What Planet is This?

17 Jul 2005


Though I haven't written any full-length books, I've written plenty of schemata for books I might like to write. Probably the most famous book schema is James Joyce's Schema for Ulysses, prepared in 1920–1. Jorn Barger writes that it "probably only scratches the surface of the 'oversystematizing' Joyce confessed to". I know a lot of people that systematize a lot, perhaps too much. Aaron does it, Dan does it, and Javier (whose very domain is hiperactivo.com) does it. William Loughborough was at one point writing pieces based on the theme of oxymorons which I really dug.

I don't have a schema for the periodicals that I write, but if I did they'd probably be somewhat like Dr. Johnson's manifesto for The Idler, with the exception of the choosing of the name, which I usually take great care over. I still haven't settled on a name for this periodical, and I'm starting to think about what I should be writing about.

I like the word quaint because of what it meant to Chaucer. It's one of the category names that I'd use here if it wasn't for the fact that I don't like categories. One of Dan Connolly's maxims is "data that isn't consumed rots, ergo model only those distinctions that you can exploit", and that holds true with categories too: only use categories where they're going to be useful. For example, if I write about RDF here it'll be useful to have a category for it so that blosxom will export an RSS feed for it that can be aggregated into Planet RDF.

Categories in blosxom can only be done using the directory hierarchy, which means you couldn't put something in multiple categories unless you used something like the Logic File System. Ted Nelson is right that hierarchies are evil. In any case, by my count and nonce ontology, so far I've written nine stories on technology, six quaint, two on Shakespeare, and one on gaming. I'm trying to write this one to be both about technology and quaint things like Joyce, just to continue to prove that hierarchies are evil; not that folksonomies—the latest cacophonic trendy neologism for what have traditionally been called tags, keywords, or virtual folders—are any better since they don't hold up to Connolly's maxim.

So I don't like schemata, and I don't want one here, because even though, for example, sonnet form can make beautiful poetry, can you imagine a weblog written solely in sonnet? The territory is too complex for the map to apply worthless constraints. My aim is to go the other way around. I'd like this periodical to help me to explore new areas of interest that can get me out of the supreme rut which is technology. Aaron, Dan, and Javier are always producing more ideas than they can categorise because eventually all they do is generate idea after idea about categorisation which is cool for Dan since it's his job, an annoyance to Aaron, and both a boon and a bane to Javier. I enjoy tech but I don't like it.

Most of all, we need to stop letting imagined or contrived constraints stop us from writing. I like to think that I got William to start his weblog by pointing out the immense hypocrisy of saying that everybody should write more and then not doing it himself. In fact, just a few days ago he wrote: "Eat your own dog food, you old geezer. You tell everyone else to be regular in faithfully maintaining their blog but you let long periods go by without entry and this is a universal problem - even your son suffers from it."

So if I have a manifesto here at all, it's to have the tail wag the dog, let perseverance further, only do what only you can do, and all those other apophthegms that nobody ever seems to follow. Less Keymarks and more Nine Men's Morris!

Cite: Palmer, S.B. (2005). "Oversystematizing", in: What Planet is This?
Archival URI: http://inamidst.com/notes/oversystematizing


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Periodical essays on linguistics, history, and much more, from Shakespeare to post Romano-​British findings. Like Notes and Queries sans the queries and solely antiquarian disposition.

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