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“Trust me, I’ve done this lots of times” – Thats why I’m worried.

Habits make for specialists. Imagine you wanted to improve your reading skills. If, in an attempt to do so, you would make a habit of reading for an hour everyday starting at 3 pm, would you improve your reading skills or just your reading at 3 pm for an hour skills?

Probably mostly the former, as this is a skill with a high rate of transfer appropriateness.

How about improving your reading skills by reading the same book every day? Reading the book twenty times will not improve your reading skills nearly as much as your “reading this book specifically”-skills.

Videogames provide another good example. I am an above average videogame player in general, a pretty good player of shooters and real-time-strategy games more specifically and, even more specifically, one of the best World in Conflict players in the world.

There is a certain transfer appropriateness between almost all video games, but that between two shooters is much higher than that between a shooter and a racing game.

You want to be a writer? Write. But that alone is not enough. If all you ever write is deconstructions of advertisements, you’ll become very good at writing deconstructions of advertisements, pretty good at writing deconstructions, and not much better at all at writing novels.

Problematically, habit is self-reinforcing; habits have a habit of perpetuating themselves.

“A path once traversed by a nerve-current might be expected to follow the law of most of the paths we know, and to be scooped out and made more permeable than before; and this ought to be repeated with each new passage of the current. Whatever obstructions mays have kept it at first from being a path should then, little by little, and more and more, be swept ouf ot the way, until at last it might become a natural drainage-channel.”

- William James, Habit

“All habits make our hand wittier and our wit unhandier.”

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft

When you hold a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

So in short, if all you ever do is write deconstructions, your mind will start seeing things to deconstruct everywhere. This is the crucial problem of academics.

Imagine you are the worlds greatest scholar of Derrida. For every problem in the world, you will have a Derridaean answer, ready to evict from your metaphorical gun-mouth-contraption at 300 m/s. But this is no good, this is precisely terrible, precisely the opposite of philosophy.

To be a philosopher, one must traverse every path and perceive from every angle, and this is what habit always seeks to suppress; it makes for easy answers.

If you want to become a writer, write everything.

Write short stories, reviews, poems, essays, letters. (If you want to become good at thinking, think everything – that is, from every angle…)

Habits are a temporary death; as such, habitualization should be reserved for matters not worthy of life’s energy. Sherlock Holmes claims to not know whether the sun spins around the earth or vice versa in an effort to not clutter his memory with trivial information.

Luckily, memory does not work that way (to the contrary, actually; as seems to be the nature of many processes, memory too is improved by using it not conservationally, but as extensively as possible).

The energy for life – whether Freudian or whatever-have-you, details do not matter at all, you can (I hope) imagine the vague concept of such an energy in general – on the other hand, seems to me to be definitely limited.*

Habitualization is to conserve “life energy”. But the one thing where energy should never be conserved is thinking and writing.** thinking is always to be an effort.

You’re a “scholar of _____”? You’re already doing something wrong.

Louis CK doing it right. Watch this video if nothing else.***

* Alternative interpretation: Energy it is not limited, but habitualization expends MORE energy, and resisting habitualization (i.e. making an effort every time) in fact creates energy. Feasible?

** Writing being the process of translating thoughts.

*** Comedians hate it when somebody, at a party, asks them to “be funny” or to tell a joke. Why? Because many of them have not learned how to be funny as much as they have learned to perform funny stand-up. There is a large overlap between the two, but it isn’t the same thing.

Categories: 2013 Winter Writing Contest.


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11 Responses

  1. There is a sort of Zen flipside to the story you tell. In general, generalism is a good, general idea, but there can be a kind of transcendance available in autistic specialization. The idea is that if you take one solitary thing and invest your entire self into it, you’ll be able to see everything else in it.

    In Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which I loved as a teenager, the main character is an otherwise hot girl born with freakishly oversized thumbs in an abusive family. So she starts hitchhiking, but she doesn’t so much hitchhike as become hitchhiking. She hitchhikes birds and the wind and stuff. She pursues that activity in so many dimensions that she can see the whole world, and herself, in it.

    There are some similar ideas in real Zen Buddhism, where they focus on swordsmanship or calligraphy or something far less romantic, like washing dishes, to such an extent that the whole world of experience is contained in that activity. When you can orgasm or die of sorrow while washing the dishes and being focused only on that, you’re there.

    Although generalism is more convenient for internet-addicted ADHD patients, there is an alternative. Don’t just practice the freakin’ fiddle; challenge the devil and win.

  2. I think I just found a more succinct version of what I want to say: You should train the guitar well enough that playing it becomes pure habit. But the songWRITING should never be habit. I.e. creation/production always should be an effort, the “performance” is allowed to become a habit. And this becomes easier when you switch it up, when you write some poetry just for the fuck of it. Of course, even that can become a “habit” or simply using it to come back to the original habit with more conviction afterwards (Like people who dont drink/smoke/masturbate for a month to prove themselves that they can live without it – but on the thirty-second day, do they go right back to wasting themselves, or do they think “you know, I still don’t really feel like drinking/smoking/masturbation”? In the latter case, congratulations, you kicked the habit. If the former is the case…) Oh dear, this original text is terribly written. CLARITY PLEES.

    The Derrida example was, of course, basically just a rehashing of a certain penultimates shrink example of the professor who has taught kant for 15 years…

    an useful dichotomy I have seen used by someone (sadly kind of a nazi, so I won’t link to him) is that of scholar/philosopher: A scholar performs a valuable contribution by concentrating and becoming an expert on one select niche-topic, and it is up to the philospher to traverse all the paths built by the scholars and to form a synthesis.

  3. Fair enough, all of you. I can see your points (which makes it a good thing this text came out!). What I would like to say is that I don’t intend to promote the renaissance / weimar classicist ideal of the polymath. exhibit a against that: Goethes attempt to come with a color theory. And, as Louis CK notes: “At that point I had been doing comedy for 15 years, what the fuck else was I gonna do?” (Although he is a quite talented director / editor too, as his TV show proves.)

    I should perhaps, make clear, where this text came from. It is conceived as a reaction against the writings of e.g. Richard Dawkins, or the music of e.g. AC/DC. There is nothing wrong with devoting your entire life to one thing, but within that thing, within that creative process, you have to be able to look from new angles. Once your writing/creation process becomes habitualized, and people start identifying your stuff *too easily* -(“yup, thats a AC/DC riff.” “Oh, Dawkins still hates religion.”), you’re becoming a habit yourself. And your audience will basically pay for something they already know, they’ll pay for comfort food.

    But I’ll have to think this through once more. Thanks everyone for the great input. :)

  4. @operator: funny that you say that, because here’s the most succinct definition of the antonyms alive / not alive I can come up with: Life becomes stronger through opposition/conflict, Non-Life erodes through it; destroying your muscles makes them stronger, destroying your bones makes them brittle. Or, since we are on and therefore have to make these points through pop culture:

    Wars and physical conflicts are, of course, a childish way of going about it, a way where nothing of value is made stronger. So instead: conflict and opposition in creation. Habitualization seeks to provide comfort – I want the artist to throw himself against every wall.

    Which reminds me, I’ll have to read the scathing destruction of my text Nachlasse provided me with once again. :D