Over the last month I’ve been ticking along with my new book, and so I wanted to make a quick note, primarily for my own benefit, of what I’ve achieved and the changes it’s undergone.
Firstly, I was busy rewriting the introduction again and again and again to try to get the tone right.
This is the main challenge, I think, in pivoting from an academic style of philosophical writing to something more publicly palatable. The aim of academic writing is to thoroughly demonstrate what you know in the service of making an argument. But now I’m trying to get into the habit of wearing learning a little more lightly, and weaving some humour and interesting asides into the ideas. After several drafts I’m quite happy with the introduction – and even if much of it gets cut from the final manuscript it doesn’t matter, as the process itself has served to get my writing to a better place.
All of this was a precursor to starting the first chapter, which is on the topic of life and the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche (hence the photo of the Swiss alps, where Nietzsche spent his final summers).
I’d forgotten how enjoyable Nietzsche’s writing is to engage with: he can be funny, portentous, sarcastic, exuberant and egotistical all in the space of a single page. Delving back into his work for the first time since being an angsty teenager – this time in a sounder state of mind – has been a joy. His autobiography, Ecce Homo, is particularly good: in it Nietzsche’s egoism has reached megalomaniacal proportions, undercut by the occasional moment of disarming pathos or bathos. I’m not sure if this uneven tone is an early indication of his impending collapse into insanity, as Julian Young suggests, or just an honest representation of his wild mood swings. Either way, it makes for a great read, and my only worry is not being able to do his character and literary brilliance justice.
As such, my second achievement this month is starting and making some headway with that chapter. In it I’m currently outlining (what I take to be) the core idea of Nietzsche’s mature thinking, the foundation on which his later philosophy rests: the death of God.
My third and final achievement this month is changing (yet again!) the prospective contents of the book. I’ve thrown around various ideas for the title, chapters, chapter titles and so on. In part this is because the form of the book is evolving as I write it, rather than emerging from a clear plan, as was the case with my last book.
However, I’ve now settled, I think, on the full list of eight philosophers whose lives and works I’ll attempt to capture:
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- Martin Heidegger
- Jean-Paul Sartre
- Albert Camus
- Hannah Arendt
- Hans Jonas
- Keiji Nishitani
- Arne Næss
The change here is to the last chapter, which was originally going to be on Emmanuel Lévinas, then Albert Schweitzer, and now Arne Næss. The inclusion of Næss allows me to cover the theme of nature, building on the chapter on Jonas, and should also follow on naturally from the discussion of Buddhism in the chapter on Nishitani. I also know his work better than I do Schweitzer’s, and think Næss’ focus on philosophy as the search for a wise approach to life and co-inhabiting the Earth will be a good way to end the book.
Now just to crack on with writing it…