My first plan for this website was to write essays, not blog posts, and the rationale behind it was partly that the latter would inevitably push me towards the flow of shorter and less substantial form of thought characteristic of the internet these days. I mean, the whole point of Twitter originally was to see how much people could say with 140 characters but what ended up happening more often was that:
- The character limit was bypassed by continuous threads, or…
- Rather than saying the same amount of info with less words, people started just saying less info with less words.
And this is no knock on people, because there are still ingenious tweets going around, it’s just that to expect all tweets to be ingenious or at least attempting to be so is a bit idealistic.
While I still wholly believe this will happen to me eventually with blog posts (i.e. that I will start saying less), I realized the other reason I was caught up in wanting to write essays is that longer forms of work are generally associated with, if not always quality, then at least legitimacy. There are about 20 awards for feature-length films in the Oscars, and only one for short films. Most of us do not go out of our way to read short fiction. And yet for a field like philosophy, which prides itself in asking the big questions, the larger than life, the infinite and eternal, what is another 5000 words to the infinity of knowledge? Against the vastness of philosophy’s own subject matter, aren’t all works by comparison short? The way analytic philosophy addresses this concern is by tackling smaller, discrete questions, but doing so comes at the cost of conforming to what I purport are largely ad hoc specializations anyways. Why not embrace our smallness?
The other thing about (analytic) essays, and we see this point most clearly in film and literature, is that they have a clearer beginning and end, or rather, they have the space to better pretend to have a beginning and end. We start with a question and we end with an attempt at an answer, an answer that most would acknowledge leads to further questions for sure, but in any case, the point is that an answer is the goal. The claim to an answer, however, is a claim to an end, and since we are all heroes of our own stories (if someone found the answer to philosophy, we’d all be out of a job), our job becomes to challenge that ending with the goal of showing that our own stories are better, rather than seeing where these different stories take us. What if different objects can overlap spatially with one another? What if there is no such thing as representation? What will happen if we embrace pan-psychism? No, no, we say, what is important is how these views all lead to contradictions, never mind that these contradictions lie in our intuitions (which we, at other times, admit are flawed) and in the very rules and definitions we have ourselves made up. Rather than asking “what next,” a hallmark of a child who loves their bedtime story, we accuse the story, as a modern adult who has lost that love, of its inherent impossibility. PIGS CAN’T FLY, we cry.
Clearly (to me), essays are not so much more substantial, they just have better PR. So why put myself in a corner? And if blog posts, in their obvious smallness, illuminates the eternally in-media-res-ness of philosophical thinking, if such an illumination is itself a form of substance (and I believe it is), there is hope for blog posts yet.