why I try to teach writing when I am supposed to be teaching art history

why I try to teach writing when I am supposed to be teaching art history

From the post:

My daughter asked me yesterday what I had taught for so long the day before, and I told her, “the history of photography” and “writing.” She found this rather funny, since she, as a second-grader, has lately perfected the art of handwriting, so why would I be teaching it — still — to grown ups? I told her it wasn’t really how to write so much as how to put the ideas together — how to take a lot of information and say something with it to somebody else. How to express an idea in an organised way that lets somebody know what and why you think something. So, it turns out, what we call writing is never really just writing at all. It is expressing something in the hopes of becoming less alone. Of finding a voice, yes, but also in finding an ear to hear that voice, and an ear with a mouth that can speak back. It is about learning to enter into a conversation that becomes frozen in letters, yes, but also flexible in the form of its call and response: a magic trick that has the potential power of magnifying each voice, at times in conflict, but also in collusion, and of building those voices into the choir that can be called community. I realise that there was a time before I could write, and also a time when, like my daughter, writing consisted simply of the magic of transforming a line from my pen into words that could lift off the page no different than how I had set them down. But it feels like the me that is me has always been writing, as long as I can remember. It is this voice, however far it reaches or does not reach, that has been me and will continue to be me as long as I live and, in the strange way of words, enter into history. Someday, somebody will write historiographies in which they will talk about me, and I will consist not of this body that I inhabit, but the words that I string onto a page.

This is not to say that I write for the sake of immortality, so much as its opposite: the potential for a tiny bit of immortality is the by product of my attempt to be alive, in its fullest sense. To make a mark, to piss in the corners of life as it were, although hopefully in a slightly more sophisticated and usually less smelly way. Writing is, to me, the greatest output for the least investment: by writing, I gain a voice in the world which, like the flap of a butterfly’s wing, has the potential to grow on its own, outside of me, beyond me. My conviction that I should write is not so much because I think I’m better or have more of a right to speak than anybody else, but because I’m equally not convinced that anybody, no matter what their position of authority, is better or has more of an authorisation to write than me.

Writing is the greatest power that I can ever have. It is also an intimate passion, an orgy, between the many who write and the many who read, excitedly communicating with each other. For this reason it is not a power that I wish only for myself, for that would be no more interesting than the echo chamber of my own head. I love the power that is in others to write, the liberty they grant me to enter into their heads and hear their voices. I love our power to chime together, across time and space. I love the strange ability to enter into conversations with ghosts, as well as argue with, and just as often befriend, people I may never meet and people I hope to have a chance to meet. Even when we disagree, reading what people have written and taking it seriously feels like a deep form of respect to other human beings, to their right to think freely. It is this power of voices, of the many being able of their own accord to formulate a chorus, that appeals to the idealist deep within my superficially cynical self. To my mind, democracy can only emerge through this chorus: a cacophanous chorus that has the power to express as well as respect the diversity within itself.

A deep essay on writing that I recommend you read in full.

There is a line that hints at a reason for semantic diversity data science and the lack of code reuse in programming.

My conviction that I should write is not so much because I think I’m better or have more of a right to speak than anybody else, but because I’m equally not convinced that anybody, no matter what their position of authority, is better or has more of an authorisation to write than me.

Beyond the question of authority, whose writing do you understand better or more intuitively, yours or the writing or code of someone else? (At least assuming not too much time has gone by since you wrote it.)

The vast majority of use are more comfortable with our own prose or code, even though it required the effort to transpose prose or code written by others into our re-telling.

Being more aware of the nearly universal casting of prose/code to be our own, should help us acknowledge the moral debts to others and to point back to the sources of our prose/code.

I first saw this in a tweet by Atabey Kaygun.

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