I wonder if it is also possible to consider the statement
"I write to find out what we're thinking about."
Yes, I think this is much more to the point (it's exactly what I was
thinking!). The way it is put by these writers speaks to my unavoidable
axiological individualism - which I consciously and intentionally try to
write AGAINST in hopes of discovering something new.
But I think that the reason for the "newness" of the discovery in writing
is precisely because it is "the social" (if I may) working on us in ways
that we are unaware. The aesthetics, and for that matter, the ethics, of a
turn of phrase may feel right in our head, but in our hand, when pen is put
to paper (or fingers to keyboard), the turn of phrase turns ugly, indecent,
or downright wrong. But, as you point out, it is not "me" alone that is
making this appraisal.
I happen to be reading an article by Katherine Nelson about Wittgenstien
and contemporary theories of word meaning. She is using Wittgenstein's
perspective on language use as the source which generates meaning, not
meaning located within the interior mind or within the word. Katherine
argues there is no way to clarify the meanings of language INDEPENDENT of
its uses in specific contexts.
Yes, was just reading Erving Goffman making the same point in Frame
Analysis. He makes it other places as well (as in Replies and Responses),
but it is there throughout his work - although FA has one of my favorite
quotes of his many fantastic ones: "As with vacuums, nature abhors a
performative utterance." (p. 547, see full quote below).
I'd add that he is another axiological individualist consciously writing
Anyway, much appreciate the richness that you add. Writing in a community
adds a whole new dimension of discovery when the voices and intentions of
others are not just in our heads.
Extended quote from Frame Analysis:
"Individuals presumably can engage in naked performative
utterances, as when a bridge player takes his turn by saying:
"Three clubs." But as with vacuums, nature abhors a performative
utterance. Individuals can instead conjure up a scene that
has already occurred or will perhaps occur. They can in particular
quote another person or even themselves. They can utter
words clownishly as if the person speaking them were a stereotypical
member of a class, nation, planet, race, sex, region,
occupation, or a character from Alice in Wonderland, or a Chinese
sage, or a person under the influence of alcohol, God, or
passion. They parenthesize their remarks with all manner of
hedges, reservations, and other reductions in weight, accomplishing
this often by introducing an otherwise unnecessary selfreference.
And even while engaged in these performances they
can in other voices make apologetic asides about these doings,
breaking their own frame to do so."
The context of sitting down to write is no exception. Katherine quotes
Kripke who is explaining his understanding of Wittgenstein's perspective.
"someone MEANS something when the circumstancs are such that they are
genuinely assertable and that the game [form of life] of asserting them
under such conditions has a role in our lives. No supposition that 'facts
correspond ' to those assertions is needed."
Katherine offers this quote to highlight the difference between "someone
means something" and "words mean something" "Language as use" in contrast
to "language as correspondence"
I found Katherine's article in the Journal "New Ideas in Psychology" volume
27 (2009) pages 275-287. This month the journal is devoted entirely to
Wittgenstein and all the authors are exploring how their projects relate to
Wittgenstein's perspective on meaning and language use.
Greg, I wish you well is discovering what you think as you write it down.
On"I write to find out what I'm thinking about." Sun, Jan 8, 2012 at 7:57
PM, Greg Thompson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Just came across a few quotes that felt very CHAT-y and which I found to
very helpful in my own thinking about writing. One of my problems in
writing (or so I gather) has been my assumption that writing is a process
of mental transcription - I think about something in my head and then
figure out what to say and then I write out my thoughts. But smarter
(and better writers!) than I have suggested the opposite insight. Here
a couple gems I came across:
Edward Albee: "I write to find out what I'm thinking about."
W. H. Auden: "Language is the mother, not the handmaiden, of thought;
will tell you things you never thought or felt before."
Alan Dugan: "When I'm successful, I find the poem will come out saying
something that I didn't previously know, believe, or had intellectually
As a belated New Year wish, I hope that we all are able to write so that
might, through our writing, be taught something new and worthwhile (and
beautiful?) by our words.
Here's to wishing.
p.s., I originally heard the Albee quote (ascribed to Auden) in an
interview with Jonathan Safran Foer (
http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/01/06/foer-loud-close), but he appears
have improperly ascribed Albee's quote to Auden, who said something
similar, but different. Here is the website with lots more wonderful
from great writers, Enjoy:
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