This past week I finished revising an article for resubmission: adding an explanatory or background paragraph here, bulking up my evidence there, moving some material from the text to the footnotes and vice versa. During that same week, I was also working on the bibliography for my book, which meant extracting all the citations from my footnotes, reformatting them, and sorting them into a list whose only logic is alphabetical.
These feel like totally antithetical processes. The one involves creating an effective, coherent, and convincing structure for my argument--using lots of component parts to help build something of my own. The other is a kind of disassembly: taking the blocks that helped me build my book, distilling those blocks down to a bunch of titles, and dispersing those titles so that their significance--their linkages and connections--are no longer apparent.
Doing both these things at once was strangely illuminating, for the reasons suggested in the paragraph above. Most of my writing life involves trying to make something: a convincing something, a seemingly-organic something, whose fraught and messy origins aren't apparent. I don't want the seams to show, I want to give the impression of ease and inevitability. And that, of course, is goddamn lot of work.
But once a writing project is done, it's easy to forget that it isn't obvious and inevitable, and it's easy to forget the other possibilities inherent in the material. Creating my bibliography reminded me of some of those roads not taken, and also reminded me that all those other works have an independent existence. In some cases, I was surprised to discover that I'd cited four or five articles by the same author (articles on totally different subjects, in totally different chapters, and which I'd discovered separately and never considered as products of the same brain). And I was surprised to see who wound up next to whom, in the inexorable logic of alphabetical order. Seeing all those works, freed from the context in which I'd put them, made me imagine all kinds of new connections and new conversations.
As it happens, I'm also beginning the slow process of tagging all my old blog posts, in the hopes of bringing those into more productive conversation with each other as well. I'm as big a fan of chronology as I am of the alphabet, but after eight years I'm losing track of what's where. It's time to start moving the furniture around.