what if John Dewey had a blog?

I’ve wondered recently a few things about weblogs.  I’ve been reading a few besides this one.


First, there’s a double-edged sword.  If more people write, and write more often, then more people will become better writers.  But then there’s a lot of literary casualty out there in the process — battlefields of web pages filled with misspellings, confused or mistyped there/their/they’re, bad analogies, self indulgent and narrow points of view.  And this is just what I read in my own writing.  This is the modern day journal, but made public and produced by a keyboard rather than from the thoughtfulness of a pen.  

I remember reading how Thoreau’s Walden was written to look like a coherent set of journal entries, but in reality it was rewritten and edited in order to look like this and still be readable, coherent, and interesting.  That’s only fair to the reader, and probably to the writer, making certain that what he thinks and how he wants his thinking to be portrayed is what actually makes it to the printing press.  The original journal entires are too raw for public consumption, as well as too isolated while sitting in between the covers of a single binding.

So now we have this blog technology.  True, the “good” blogs out there, those for public consumption, are really fine tuned, well proofed essays, and then stuck on the webpage of the NY Times.  But then there’s the abusers of webspace like me who just dump their ideas out there to clog up everyone else’s Google searches.  

In my reading today (Ch. 2 of Wickman’s Aesthetics) I got pulled back into some Dewey thinking — ties between participation, experience, language — all very good and making me rethink how our epistemological stances in science education are generally too simplified.  (Having seen some of these epistemological stances, I can’t believe I’m suggesting that.) What struck me from the side, though, was how much the guy wrote, and how thoughtful the writing was.  It is clear, but thick and complicated, and most of all voluminous.  

So what did Dewey’s first drafts look like?  How many edits did that stuff go through?  Did he throw out prototype essays and email them to a colleague?  If he had had an opportunity for a blog, would he have used it?  And what would it have looked like?  Let’s say Dewey dumped ideas out onto his email program like I’m doing now — what would come out and how would it look?  What kinds of things would he refine as he went along, and how would the structure of his ideas develop?  Did he think as he wrote, or did he write as he thought?  Or was one a precursor to the other?

If I had my copy of How We Think right here next to me, I wonder if I could determine if his arguments would reveal (or disguise?) his writing process?

My favorite writer of all time is John Steinbeck.  (I’m never as original as I’d like to think.)  Unlike Dewey, his writing is straightforward and plain, but with substance injected within all that.  How many drafts?  I can only assume that he started with much more, and cut it back to the precision that we’re left with.  Good writing disguises all the in betweens, rough starts, embryonic ideas, and redundancies.  It’s also very clear without restating something again, usually poorly, or at least as poorly as it was stated the first time.  The beauty in good writing is that it reads as though it is a first draft without having all of the realities of the first draft.

Today I’m writing about ants.  I don’t really know anything about ants, other than what I think I know about ants from having seen ants.  I think that ants just follow each other around, and thus make great analogies for how people tend to just follow one another around in a sense, not necessarily thinking for themselves or demonstrating their own free will to do something different.  The problem is, I don’t actually know — I haven’t actually studied or read studies about ants.  The great news is that I work in a college that has biologists, and specifically a person who studies ants.  So, I’m asking him; and if he says “read this” I will be that better off.

I wonder: If my metaphor about the ants
*shit — I got interrupted to be asked if I wanted to have a tail light replaced on my car.  $2.80 for the bulb; $30.00 for the service.  Dewey surely never had this problem.  I can’t remember what I was just thinking about.  Apparently this idea to write in order to get ideas to write about doesn’t always work in the service station.

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3 thoughts on “what if John Dewey had a blog?

  1. I think that Steinbeck’s first drafts were sparse, perhaps not as sparse as his final prose, but not lengthy. I think it was the language that he fine-tuned in the editorial process, not the volume.

    In my experience as an editor, good writers tend to turn out pretty sharp first drafts. But then again, I guess it depends on what you consider a first draft. What it submitted to me is probably already a few revisions into the process, so my perspective is probably skewed.

  2. Right: “first draft” on the editor’s desk and “first draft” out of the writer’s typewriter are probably completely different things.

    It terrifies that I’ve exposed myself to an editor. Even you.

    I really suspect that the great writers who wrote on typewriters and notepads probably have something to teach us (writing on computers), as they probably forced themselves to write more succinctly, but with more effort and deliberateness, in early drafts.

  3. Be ye not terrified. I can turn the internal editor off for friends :). And have you seen some of my posts? Sheesh, where’s *my* editor?!

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