The first quarter of 2024 is only half done, but there is enough progress to warrant a report.
Work on the seventh sermon has progressed satisfactorily. The single thread to be spun through the many Big Ideas is becoming clear. While much of the narrative that needs to become stanzas is quite complex, I currently feel I’m probably up to the task. The draft currently stands at 33 stanzas, with a few more removed since the last progress report. I’m increasingly optimistic I might finish it before the end of this year, if the vicissitudes of life permit it. This means I’m nearing completion of the entire set of seven!
The fourth quarter of 2023 was a very productive one.
I have made some progress translating the fourth sermon into German, and hope to have it done by summer for my grandmother’s next birthday.
With my father, I derived a new song from the fourth sermon much like Children of the Milky Way was derived from the first. We premiered it to some of our family yesterday. I’ll post that one next. It was written in English and German (so the German version of the song is a kind of preview of the translated sermon) near simultaneously…
A month after the previous progress report, there is already surprisingly much new progress to report. Sermon number six, “Our Maps and Territory”, has become an unfinished, but structurally complete, first draft. So now we’re in the sixth polishing stage. Trembling with nervousness, I will now solicit feedback and suggestions for improvements from a very few select friends, go over each stanza many times to make each as good as I can, add a few details still missing from the narrative, and swap out or cut the weakest bits.
Usually I write about 120 stanzas and cut out a third to get to the final count of strictly 80. I’m pretty sure I have already removed around 40 stanzas from this one, and the count still stands at 82. I already know I have to add at least one section with around three stanzas, even before I address omissions that will be pointed out by my beta test readers. They often demand additions of new sections, and I usually agree to one or two of these demands. Making those additions will of course take me further past the 80 stanza limit. So I expect cutting will be hard.
Lots of progress in the last two months. I did the docket space again and began to sort out the various bits and pieces that I had, over the last decades, pushed ahead into the last two sermons. Again this method worked beautifully. The key question was where to draw the line between the sixth and seventh sermons – this is answered. On that basis, I wrote some more. Now the sixth sermon has a pretty detailed structure and 41 completed stanzas – as usual, I expect not all of those will be among the 80 stanzas of the finished sermon. The title is changed again, to “Our Maps and Territory”. The seventh has a rough structure and 15 complete stanzas; it remains named “The Universe Machine”. Many of these stanzas are old, some over ten years, but most are new.
The scary part is the seventh sermon will open with a novel theory of consciousness that I have been incubating since before I started the sermons in 2012. This theory has always been intended to turn up somewhere near the end. I have the insanely bold, possibly megalomaniacal, idea that this theory might actually solve the hard problem of consciousness. This is extremely unlikely to succeed. But it’ll at least be a serious attempt. To make that attempt, I need to finally put the vague exciting ideas in my head down into language structured enough to see whether they’re actually coherent… let alone right. Before I do this in poetry, I’m doing it in prose, and talking with friends who know more about philosophy than I do. If the ideas turn out to be crap, which is very likely because so far all explanations of consciousness have, I do have a plan B. But plan A is the utterly mad one.
You all must know how grief besets us at the memory of bygone times of happiness. The Marble Cliffs call thee.
My review of Ernst Jünger’s On the Marble Cliffs became a finalist in the Astral Codex Ten 2023 book review contest, and now that the anonymous vote is closed, I can say that. So I got the opportunity to give Scott a link he’d post. This is to introduce my Big Writing Project, and explain why it may be especially interesting to ACX readers in particular.
A new video, with all five audio recordings and 403 illustrations, mostly by Midjourney. The illustrations were a suggestion by my wonderful sister (who also gave me lots of practical help!) that in retrospect makes perfect sense. Only a minority of people who might be interested will want to close their eyes and “properly” meditate for 80 minutes, so visuals should be available as an option. So now they are.
For once, I can report a large amount of progress. The last few days have been the most productive of the entire project so far. I now have a complete draft of the fifth Secular Sermon, now titled “The Words our Voices Raise”. I’m now nervously showing this draft to a very few very select friends, in order to get their feedback and to find those mistakes that only become apparent when I read the text out loud, rather than just see it written.
Although the Sermons are far from finished, I have shared the finished parts with various people and groups in order to get feedback and improve the text – and also to learn how they affect readers and listeners. Here is what I have learned about that so far.
Over the last few days I have experimented with a method of writing that was new to me. It is very well described in professor Edward Slingerland’s blog post There is Only One Way to Write a Book. In my (new) experience, this method works quite well! So if you plan to do a big complicated piece of writing, it is worth a thorough read.
If not, basically the idea is to put all the notes and ideas you have onto little pieces of paper (I say “dockets” for short), lay them out in a big room, and arrange and re-arrange them into groups and sequences that eventually produce an outline, which you then “only” need to fill out when writing.
The translation of One of Us that I was working on was basically finished after only 3 months. This surprised and delighted me a lot, because it is only half of the 6 months that I previously thought was an ambitious schedule! But I’m not publishing it yet, because as I said it is for my grandmother’s birthday, so it’ll premiere in July. Again the translation led to some very minor improvements in the original English text.
If I can translate Sermons at such speed, that implies I should be able to have a translation of The Love that guides Humanity ready in July as well. But instead I have broken ground on the fifth Sermon, working title “The Signal and the Voice”.
As I said, I have been working on translating the third Sermon into German. This has gone pretty well so far: out of 80 stanzas, 40 now have decent translations, after less than two months.
Despite 40/80 I’m not half done, since I tend to do the easier stanzas first. Right now I have the first 22 stanzas, but 23 and 24 are really tricky to translate so they’re not done. Then I have 25 to 28, but 29 is hard again. 30 to 76 only have a sprinkling of completed easy ones here and there, and 77 to 80 are done. But “done” is relative – from experience I know I’ll be tinkering with most of the completed stanzas at some point, in order to get them from decent to good or very good.
But still, I remain on track to get it done by summer. I’m pretty proud of that, because it’s a very tight tempo compared to my baseline, and because I’m doing it in the middle of a divorce, while doing a lot of parenting and while kicking ass at work. I can’t be sure the current pace won’t be disrupted at some point, so I better keep it up as long as I can.