Towards solidification

There are three rock types: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic. The name of the last type is especially suggestive. It is easy to forget that what looks most naturally solid on this planet is also part of a process.

I was reading about igneous rock this morning, because of an interview I listened to yesterday with French-Italian writer Erri De Luca on a France Culture podcast, Les masterclasses.

Erri De Luca compared his writing craft to the pumice used in Neapolitan buildings: porous, filled with the echoes of others’ voices, but created through a process. He first writes a draft by hand. Then, he writes it all over again, without rereading. Then, he rewrites it again, again not rereading.

It can be therapeutic to hear of others’ processes; to listen to the voices of those who have the courage to develop their own relationship with their craft. Listening to Erri De Luca crystallized my understanding of this wiki-like digital garden. I cannot bring myself to perfect these posts even though I know that some visitors may expect the sheen of professionalism.

Sometimes, because I have a large workload—I teach over 300 students each year, to say nothing of the postgraduate load, have no assistant, and write papers and attend conferences each year; now I am additionally attempting to write a book and two related textbooks—I do not always edit before posting.

But this is not the place for my academic work, except where I link to it. The posts on my book progress reveal some of its themes, but they are the shell sediment exsolving into the firmer matrix of narrative foundation, not a surface of laque en écailles, or shellac. This is a place for sediments to cool and depressurize, lowering solubility, decreasing stability, thus allowing for groundmass to take on crystals, grains, or clasts.

As geological matrices form, percolating water can take up water-soluble materials and redeposit them in cavities and pores, hardening incoherent sediments like sands, clays, beds of shells into crystal matrices.

This wiki-like digital garden is less like that hardened stone, and more like that percolating water.

How dare I allow my single public interface to re-presence an unfinished, thus unprofessional state?

I answer with a question. What are the professions of teaching and the humanities? (Though I expect the answer will have an overlap with the sciences.)

For example, an anthropologist will have a hypothesis before doing fieldwork, but this is generally completely revised as experience in the field is gained. The artist takes multiple approaches to release or reveal the artwork from the medium. Arnaud Laporte, on the podcast Affaires culturells, recently played a Martin Scorsese clip in his interview with Noémie Lvovsky. Scorsese says that his films are answers to the questions he has as he sets out to make them.

Who will dare to keep this space of emergence open, where the journey of the question unfolds?

By contrast, to perpetuate the illusion that We Are All Professionals Now, like models in a glossy magazine, is to cut off views into what the learning experience is really like. People become afraid of the work of assimilation and shellac themselves, though still alive, into the finish of imitation: enhanced in appearance, resistant to moisture.

But even rocks begin unstable.

Learning is a process that hopefully never ends while we walk this earth. It is not a linear process. It leads to digressions only to spout up somewhere entirely unexpected. Sometimes, the lapse of time during which it can only be produced in stops and starts or as a confused muddle can seem interminable. But with persistence, it can be internalized, monumentally.

I hope to keep this liminal space open for others and for myself. I am not only interested in showcasing what I think I know. I am also interested in listening to the changing temperatures and pressures of the world, to name just one part of it and remain with the metaphor of this post. I want to allow space for it to inform me. I do so in the hopes that a crystal matrix might form like the sometimes royally-hued but always much prized porphyritic hard enough to be included in monuments of lasting value—but that must first exsolve before cementation.

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