There is a glaring, elementary and demotivating difficulty, I think, in writing non-fiction. That is, to pick a subject one truly has something to write about and with which one wishes to engage with at, at least, a subcutaneous level. Posed like this, the problematic issue appears to be nearly identical with any self-motivated writing, fiction or science, poem or diary. The page is white in the beginning, open to billions & billions of topics, formats, narratives, metaphors, ideas and sequences of arranging the alphabet’s letters, spaces and punctuation marks – no pressure, one is doing this under one’s own volition. You can, at any moment, bugger off and do something else. Netflix’s Ozark and Crash Course (CC Philosophy, but I’m considering that series on movies) seem particularly germane, not to mention that pile of books out of which the silent letters Bolano and Barthes and Brandon mock one’s every attempt to even string together half a paragraph. A Google Drive’s Untitled document, no stress, comrade. Or maybe all the 压力/pressure in the world taking the innocent guise of a white page asking a primordial question to the soi-se-pensant/考虑一下自己 writer: Is anybody home, cognitively speaking? And if so: Got anything interesting to say?
So why would non-fiction make the original problem of choice any more difficult (in my equivocating opinion)? Because it implies that you get to choose from (see title!) two fundamentally different but totally interconnected topics to write about: yourself or the world, subject or object, 精神或世界, consciousness or matter, becoming or being. In good old post-Kantian Western epistemology these are, of course, as mutually exclusive as it gets. Though I hasten to say that Speculative Realism and OOO have taught us that there exist entirely different philosophical approaches to reality than that poor old Königsbergian dichotomy.
Still, being only the layest of philosophers and my dire little brain being overtaxed by the idea of what the being-like-somethingness of a neutrino or table might be like, I go back to the initial bifurcation: world or self.
Dispatches from the realm of the latter, to me, are shaded in many hues of egocentrism, hedonism, navel-gazing and all those other unpleasant activities stereotypically associated with the selfie-generation so that, as best as yours truly can, one might try to steer clear of it. Even if all the “I”s in a text show what a hash one/I has/have made of it. To be honest, there is another option, the entirely acceptable diary form [significant sequential daily events combined with brief contemplations] but I have never been able to muster enough discipline to put down the words that matter every day.
Ahhhh, lovely diaries, dear diarists…. For some idiosyncratic, fuzzy reason, I can’t diss/count diaries as strictly automaniac; there’s too much of the historian and serious self-psychoanalyst in them to be purely a hedonic project.
So what remains is only the world/世界, which is, as we’ve known for quite a while not enough. Wordplay aside, it is in considerable excess of enough. Still, the same might be said of ideas for a story that can pop into one’s head in the course of a week….how is this non-fic global affairs situation any different? Why would choosing in this case be any more challenging? Exactly because of that, “affairs“, the natural-seeming importance of the bread-and-butter reality, grand everybody-afflicting shenanigans of the 21st century…. as soon as I start thinking about these matters….. hmmmm…… the exterior state of affairs, the world at large, I come under the pressure-cooker impression that there is something at stake. It matters, flying f###s are generously dispensed. What? It’s not a matter of lives, nor even government funds or nuclear warfare, nothing as realpolitikaly dramatic, but quite simply relevance itself. There is, in me, a normative perception that I should, if at all possible, try to select something of contemporary relevance. This criterium of writing about issues that matter, topics close to the heart is not so as to lure an unsuspecting reader with clickbait, nor to demonstrate that I am fashionably coxa [i.e. hip ….anatomical, haha] but so as to connect, in a meaningful way, with what I believe to be sorta relevant….out there.
The implied risk is that I choose incorrectly; but this notions is in itself absurd because the act of choosing to write, putting pen to paper, digit to key, is already a decision. A decision that one will write what one chooses to write, which the reader can only refute by being a not-reader. The free choice of writing follows George W. Bush‘s timeless dictum “…but I’m the decider. And I decide what’s best…”
Even if I happen to scribble about something that might strike a zeitgeist’s nerve or is in tune with my pyramid of writerly needs then the next obligation is that the text being created, apart from its speculative passages and flights of hypothetical fancy, aligns factually with what is in fact out there. I don’t believe we are in the post-factual era at all; perhaps falsehoods and badly researched texts have become easier to spread and are, in certain circles, more readily accepted but there exist perfectly intact scientific and journalistic standards for what constitutes facts, theory, plausibility. The fact that they are provisional, as is everything else, does not mean they cannot be put to serious scrutiny by experts. And this necessity for truthfulness is quite scary. Wikipedia or no, the idea of adhering closely to facts and truths in my writing spooks me; not simply because I’m not any good at in-depth research but also because my mind, as best as I can tell, heavily favors confabulation, fantasy, the fastest possible flight from reality, as soon as it sets down on these here empty pages. Digression too, evidently. Following a trajectory is hard.
So then, given the, i think, patent, basic and demotivating difficulty of non-fic, I was very surprised when I began reading the Ferrante Guardian blog this weekend and saw how easily this luminary of the written word handles the matter. As far as I can tell, she is a fiendish genius when it comes to mixing the “real” of personal biography with fictionalized stories into a blend in which one cannot be arsed to parse out one from the other (if there were even the slightest benefit in that; unless, of course, you’re an Oral Historian [dude, don’t look at me, that’s what they bloody call them] of 20th century Napoli). However, the blog texts are anchored solidly in the conventionally real – Ferrante recalls personal episodes and then contemplates their relevance in terms of fiction, language and, at times, philosophy. She makes her arguments dance like those elaborate Bali shadow puppets, telling the story of the point within the space of four or five paragraphs. And even while she is animating her argument by means of the laser-cut, baroque, long-limbed, supple figures, she manages to splice in her hallmark lyricism. (It rises from the page like a hot day on the dusty alleys of Naples, dreaming up a new design for a pair of leather shoes.) Seemingly effortless. To describe it without quoting Ferrante is a helpless undertaking….but her concise, elegant strides across a topic are captivating indeed.