The Editor

Maybe writing is all about control, even the pieces where I raise more questions than I answer, which has been the case with a lot of what I’ve written lately. I used to not share those pieces because I felt like they weren’t saying anything (maybe, more accurately, I didn’t think they said anything worth saying considering they asked questions already posed by writers who had read more than me), but that often meant not sharing anything at all.

Maybe writing is (should/could be?) a controlled letting go. There are still confines to language you must stay within, hence the control, but the more you can subvert that framework, the more vulnerable you get. I’m not sure if vulnerability is the goal of writing, but it’s something I’m working toward this year as I share more of my thoughts.

Vulnerability seems to live in some opposite space to control, but at the same time, we still decide what we do and don’t say. But to be truly vulnerable in writing means to go where your mind goes, follow that stream, and let people swim in it, no matter how rocky the current.

Rockiness implies danger. Is there a danger in letting people follow one’s thoughts? What I mean by rocky is that it moves quickly, sometimes too quickly to really do justice to a particular point. Not just quickly, but also with lots of waves crashing into one another. The waves here represent the nonlinearity of thought.

Language is linear; thought is not. So how do we represent thought in language? How do we give up control to do so in a more authentic way? If we have less control over our thoughts than we’d like to think (I realize this is the case most often when I’m writing), how do we translate that lack into a genre that is controlled?

Is this not what I’m doing right now? For the most part, I’m writing as I think through the problem. Not that I haven’t thought about it before, but I’ve never put it into words in this direct a way. I certainly must slow down to make it something understandable; a true stream of consciousness would have more random starts, stops, and turns. There is some controlling agent still at play by virtue of the fact I want this to be comprehensible.

What would it look like to write something that was incomprehensible but did justice to the complexity of thought? That could instill a sense of what one is thinking about without the mediation of the (self as) editor? If thought is rhizomatic (branches off randomly ad infinitum, to borrow a concept from Deleuze and Guattari, who attempted the project of rhizomatic writing), that doesn’t mean it’s without sense. It just wouldn’t make sense in the way we’re used to, even though it reflected the complexity of our own inner mental worlds.

There’d be something familiar in its being fractured, but wholly alien in that it just isn’t how people write. Our expectation is that things have been mediated by the editor. The second we remove that editor (and I’m not talking about editing as a step after we write a draft; I mean the editor-in-real-time as we take the step of translating thought into words), it would seem we’re in a whole different language game.

What I mean is that the editor exists for other people’s sakes. The editor wants to make sense so something can be communicated. We don’t need the editor for ourselves; we are experiencing the thoughts (to borrow an idea from Wittgenstein, there is no private language game). The editor is a key player in a language game because it reflects the fact a game requires two or more players. It establishes the rules of the game through its mediation.

Would unmediated (rhizomatic) writing even still be considered a game? Who is the other player? Who were Deleuze and Guattari writing for? They published a book; they had something in mind. Or maybe it was a game between the two of them alone. Pure play, not game as communicatory. Maybe there is a game that exists without rules and without players that is an individual (or two high friends) playing for the sake of playing. Then Deleuze and Guattari decided to publish it for shits and giggles, or maybe they wanted to show us what was possible.

Jumping back: I said the editor exists for other people’s sakes. I already want to challenge this by way of personal testimony. I was journaling on the train one day and realized that I was editing for grammar as I wrote, and I thought that was odd. If it was only for me, why did grammar matter? Would adding a comma in the correct spot really make a difference for something that would never be read by anyone but me? Yet something compelled me to make sure it was grammatically sound.

Grammar is the set of rules by which language makes sense in the sense (oof) that we expect it to. But if journalizing is the most straightforward example of translating thought to language, which wouldn’t use grammar, why worry about it making sense?

I’m skirting around the possibility of a private language game (sorry, Wittgenstein) where an individual would act as two players: addressor and addressee. It’s a self-addressing where we enter a process of making our thoughts understandable for a hypothetical addressee (who is really us) for the sake of self-understanding.

I think this is at the core of introspection: taking thoughts and mediating them through language so we can in turn make sense of them in a more tangible way. The editor exists in this instance for us to gain knowledge of ourselves. Without the editor adding that grammar, the rules of sense, thoughts would be doomed to forever exist as rhizomatic fragments amounting to a vague sense without the definition for us to do anything substantial with them.

So, I guess there are two resolutions I’m giving myself based on all this rambling: editing less to be more vulnerable in my writing for others and editing more to articulate my thoughts more clearly to myself to make sense of them and better understand my own inner (intellectual, emotional, sexual, etc.) world.

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Tommy Kessler

Chicago-based writer and musician. 1970s drug-fueled private investigator.