Diary: What is to be Done?

Aside from writing a couple of columns, I need over the next two weeks to

  • give an informal talk at a workshop for the Association of American University Presses meeting in Philadelphia
  • head to Chicago for Socialism 2009, where I will be speaking on C.L.R. James at a morning session on the final day, when most of the young revolutionaries will be hung over from the night before
  • file a freelance piece (for which I have not yet so much as taken any notes)
  • conduct a seminar on book reviewing for a group of reporters from the U.S. and Wales who have fellowships in a program on cultural journalism sponsored by the British Arts Council
  • finish reading at least three books for review-essays that I probably should be thinking about now (instead of, say, writing this blog post).
All of this makes it seem like a pretty good move to have recently picked up a netbook that weighs about three pounds, even with a strong battery. At a cost of barely $300, it paid for itself with the first two paragraphs I drafted on it.

Even with it at hand, though, most of the work done for my talks in Philadelphia and Chicago has involved scribbling on legal pads. In general it is probably a good idea to move away from this labor-intensive approach to composition. But it does seem as if preparing to give a talk is a very distinct process, with its own odd requirements.

Rita has persuaded me that standing up in front of a room full of people and reading from a typescript only just technically qualifies as "public speaking." She's good at it, and has given me some pointed but helpful "notes," as they say in theater. So for the past few months, I've stopped going about things in the old way.

Lately my method has been to sketch the talk out in some detail - and to do so repeatedly, until the articulation between one section and the next in the outline becomes very familiar. Then, when it comes time to speak, I prepare one or two pages listing the main points in sequence, to keep on hand in case of momentary brain seizure. The important thing, it seems like, is to be clear about what you are covering and how the parts are related.

At this point I'm in an uphill battle to organize my talk for AAUP. The session is on blogging and social networking. The audience will consist mainly of publicity folks. It is an odd situation in that I hardly ever blog these days (and even at its peak, blogging never amounted to ten percent of my writing) while my involvement in social networking has been pretty lackadaisical.

While publishers occasionally indicate that my column has influenced book sales, this always comes a surprise -- and for the most part I'd rather not know it. (Influencing the conversation, rather than the bottom line, is the motive force for taking up any given title.) Half of public speaking involves evoking or creating a shared ethos, but in this case it is going to be tough. It is a struggle to know what to say, or how to say it.

The situation in regard to the CLRJ session is rather different, of course. Although it has now been more than a dozen years since I've published more than the very occasional short piece on James, that is not for want of thoughts to frame.

Kenneth Burke once referred to finding himself in a condition of  "counter-gridlock." In gridlock, traffic is so dense that no single car can move. By analogy and inversion, "counter-gridlock" is what happens when each of your ideas is connected to so many of the others that once any single one of them starts rolling, so do all the rest.

The work on James got to that point by the mid-1990s and I ended up with a mass of notes and outlines, not to mention an enormous amount of documentation, in boxes in my study. With the Chicago talk, I have tried rereading the relevant primary materials as if I've never so much as thought about them before - then worked out an overview that might help put things in context.

It seems to be coming together. We'll see how it works out. The next step will be to prepare a much more carefully framed version as an article for International Socialist Review, the editors of which are being awfully patient.

(I'm pretty sure this note qualifies as procrastination. For about a year now, I've been turning over in my head the question "What is blogging for?" Well now, there you go.)
June 13, 2009 11:44 AM | | Comments (1)



>The work on James got to that point by the >mid-1990s and I ended up with a mass of notes >and outlines, not to mention an enormous amount >of documentation, in boxes in my study.

I not only sympathize, I empathize. The fact that you're returning to this project, spelunking your own research, gives me hope.

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This page contains a single entry by Quick Study published on June 13, 2009 11:44 AM.

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