What Planet is This?

18 Aug 2005

Preface in the Middle

There aren't many great miscellanies out there like the recent Schott's Miscellany or the Victorian Enquire Within Upon Everything, but the web itself is like a huge miscellany. In fact, the predecessor for the World Wide Web known as the ENQUIRE program by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, for which I transcribed the manual back in 2001, was named after that Victorian miscellany.

What Planet is This? is intended to be a miscellany. It started as a collection of notes published using weblog software on my own inamidst.com in July 2005, taking its name from a song by Japanese jazz group The Seatbelts. Under fair use I've put a very short clip of that song online since the album it appears on, Future Blues, it practically impossible to obtain outside of Japan. The Seatbelts' songs are mainly written and often performed by Yoko Kanno, a short, sweet, unassuming looking Japanese lady, who produces music whose pure size is startling.

Another of Kanno's Seatbelts songs, Time To Know ~ Be Waltz, explains why I chose the title from a Japanese funk-jazz song. There's a certain insight into the English language that can only be gained from being Japanese, and the results defy interpretation. I don't know exactly why What Planet is This? and Time To Know ~ Be Waltz, both songs and titles, have such a compelling other worldly quality, but they do, and I think it's a freshness that supercedes any staid phrase that I could've come up with.

The style of the notes was an evolution of their ancestry in the form of my previous two weblogs, Bring It On Home and miscoranda (which is always lowercase, like e.e. cummings). Whilst miscoranda had been frequently a popularist technology oriented affair, What Planet is This? became what I'd write about if I had an unlimited magazine column. It was intended at first to be subservient and complementary to miscoranda, to be a dumping ground for material not high enough in quality for there, but I found that quantity breeds quality—or at least that I could write at length what I'd been trickling out in dribs and drabs to miscoranda. So miscoranda has been supplanted for now.

One particular turning point in the development of the writing was the post Oversystematizing. I said there that "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", and thereafter wrote a long series of non-technologically inclined entries. Bring It On Home had been little more than an unstructured bookmarks file, but miscoranda had paved the way for being more contentful. The three years of publication through miscoranda was like a training ground for What Planet is This?, but so were the first ten or so posts in WPIT, as the new direction started to crystalise. It's easier to perceive the direction of someone else's work than your own, so you have to think hard about what you want to write before you can write it. It doesn't just happen by accident. Oversystematising and Desert Island History were factors behind instilling that change.

Desert Island History talked about writing time capsule works, works for the ages. I said if I wrote for a time capsule, I'd write about major history and "fold in plenty of random miscellany, and bits of ephemera such as nursery rhymes, bus timetables, or whatever really, mixing the high, the low, and everything in between to make sure that as much of the overall picture is preserved as possible". My recent entries capture the everything in between, seeking to write about the unique and useful that wouldn't otherwise appear on the web. Though a small percentage of the information should be on Wikipedia instead, it's generally the other way around: What Planet is This? is meant to serve as further information to what appears on Wikipedia. It's paraencyclopædic, and I often start off with information that's from Wikipedia and build on that. It's the sort of thing that could be refered to in the "Further Reading" section of a Wikipedia article.

Writing in that way doesn't just help people in the future, but people now too, and it doesn't just help other people, it also helps me and friends of mine. I can refer people to arguments I've made on a subject, or research I've done. Friends of mine find their own little devisings mentioned herein too, so they have a place to refer to them. Names get woven inamidst the whole contexture of the periodical, such as those of the magnificent John Cowan, alluded to from the first entry, Javier Candeira, a generator of almost 100% pure information with a little Kerouac on the side for fun and flavour, and Cody Woodard, who often lends support and ideas to my projects. This preface is Cody's idea, partly, and I came across The Seatbelts thanks to him.

So why write a preface now, in the middle of things? You can only write a good preface after the work is at least underway. Many books have three or so prefaces, one for each new edition that comes out, describing the current state of the work, the motivations behind it, and so on. They're supplementary materials, and yet they're always jammed in at the front of the book to help explain it beforehand, which is a little phony, like giving away a plot before a mystery novel. Post-rationalisations deserve to be placed where they're written. Perhaps that's why most people don't bother to read prefaces, since not only are they pretty boring but they're in the wrong place.

This preface is just part of the development of What Planet is This?, and there may be others to come, though they should probably be called middlispieces or midfaces. In lieu of a better word, though, it's okay to play preface-in-the-middle for now.

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


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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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