"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
August 30, 2007

Intellectual Compost

“Language has unmistakably signified that memory is not an instrument for the reconnaissance of what is past but rather its medium. It is the medium of that which has been lived, just as the soil is the medium in which ancient cities lies buried. Whoever seeks to gaze more closely at one’s own buried past […]

“Language has unmistakably signified that memory is not an instrument for the reconnaissance of what is past but rather its medium. It is the medium of that which has been lived, just as the soil is the medium in which ancient cities lies buried. Whoever seeks to gaze more closely at one’s own buried past must proceed like a man who excavates. Above all, he must not shy away from coming back time and again to one and the same fact – scatter it just as one scatters earth, root is up just as one roots up the soil … Indeed the images that are extracted from all earlier contexts stand as valuables in the frugal chambers of our later insight – like torsos in the collector’s gallery.”
Walter Benjamin cited in The Flaneur, ed Keith Tester

On a recent blogpost I mentioned how adopting Scrivener has made me rethink my approach to writing and organising drafts of text and research materials. Actually, that is only half of the story.

Last night I finished a painful and months long exercise in personal archeology; excavating through all the electronic documents on my hardrives and backup files – everything I’ve written since 1997 that has been backed up including old emails, ICQ chats, essays, reviews, letters, thesis drafts, book proposals, sample chapters – the lot! It has all been opened, read, moved, archived with notation, deleted or reformatted.

About halfway through the process I became really aware of a classic GTD insight; how many open loops I was carrying buried in my head. Some decisions had to be made, to finally let go of old projects, to accept they will never get finished in their current form.

To smash it all in the hope that it might breakdown and reform into something new.

As much as that sounds like a poetic flourish, it is actually very tough to let go of some of these projects, since I’ve invested a lot of time not just in trying to write them (or market them), but in dreaming about them as well. In fact, the “dream of what could be” scenario that envelopes a few of them borders on irrational, given that these things began as drafts in a very different stage of my life, when I was a quite different person. Lots of memories come flooding back – some warm and inspiring, others dark with almost forgotten emotion.

So, I have new Scrivener projects that mix up things from my PhD drafts with the film book, with travel jottings, with old sermons. Another project mixes old essays, teaching notes, a missiological report to a local church and some rejected magazine articles. All the projects reconfigure ideas in new relationships and oppositions. Now I just need a good night’s sleep.

Where will these projects take me? I don’t know yet and to be honest I don’t want to plan that far ahead. Too often I’ve blocked myself thinking too early about potential products and output. But, like waste becoming compost and returning to the soil these ideas are ready to accept new seeds and water and hopefully to blossom into new work.

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