15 May 2013

0 choose your own...

i've a big chunk of assignment due friday, which means i'm a bit bereft of words for here. mostly, the last 8 or so days have been mired in provocations about motivation (unpindownable!) and choice (unlimited!) and how we make the choices we make in life (messily!) and how our self-assessment influences the way we choose (if you see yourself as a virginal maiden, you make virginal maiden choices! if you see yourself as an adventurer, you make adventurer choices!) and how our stories are shaped by the choices available to us and how that shape influences the way our lives can be written.

1. how ridiculous does all of that sound? somehow it completely escaped me that, in doing a doctor of philosophy degree, i would be philosophizing so much. that i would challenge scholars i do not know to critical duels and spend whole days trying to pin down definitions for virginia woolf's use of the word 'pretend'. slowly, it is dawning that this is what i do now. dear people contemplating a doctor of philosophy degree, you will do this. beware! (more fearsome, perhaps, is the fact that, though it may make you feel as though your brain is coming unstitched, you will enjoy it.)

2. this past week of examining the principle of choice has instilled in me an absolute loathing of choice. seriously. last night, it was a battle to decide what i wanted for dinner. and the choice ultimately had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my lack of tupperware. that is a choice made easy.

the problem with writing a 'choose your own adventure' narrative- a problem that seems so obvious now and which had somehow slipped by me before- is that it is very not easy. you have to become a master of choice. and not, like, one choice, but ALL OF THE CHOICES.

because this is, in the end, one of the differences between life and death. if someone is alive, then choices remain. possibilities exist. and new stories spiral off those. we see death as the end of possibility (though i would argue it is not). biography takes the same view. so in writing the life of a person, that person's life becomes inevitable. the choices they made appear the only possible decisions and the buffet of options from which they chose that choice totally fall away.

this may ultimately be another one of my waterloos. this desire to produce a story of a life that includes what henry james called 'the swarm of possibilities.' the word 'swarm' alone seems to indicate a book it would be arduous to read. the only swarm i can think of is one comprised of mosquitos and that sounds like a horrendous thing to confine between two covers. difficult for the biographer to control and unjust to the reader, who opens it only to be assaulted.

i've absolutely no ending or conclusion here, so do with that what you will.

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