Couldn’t finish this one.
For a book that reiterates the idea of deep intellectual focus, it’s pages are filled with just the opposite; Newport’s so called “shallow work” applies here. This book is crammed with managerial, business like, productivity-for-the-sake-of-productivity drivel and repetition.
I understand that the author originally wrote a blog post where the coined the term “deep work” (so original right?) I haven’t read it but I’m almost certain it did everything the book does without wasting my precious time engaging in epiphenominal “deep work” i.e.: shallow work in disguise.
Don’t get me wrong, these are good ideas, ideas utterly essential to the habits of intellectual fulfillment. But there are maybe two or three of them, already common sense to the modern day reader, repeated over and over interspersed with bragging about how much money the author made, how many places he’s traveled to and hero worship of “successful” people (people that make a lot of money), “smart cogs” as I like to put it. Specialized skilled people who’s skills no doubt required sustained concentration and intellectual prowess, and yet cogs all the same.
Made it around 90 pages in. Boring recount of facts of DFW’s life, containing none of the passion or insight of his writings. A slog I saw no value in completing. The lame title should have been a dead giveaway.
What does it take to be a writer of fiction? Are there certain technicalities that are absolutley necessecary to have in order to be elevated above the writing of a layman? Do I need sophisticated grammatical structures and a voluminous vocabulary? Without these, without technical depth, does one not fall into the trap of a Bukowski? Ignored by critics and academic scrutiny? Is this indicative of shallowness? Does it matter if that is the case as long as the central necessity, that of authenticity and artistic merit, is reached? What does it take to perform such an act of authenticity?
Self confidence and confidence in your work
Every great artist whether they be a depressive or one perennialy filled with optimistic exaltation has necessecarily been stubbornly confident in that work that they do which they deem to be of great value. One can be the most timid and unconfident nebbish but when it comes to his art, and when he feels in his heart that it is good, he is the most confident man in the world. There are many things in this world that gnaw away at ones character, that hold back the confidence which everyone deserves to achieve for themselves and one of these things in identification. Like when a friend or acquaintance, perhaps someone you look up to, expresses a negative opinion of something you love and you take great offence to it, you take it as an affront to your very being.
Some people seem to like the idea that the self is made up simply of the aggregate of it’s persuasions and tastes but this seems wrong to me. If everybody else in the world hates Mulholland Drive, or thinks that Kundera’s “The Joke” is trash why should that effect my liking or not liking it? Wasn’t the original reason for liking it so far away from the evaluations of others that that has the least effect on my opinion? What if I did at one point like something that for good reason is evaluated as bad art by someone knowledgeable or genuine enough to make that appraisal? I’ve certainly indulged in things that were objectively bad (If I can use that term, and I do wish to use it) regardless of the purity of the emotions and experiences I attempted to validate in them. I should simply listen to their argument for it (if they are presented at all, through rational discussion or experiential example) and change my opinion or not when convinced or not. Apart from reevaluating my tastes, the worst reaction of all is to take it personally. To identify with my tastes. Our tastes change, they are not our essences which by definition don’t change, and if you want to make the argument that we have no essences or that nothing at all has an essence then all the better. Identifying with anything at all would be the most stupid thing to do on that account.
Not being able to think for oneself is another of the great ills to the self confidence necessecary for an artist (or for any person of authenticity). If you are not convinced of things by intuition or rational argumentation but instead are bullied into positions by social concensus or fear sowed by malicious actors then you are nothing but an automaton. You will never be able to be confident in your positions (not certain however, everything can be overturned and the confident person knows this) as you depend on others to tell you whether or not something is right. Institutions have their own agenda, when you enter one you give up the reigns and let them steer the ship, but noone can steer another persons ship rightly. Learning occurs through empathy, anger cannot deal with the subtilties of self transformation, and only individuals are capable of empathy not institutions. These things erode self confidence. One could suffer the greatest indignities carrying boulders back and forth in a concentration camp but as long as they have control of their mind and soul they will know that it is wrong and never be convinced otherwise. Do not confuse this with happiness or contentedness that is something alltogether different to confidence.
Depth and insight
The last thing one wishes to be is a shallow writer. You can be as miserable or as exuberant as you want but something in between must be represented. The heights of despair and the mundanity of happiness along with the excrutiating low and the blissful high. The world thrives on paradox, and our reaction to it is simmilarly paradoxical. What would we have left to do if we could reduce it down to essential principles like a logical positivist might desire to. It’s not that one desires to be intentionally obscure or to hide ones lack of insight; the insight is the ignorance, the knowledge is that of ones ignorance. Kurt Cobain sad he wanted his lyrics to be a mashing together of emotion, and that was the insight. Never has anyone experienced any one thing at any one time. It is our human desire to isolate which is in conflict with our experience. The moral of the story is supposed to be open ended because it would be shallow and lacking insight to give a final answer.
Complexity is the toool of insight but it is not limited to technicalities. Vocabulary or grammar might be useful in a particular situation to elucidate the insight but it could just as easily have been acheived by complexity of thought or description.
Art is built on love. A love for passion. A love for emotion. Emotion is the soul of action, it drives thought and it drives concrete action. Without it noone would ever have put pen to paper (even the shallow writer or the writer who does it only for money seeks money or fame for a deeper reason, the writer of insight simply removes these proxy drives). Even the most pessimistic of all have a passion for their pessimism. For all the paradoxical declarations of destruction Cioran it was passion that made him do it, love for unlove. One who truly hates existence ceases to exist.
I’ve been having a bit of a rough time at university actually. It’s unrelentingly tedious and the material whizzes by at such a speed that you have no chance of properly digesting it. It becomes a game of memorization and survival tactics, learning just enough to not sound completely stupid in tutorials and to get passing grades. Though I fudged together an essay for one of my classes the other week and even took a late penalty and still got a 70, I felt that it was an utter waste of time. I didn’t really learn anything and the knowledge of the time and money I am wasting for a degree that won’t be very helpful in getting higher pay once I’ve completed it is extremely disheartening. I no longer dream of being a professor, in fact I loath the idea now. I feel like a child back at school again, servile, dependent and intellectually stifled. While I know I could mold my personality to that environment and get incredible marks like I did in highschool, I am no longer that person, too lucid to return to that place, it would quite possibly end in the same disastrous way and I see no value in doing it.
I have two years left if I choose to continue, though I spent three years there I am less than halfway completed and my grades are terrible bar some 90s in logic classes (classes I find very easy but completely useless). I’ve done 60 units out of the required 144 needed to graduate. I emailed academic advisors for advice and perhaps consolation (I’ve seen a few in the past for help with degree planning) but they said they could only help with degree planning and referred me to the uni psychologists. I’m not mentally ill and I know exactly where my stress is coming from, I don’t want to learn how to cope with a stifling situation by changing myself, I want to know how to change the stifling environment to one that is healthy. I don’t think that’s possible for who I am and the state of modern academia. I’m sure it is suitable for some people but I cannot imagine myself seeing out the next two years in that place. I also can’t see myself changing majors. Though it might be better, I most certainly wouldn’t be able to continue tolerating that environment.
The facts are that I am not getting out of it what I want. I am not learning and it is costing me a lot of money (especially with the recent tuition rises). It makes me depressed and stressed and unable to think properly. When teaching/talking to sisyphus about philosophy I realized last year that despite having essentially completed a whole philosophy major (I did almost all philosophy classes, the ones left for me to do are from my second major: English) I knew less than him after he had read with great earnestness and dedication five or so of the great texts I had recommended him.
The other reason I wanted to go was to meet people but I have realized that the people there are not the kind of people that interest me. I see far less passion and dedication to intellectual inquiry than one would expect of university students (I’ll probably have an even harder time finding people willing to discuss intellectual things in the regular world, but the regular world is the real world and one genuine person is better than a thousand dilettantes and charlatans). I think that the environment discourages it and makes people focus more on the appearance of it rather than the genuine thing itself. They are timid and lack self esteem, they far less genuine than the working people I made acquaintance with in my years at a dead end job.
Of course this could all be my accidental experience, perhaps I have chanced upon the worst of the lot and the great and passionate and interesting people are just around the corner, but after three years of trudging away looking for the rose atop the giant mound of shit, I have to make a decision and three years is a great deal of experience to base judgment on. I have always had one foot in the water and one out but I am a man now and can no longer do things tentatively and furtively. I’m going to drop out (I’ve already failed one assignment via nonsubmission) and get a job (a bartender or a rare book dealer for the time being perhaps?) and write fiction. We’ll see where to go from there. The wondrous world is out there right before my very eyes, beyond the ivory tower.
Tilde is great. Now I don’t have to pay wordpress or some other simmilar site just to host my blog. I hope to write regular entries here, and have the process be a fruitfull one in respects to both the skill of writing and I guess to my personal and intellectual development.