thing to do at a time like this? Is it really satisfactory to talk about how random experimentation is necessary for progress when there are people starving? Would answering in the affirmative to the first question be a dangerous fundamentalism?
That being said, this text isn't about any of those questions, those are just a few major feelings of confusion that motivated the answers I sought and have still not fully grasped. The real substance of the text strives to not simply wrestle with and tame the dissonance of the preceeding list, but to elide altogether the kind of dysphoria inherent to bloated dialectics.