Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Context is king

The essence of reading is not the words you are reading. It is the spending of time in the presence of the ideas that is presented in and through the words - the words give you a very valid excuse indeed to ponder things that might otherwise never be excusable.

This is brought home to me very clearly while reading Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, an epic tale of some three thousand pages about the economic, social and cultural shifts of the world at the turn of the seventeenth century. The point of it all is not that interesting things happen - more often than not, nothing in particular happens as the text goes on and on. The interesting part is not what's happening, but the context in which the things that do happen happen in.

Which means that there's a lot of idle chatter about nothings, while the wider context of the world is laid out at length and in detail. A simple stroll along a river bank turns into an umpteen pages long rumination about the state of the global system of commerce at the times. On the surface, it's just two persons walking along a river talking about this and that; in and with context, there's a lot going on for those who takes the time to notice.

Which, of course, gives us as readers ample time and opportunity to spend time with the ideas of the times, with the added bonus of having all of these ideas put into context for us. The content serves as an excuse for the content. And a good one, at that.

The one thing we readers might find in short supply is patience. But like all epic endeavors, the reward for persevering through page after page of nothing happening is an understanding of where the world of today came from. 

This spending of time with an idea is not only something exclusive to what a reader does. It's also very present in what a writer or a blogger does - gives the readers a chance to spend time with the ideas in mind, and to get a sneak peek into the context of these same ideas. Regardless of what we have to say is new or not - the content is not the point, as it were.

This goes for everything we write. There's no "just saying it straight and simple" - everything we do brings along context, and the fact that we are doing it is cluing our readers in to exactly what the context of our thoughts might be.

Which is why I always tell people to write about anything that comes to mind. It does not matter what - your readers are more likely to be more interested in how you view things than in the things themselves.

If you happen to be a blogger, this applies very much to you. You may think you write about your day at work, but you are in fact writing very much more than that. And I encourage you to keep at it.

We all need those excuses to think every once and a while, after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment