Thursday, May 14, 2009

Book stuff 5

In the previous four posts I have been sifting through possibilities and uncovering how my central goals will affect the tone and content of my first book. Now I need to ask what to write about.

And I am certain that my first book needs to be a diagnosis of modernity.

Let's break the impossibly broad into the ludicrously difficult.

  • Modernity within the history of ideas; consistent patterns
  • Fundamental presuppositions; convergences and departures with its others; the precise contours and composition
  • Consequences for action and civilization; where modernity operates and how; predictable elements.
  • Assessment and "big picture"
  • Call to action

The initial direction that I wish to investigate is something along these lines: that human thought is both complex but also binary; that memes, like organisms, have a common ancestor; and that features of these ancestors can be objectively recognized and traced through history. I wish to deconstruct the notion that human thought is progressive along the lines of discovery and science; and reconstruct a model of the history of ideas that is alternately progressive and regressive. Human thought is not a Comtean climb out of the valley of superstition over the mountain of positive fact; human thought, like being itself, is the constant interplay and tension of being and non-being, producing innumerable variations, some large or small, beautiful or ugly. The history of thought is like the Hindu metaphor of a river of many tributaries, but there is oil in the water; each tributary has a different mixture of each, and at every convergence and division the proportions and patterns change. Some tributaries are safe to drink from in proportion to their purity; others are deadly.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Book stuff 4,

In my last "book stuff" post, I reflected that the first step of "reasoned evangelization" must be a kind of listening. It is not merely that it needs to be well-researched (foregone conclusion!) but that I must be for the reader, early and often, both a companion and a gatekeeper--both unpretentious and knowing. That is a difficult balance to achieve.

The voice of the author ought to be sympathetic without patronizing the reader. It should carry a sincere gentleness which, though formal, is soft-spoken and universally welcoming. It is not (unless absolutely necessary) the mechanical rigidity of logical parsing; nor a syrupy sycophancy. It is above all, human. One thinks of Tom Bombadil from The Lord of the Rings. How does one unselfconsciously, and without the slightest self-aggrandizing, be as familiar and comfortable to the reader as a closest friend?

Once that voice is present, the same voice must also be--unselfconsciously--supremely assured about the End, about the ultimate Triumph of good. As per St. Julian of Norwich, "all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well." This has nothing to do with being omniscient. The author should be a "gatekeeper", like Virgil to Dante. If he is not omniscient, he is at, least, trustworthy; the reader has no hard "proof" of this, and rightly so, else it would not be trust.

Like the measured morsels of truth the author slowly uncovers, the gatekeeper himself is never fully disclosed nor totally hidden. This is not a contrived "peek-a-boo" meant to manufacture a false mystique. In fiction, the "gatekeeper" archetype has a goal which stretches beyond merely transmitting information--a goal that is vulnerable to carelessness in letting too many know too much before the right time. The point is not to be frivolously coy. It is to be the midwife of a delicate labor of truth.

Another "Lord of the Rings" figure I believe exemplifies this is Gandalf. Gandalf is both personable and mysterious; both warm and elusive. He does hold his cards close to his chest, to be sure, but at the same time he communicates the unspoken assurance that his mystery, like his warmth, is ordered toward joy.
Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard's face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a foundation of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.