Sunday, March 16, 2014


I have been up for a while. The baby deserves attention.

I have noticed that the writing I do makes abundant use of parenthetical asides. That is to say that I have a tendency to insert commentaries into what I write, commentaries that are not, perhaps, necessary but that are, I think, relevant. (I do the same thing in the classroom, which some enjoy and others very much do not.) In my more academic work, the insertions take the form of footnotes (which I prefer to endnotes because of the ease of access to them). In any event, I have to wonder about the effect of the device. I use it because ideas occur to me oddly, and things bear in on the line of discussion that I am not entirely sure how to integrate into it. I am aware that it can create the impression that I have a far-ranging mind that brings in much. I am also aware that it can create the impression that I have a scattered mind that is unable to focus narrowly on a single line of discussion, that I am a victim of the hypertext society which emerged into the world as I did.

Which is the most accurate, I cannot say with certainty. Regarding the first, none of us see ourselves clearly. We have not got a vantage point that allows it to happen; where we sit to look at ourselves necessarily circumscribes our vision. Too, we cannot approach ourselves without pronounced bias. And there is the fact that we believe we remember things as they were, which is not the case; our memories are fuzzy and filtered through the self-serving bias which inheres at some level in us all. For me then to state my intention is something of a misstatement; to amend, I believe I use the device because I remember ideas occurring to me in a way I recall perceiving as odd, and I remember thinking that things appear to bear in on the line of discussion I think I am maintaining, but I recall not being entirely certain how best to integrate them into what I recall of that line. (Complicated, yes; the shortcuts in language begin to make more sense.)

Regarding the second, if the ability to bring together diverse information is intelligence, it is an intelligence that is quickly becoming worthless. The Internet is seeing to it; information (filtered, of course, though the perspectives of those who disseminate it as well as the various search algorithms that are used to index and scan for data) is accessible to any with a connection. No longer is the work of cramming material into the mind for later recall necessary; it can be looked up nearly so quickly as it can be remembered, if the searcher is proficient in searching. The demand on the mind is not less, but it is different (and that which is different tends to be devalued). If I do create the impression in my asides that my mind ranges far, then it is an impression of a glory whose time is passing if not past, a memory of that which was and is not valued any longer. (As a scholar of the medieval, I am familiar with the phenomenon severally.)

Regarding the last, the idea that my thoughts are scattered as victims of hypermedia and the rapid shifting from notion to notion and activity to activity that purportedly typifies the Millennials and after and did not any prior peoples (which is not the case, by the way; multitasking is time-honored and helped our long forebears to not be so wrapped up in getting water from the stream that they did not notice the toothy beast coming to eat their faces), what can be said? I do drift from topic to topic, sometimes rapidly--and that outside the asides. Within them, within the insertions of other ideas that may or may not matter to what is getting comment, I leap about, my writing following at an increasing distance my mind as it races ahead, childlike, leaping from rock to stump to rail and back again, or doglike, ranging out to smell new smells and returning at odd whiles to the master's side before racing off again. If it is victimization or not, I do not know. If it is an accurate interpretation of my asides, I also do not know. But there is something to be said that I do it; there always is.

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