Depth, Frequency, and Promiscuity

Commenting on my recent post, Some Reflections on the Medium, Dave Humphrey suggests that perhaps writing for the web has caused me to trade depth for frequency, though I think and hope that he does not intend this as a criticism. He describes this less deep and more frequent writing as promiscuous, an adjective I often use to describe the way that I read many kinds of text at once without any predetermined program, merely pulling books from my shelf as they surprise my interest. I am interested in these three adjectives, one implied, two explicit: shallow, or at least less deep; frequent; and promiscuous.

I have tended to avoid the metaphor of depth in describing my own writing, mostly because it entails for me an ideal that I do not find appropriate to every situation. Instead, I most often speak of rigour, which implies a metaphor of labour, where the rigorous one is the one who does the work that is required or expected of the job, or I speak of propriety, which implies a metaphor of social relation, where the proper one is the one who does what is required or expected of the relationship. Both of these metaphors appeal to me more because they recognize that depth is not always what is required, that at certain times it fulfils the demands of rigour and propriety to be relatively shallow. By returning me to the metaphor of depth, however, with which I am still uncomfortable, Dave makes unavoidable the fact that writing for the web, at least in this particular mode, has indeed forced me into a relative shallowness. It has limited the number of subjects that I can take up with propriety and rigour. It has forced me to take up improperly and unrigorously subjects that required a depth that I was unable to give them. To this extent, I accept and am troubled by Dave’s use of this word.

I accept with much less reservation his idea of frequency. Not only does it describe accurately how the web enables a much more frequent and therefore open mode of publishing than does the traditional publishing industry, but it bears connotations of the sound or energy wave, which I think are particularly apt. In order for a sound wave to be sent and received, it must be modulated to the proper frequency, and it here that the idea of propriety returns. What the web offers in return for an impropriety of depth, it returns here as a propriety of frequency. I am able to write at the proper speed and with the proper rhythm, with the proper frequency, so that I can hear and be heard. I am intrigued by this idea, and I may return to it as I have more opportunity to reflect on its implications.

Dave’s last suggestion, that my writing for the web is promiscuous in the way that my reading is promiscuous, relates to this idea of frequency also. If what I read is not programmatic, though at times it has this element, and if the films that I watch and the conversations that I conduct and the activities that I perform are similarly without curriculum, if they are promiscuous in this sense, then it is perhaps only proper that my writing be promiscuous also. Perhaps it is precisely in this respect that the web offers me a frequency that is proper to me. Perhaps the rhythm of my reading and my thinking and my life can be best described by this idea of promiscuity. I may need to return to this possibility also.

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2 comments
  1. I think you read too much negative connotation into my thoughts, or, perhaps we view the same thing differently. I see what you’re doing as a positive thing, and if troubling you with my comment makes you post even more, I’m ready.

    I’m also interested that you didn’t play with the idea of the ameteur vs. professional. To me, the idea of rigour has all the hallmarks of professionalism, which is something I have moved away from in so many areas of my life. That I often refuse rigour is, for me, a casting off of the requirements of the professional writer, publisher, and reader.

    I want to read the ameteur, and this is precisely who I have never been allowed to read before, precisely who I have never been allowed to be before. What the ameteur brings is the overlap of disciplines, the muddle of conflicting ideas, and the irresponsible use of texts, theories, and ingredients. I can think of no better model in life.

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