Informal incompleteness

Friday, 4 September 2009 — 2:28am | Literature

The Wednesday Book Club returns next week. I already have a review written, queued up, and ready to go, in no small part because my computer will be undergoing repairs in the following days.

As some of my readers have correctly surmised, the temporary hiatus of what had quickly become this journal’s main reason for being was in no small part the fault of one Dan Brown. To make a long story short, after a thousand words of complaining about trivialities in Angels & Demons like how an alleged former schoolteacher could possibly commit to saying, on paper, that lines of iambic pentameter were made of five couplets instead of five feet, I realized I had yet to issue a whit of complaint that was not redundant with the well-documented travesties of The Da Vinci Code. And this was entirely sidestepping the injuries to the English language, which the linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum has already bravely diagnosed in his article “Adverbs and Demons”. So I threw up my hands in despair.

This was not how things were supposed to go. From the inception of the weekly book feature, I always intended to review Dan Brown. I felt there was a need for an exhaustive treatment of how we distinguish acceptable factual liberties in fiction writing from unacceptable ones, and that there was no better way to do it than to take a fair crack at a book I hadn’t read. And to be fair, there are discussion questions unique to Angels & Demons that The Da Vinci Code does not broach. I think specifically of the many popular canards about the relationship between science and religion that the earlier novel repeats like a dead parrot. But in the end, I had better things to do.

With another Dan Brown release on the horizon, I may salvage some of what I wrote about Angels & Demons and publish it here. I do not expect this will actually happen. I would rather read good books. Very few things are so worth writing about that I would rather commit them to the site with the polish I demand of myself than read a good book. Indeed, very few things are so worth writing about that I derive more pleasure from doing it than from raiding endgame content in World of Warcraft, an activity that makes me feel infinitely more useful to society.

Consider some of the posts I have abandoned, half-written, in the intervening months:

  • A piece on journalistic ethics and disparate cultures of arts writing, following this controversial entry on the Montreal Gazette‘s informal blog.
  • An analysis of the mileage Pixar gets out of borrowing conventions from classic cinema that most of its audience hasn’t seen.
  • A critique of the shoddy bungling of artificial intelligence in the recent revival of Battlestar Galactica, and why the show is the very opposite of science fiction. (Oh, just read Abigail Nussbaum and be done with it.)
  • A treatise on what learning patterns out of standard books and following best practices does to the creative spirit in chess, World of Warcraft, and jazz.
  • A smattering of thoughts on what to do with the public awareness of theoretical computing science, inspired by Lance Fortnow’s recent article on the state of the central problem in computational complexity theory.

In the wake of more pressing commitments to come, it is unlikely that I will ever tidy these up and complete them to my satisfaction unless there is palpable demand for it. Secretly, I like it when ambitious theses go nova. You don’t see their light for what seems like a billion years.

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5 rejoinders to “Informal incompleteness”

  1. Demand? I would make a demand with menaces, except that it’s rather hard to menace someone at the far end of the Internet. Cough up. Nobody expects blog postings to be complete and well-rounded in every instance. Remember the etymology of essay: an attempt. Better imperfect, somewhat awkward, palpably incomplete Tam than no Tam at all. Don’t be like the fellow who always kept silent so as to seem wise.

    Friday, 4 September 2009 at 7:31am

  2. The title of this post notwithstanding, it’s not so much incompleteness holding things as up as it is my unfailing ability to get sidetracked. I am not a “linear” writer, so to speak, and the astonishing quantity of unfinished sentences and bullet-point placeholders would make the whole affair nigh on incomprehensible for anyone other than myself.

    But thanks for keeping up with the feed. Knowing that people still expect me to put things here makes me that much likelier to put things here.

    Friday, 4 September 2009 at 9:34am

  3. It’s like the three rules for deciding what to keep and what to throw out:

    1) Do I use this every day, or nearly? Keep it.

    2) Does this have great sentimental value to me? Keep it.

    3) Is this something I might be able to use someday? Discard it. There isn’t anything that you might not be able to use someday.

    Similarly, if it’s clear that you are not going to make further progress on a post, cut out the incomplete sentences and bullet-point placeholders, and publish the remainder. An essay is a ramble, not a systematic search of the ground for UXB.

    Friday, 4 September 2009 at 1:50pm

  4. Not to lean too heavily on well-worn references, but I can’t stop myself from imagining you, fists clenched, yelling in your best Shatner voice… “Browwwwn!”

    Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 8:05am

  5. “A treatise on what learning patterns out of standard books and following best practices does to the creative spirit in chess…”

    Oh, please I have to see this. Have to, have to, have to. There are things that I don’t want to regret on my deathbed and missing this will be one of them.

    Tuesday, 8 September 2009 at 10:16pm

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