In 2017, I worked with my good friend Paul Forest on a submission he was preparing for the Global Challenges Foundation. Through their New Shape Prize, the foundation was seeking ideas to reform global governance in order to ameliorate potential future threats to humanity.
You can read the paper that we wrote together here.
A document that we referenced significantly in framing our response was the Global Challenges Foundation’s own white paper, 12 Risks that threaten human civilisation: The case for a new risk category (2015). The paper is the first report to explore a class of risks to human civilization ‘that for all practical purposes can be called infinite.’
The twelve risks which the authors explore in the report include the usual suspects, such as climate change, nuclear war, bad global governance and financial systems collapse. They also include such ‘sci-fi’ scenarios as asteroid impacts, supervolcanic eruptions, and the threats to humanity posed by artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.
And then there is the threat posed by global pandemics such as Coronavirus.
The authors found that in most financial assessments of risk, these twelve infinite-impact scenarios were rarely considered for two reasons. On the one hand, they are so low in probability that their inclusion in forecasting would unduly unbalance calculations of risk. On the other hand, if any one of these low-probability risks were to eventuate, their ultimate impact on human society would be incalculable.
But the problem is, that in many circumstances, if any one of these twelve infinite-impact risks were triggered, it would likely have a ‘knock-on’ effect, triggering other infinite-impact risks which would further compound an incalculably devastating scenario.
I think we begin to see this knock-on effect taking place with Coronavirus. What began as a health crisis is now metastasizing into a financial crisis which could easily trigger a global systems collapse—in addition to killing significant swathes of the global population.
I do not think it is at all controversial to posit the view that the systems we currently rely upon as a global population—political, economic, educational, environmental—are not fit to withstand the common challenges we face. These are ‘legacy systems’ which are not adapted to withstand the conditions of novel complexity and rapid rates of change that are now our ‘new normal’.
In the case of our global financial system, it is clear that, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, a necessary opportunity to reform a legacy system which had demonstrated the limits of turbulence it could withstand was lost.
It is also clear that much of the political and civil unrest which has metastasized in western democracies post-2008 may be traced to the institutional inertia inherent in one complex system—the politico-regulatory—making insufficient efforts to reform another complex system—the financial—with its own institutional inertia.
The mounting civil unrest manifesting in the body-politic of western democracies is the consequence, in large part, of an inchoate sense in ordinary people that the currency which lubricates civil exchange in society, decoupled from a material standard, is fundamentally bankrupt, and that the political and financial systems have conspired in a thoroughly extractive fiscal policy to vacuum out all remaining value.
Whatever the truth of this popular intuition, the politico-regulatory system which governs us finds itself in an uncomfortable position: having thoroughly eroded the trust of the populace it governs through its institutional inertia, its inability, and even unwillingness, to effect reform in the financial system, it now demands the people’s trust when another infinite-impact risk threatens in the public health system—one which will likely spill over into the financial system with more globally devastating results than we experienced in 2008.
Indeed, at the most immediately visible financial level, that of the everyday civil exchange of currency for goods, we begin to see how the public incivility which has progressively mounted since 2008, being accepted by the body-politic more or less as a ‘new behavioural normal’ in a world where all our systems are revealing their unfitness for present conditions, has begun to manifest itself as a breakdown in social order.
The instances of ‘panic buying’ in supermarkets and online profiteering reveal the fear of missing out—and the greed it rapidly metastasizes into—which underwrites the zero-sum dynamic of competition in capitalism. In 2008, this zero-sum dynamic saw all the chips on the table accrue to the crooks of the financial system, while the little man was left bereft, feeling betrayed by the political regulators who were elected to defend his interests.
It’s easy to feel some measure of sympathy for these ordinary people, whose civility has been so eroded by the betrayal of civilized systems meant to safeguard the social order, and who act barbarically in supermarket aisles, possessed by a financial ‘panic’.
The last time this happened to these ordinary people, twelve years ago, their fear of missing out was justified. One can understand why they would want to buy up all the stock of quotidian things it is in their financial power to acquire when the ‘Masters of the Universe’, who have exponentially more means at their disposal, could easily stockpile and profiteer for themselves, sucking the last penny out of these ordinary people. Again.
For some years I’ve had an interest in the con game. If you’re a student of human psychology (and of course, if you’re a writer, you ought to be), few fields of study reveal the immutable laws of social dynamics in more pronounced relief than the confidence game.
Having intuited that we now live in the fraudulent world of the ‘long con’, a world of ‘fakeness’ and kayfabery, of screens and surfaces upon which the counterfeit of life doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to be ‘believable’ by some sucker somewhere, I should have been less shocked to recently hear economist Eric Weinstein give the elegant articulation to what I had sensed and ought, with my interest in the classic con game, to have been able to define for myself: our global financial system is a global Ponzi scheme.
When the currency of civil exchange is decoupled from a material standard for which it can be redeemed, you introduce nice conditions for a Ponzi (or pyramid) scheme to take root. I do not necessarily mean to suggest a return to the gold standard; rather, more abstractly, I am suggesting that the numerical, monetary value I demand of you must be attached to a commensurate value, whether in the form of a tangible good or intangible service, which you agree is exactly equivalent.
In wealthy western democracies, where a trend towards an ‘imaginary mathematics’ of value demanded decoupled from actual value provided began to take root in the 1970’s, the conditions for a society-wide pyramid scheme of extractive value-taking was established. And with less and less new entrants (read: marks) into the pyramid available at the national level, the scheme had to be exported and globalized in order to remain viable.
Hence the blowback, in 2008, of ‘toxic derivatives’ and other insane feats of financial imagination based on a principle of extracting real monetary value from fictitious values decoupled from a material standard for which they could be redeemed.
I am sure I am not alone in noticing that in our extractive western ‘service economies’ (which are conspicuous in their lack, for the most part, of producing goods to which a real material value is equivalently attached) that the price demanded for common goods like bread and milk is far above the actual value which the consumer gets out of them.
Moreover, at the other end of the spectrum, in the service sector, we have institutions of higher education which extract monetary value from students in exchange for worthless credentials, ‘mortgaging’ future earnings which these institutions know are impossible for students to realize under the zero-sum dynamics of a mature pyramid scheme, and landlords who charge exorbitant rents for four walls and a roof simply because a desperate market will bear the value demanded.
Whether in the case of small goods or large services, the value of what is actually being provided is significantly less than the extractive value being demanded.
When you consider that the policy of extractive value under a competitive, zero-sum dynamic extends equally to small things in our society as to large, you can see how, under infinite-impact conditions, trivial items like hand sanitiser can easily command prices of ten or twenty times the real value which the consumer can obtain from them.
The infinite-impact risk of Coronavirus has exposed the infinite-impact risk of a global systems collapse which is immanently embedded in the competitive, zero-sum dynamic of our global financial system, based as it is on a principle of extractive value-taking radically decoupled from equivalent value-giving.
In my own life, the panic and sudden contraction of the market has immediately exposed me to risk on both the health and the financial fronts.
As some of you know, I housesit as a means of lowering my personal overhead. Under the extractive conditions of our economy, I simply can’t afford to pay rent. In exchange for a place to stay, I look after people’s homes and pets while they are away.
While I rarely get anything out of it in the way of money, I like housesitting because the value proposition is equivalent on both sides: I render a valuable service to homeowners for a given period of time, and for that given period I can live in some comfort.
Although, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, I’m technically a homeless person, housesitting is usually a pretty nice way to be homeless—when Coronavirus doesn’t create a double panic, causing people to cancel their travel plans at the last minute and the market for available housesits to suddenly contract.
So at the moment, I really am homeless, with no safe-haven where I can sequester myself in order to preserve my health. Instead, I’m spinning my wheels at the dingy hostel I usually only bunk down at for a night or two between sits.
But (as you may infer from the extensiveness of the economic argument I have made in the foregoing) I am almost less concerned about my health than the immediate economic impact that Coronavirus is having upon my circumstances.
The non-financial value-exchange market of housesitting is a nice analogue for the sudden contraction we are beginning to see in our global financial markets. When you’re aware of the number, gravity and cumulative likelihood of infinite-impact risks which threaten human civilization, you are prepared to accept that this global pandemic will, in all probability, trigger a global financial downturn at least equal to, but probably greater than the one we experienced in 2008.
Our global pyramid scheme of extractive value-taking barely withstood that turbulence, without the presence of a second infinite-impact risk to compound it.
It’s clear that a competitive, zero-sum dynamic of extractive value-taking radically decoupled from value-giving is not serving humanity well in the face of a class of risks which can cause both the total extinction of our species and our planet, and completely collapse the social order and infrastructure we depend upon for a civilized life.
Under such circumstances of crisis, it becomes clear that, in order to restore confidence in a marketplace where trust has been thoroughly eroded by the extractive assumptions of zero-sum competition, the risks we collectively face become an opportunity to reform our global financial system by recoupling the value that we ask of others to the value we are prepared to offer them.
Lately, in these times of crisis and panic, I’ve been re-reading David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man (1997). It’s not a well-written book by any means, but it’s one of the few I carry everywhere in my suitcase. Sometimes I need to be reminded of what it is to be ‘a man’—which is almost more a vocation, an ideal standard of conduct to aspire to, than a biological condition of what you’re packing in your pocket.
Truth-telling, the integral alignment of thoughts, words and deeds, firmness of will, determination in purpose, decisiveness in action—these are just some of the virtues which Deida attributes to the ‘superior man’, the person who embodies the ideal standard of the masculine principle.
A superior man does not withdraw or close in upon himself in times of crisis such as those we are experiencing, says Deida. He maintains an open heart in the face of grave challenge and continues to offer his fullest gift—the unique value which only he can provide—to others, living at what Deida calls his ‘real edge’—his place of fear.
‘Your edge,’ Deida says, ‘is where you stop short, or where you compromise your fullest gift, and, instead, cater to your fears.’
I know I haven’t been playing my real edge lately, giving fully of the unique value I can provide to others with my gift for words. The double risk to health and wealth which Coronavirus poses is an existential opportunity to do my small part in the reform of how we do business with each other, providing commensurate value of service in exchange for monetary value.
For confidence to be restored in a market where extractive value-taking has thoroughly eroded public confidence, leadership—the masculine virtue sine qua non—needs to be shown by individuals who don’t buy into the fraudulent zero-sum assumptions of our legacy economic system.
These individuals will demonstrate leadership in their own small fields of expertise—the places where they can give their fullest gifts to others—and they will, in their personal economic conduct, make earnest efforts to recouple the value they demand in trade to the actual value they provide to others.
In one of his homilies, Deida invites you to describe your edge with respect to your career, and if I’m honest with you, at the moment, my edge of fear is this:
Finding myself temporarily homeless and with no immediate way to protect my health, my small business based on providing my gifts as a writer, editor and desktop publisher to other small businesspeople, to academics, and to other writers and creatives is so fragile that it could easily fold up under present economic conditions by the end of the month, and I would be on the street and without a cent.
Equally, I fear that, if I offer my true gift in the open-hearted way that Deida prescribes, what I offer, under the prevailing extractive economic assumptions, won’t be valued by others—that I will meet a wall of silent indifference which leads to the street.
That’s my edge right now, and as Deida says, there’s nothing dishonourable about admitting your fear as a man—provided you’re prepared to lean into your edge of fear and play it. ‘… [A] fearful man who still leans into his fear, living at his edge and putting his gift out there, is more trustworthy and more inspirational than a fearful man who hangs back in the comfort zone….’
If I learned anything from my days of doing Daygame, the golden lesson is this: When things are not are not going well for you in life, your first order of business should be to see where and how you can offer value to others. Nourish your existing relationships by pre-emptively offering value, and seek to form new relationships by pre-emptively offering value.
So this is my offer of value to you, dear readers: I’m in pretty desperate need for ready cash to get myself into a safe environment and stabilize my business during this contraction of confidence. And I’m prepared to offer you value for value.
Times are going to be tough for us all during this downturn, but narratives will still need to be skilfully told, and images will still need to be manicured and managed.
Do you require bespoke writing, editing, graphic design and desktop publishing services? Do you know somebody who does? I would sincerely appreciate any introductions and recommendations you can offer, either in the comments below, or via my Contact form.
During this period of financial contraction, I’m going to be lowering my rates to take better account of the real financial circumstances in which clients—old and new—find themselves. So if you’re new to my Bespoke Document Tailoring and Artisanal Desktop Publishing services, this is an opportunity for you to experience the genuine value I seek to provide businesspeople, academics, and other writers and creatives by giving my fullest gifts to them, with some absorption of the risk on my side.
In any event, if you are genuinely sincere in wanting to work with me and provide value for value on your side, you will find me very willing to negotiate an appropriate service which is optimal to your budget, no matter how modest.
If you would like to experience the difference of working intimately with a wordsmith who is determined to provide you with equivalent value in service to the price we ultimately negotiate, one who will take on your concerns as his own, I invite you to contact me directly by calling (+61) 0423 296 927, or by filling in this Contact form.
And yes, I’m very open to working with overseas clients. One of the few advantages of the Coronavirus situation is that it facilitates remote collaboration, and with the decline in the Australian dollar, if you’re based in the States, Canada, Britain, Europe or New Zealand, it’s a very advantageous time for you to explore how I can bring value to your business, academic, or creative writing via online collaboration.
This has been a long and very different post from the ones you usually expect of me, dear readers. I obviously felt some trepidation about speaking so baldly about my own situation, but I felt even more trepidation about setting forth a long and complex intuition about the political and economic state of the world at the moment.
You’ve seen a very different side of me from your ebullient Melbourne Flâneur who waxes lyrical on flânerie and art. l hope this very different kind of post has brought value to you in your own evolving perspectives on the crises we are facing, and I look forward to engaging with your thoughts and intuitions in the comments below.
As I explain in today’s video, the metaphor I use to describe my approach to providing document preparation services is that of the bespoke tailor.
On first view, you might ask what making a suit of clothes could possibly have in common with writing, editing, proofreading, and designing documentation for clients as diverse as small businesspeople, academics, and my fellow writers.
But I beg your indulgence, for the bow I draw is not long: like all good metaphors, with un po’ di immaginazione, one skips lightly over the dissimilarities between tailoring and writing to see how one clothes a person’s body, the other his spirit.
The basis of the bespoke tradition in English and Italian tailoring is that article which is thoroughly handmade by craftsmen—cutters, tailors and finishers—each of whom is a master at his respective handicraft.
And when you master a handicraft which requires uncommon skill and manual dexterity, and which demands uncommonly fine cognitive judgments in the field of specialty, you bring to the industrial craft the kind of originality in thinking and execution which elevates artisanry to artistry.
There’s a reason why we call fine writers ‘wordsmiths’, for there’s a sense in that term (as in other manual handicrafts which share the ‘-smith’ suffix) of the writer as crafting, forging or setting a substance as hard, durable and delicate as gold. Each word is an interlocking link in the delicate chain of a sentence, stanza or strophe, which nevertheless endures as a petrified thought.
As I say in the video, writing is a ‘whole-brain activity’. It is not localized to a particular region of the brain. As Robert M. Kaplan explains in The Exceptional Brain and How It Changed the World (2011), the frontal lobes deal with the organization and redaction of ideas, while the temporal lobes manage the comprehension of words and their meanings. The emotional limbic system, one of the oldest parts of the brain, is the source of inspiration, while the cerebral cortex drives the motor response of our hands as we write.
So you can see that writing is not a simple or easy activity, and to do it at the wordsmith level requires a long apprenticeship in co-ordinating brain, eye and hand such as the one which the cutters, tailors and finishers who make a suit by hand undergo.
And indeed, as you can see in the video, I write by hand. I draw my Montblanc fountain pen across the page as though I were stitching the basting thread through my first essay at my client’s document. Then too, I touch-type, a cognitive activity of pianistic skill, playing the keyboard of my old manual typewriter fortissimo as I pound out the second draft.
‘Why not write on a computer?’ you ask. That would be like a bespoke tailor sneaking his client’s garment through a sewing machine.
One only gets to be a ‘wordsmith’ by learning one’s craft and doing the work ‘by hand’. Just as a tailor learns to sculpt fabric into an ensemble which will complement his client through the long apprenticeship of co-ordinating eye, hand and brain, so the writer hones that crucial ‘feeling for language’, the arrangement of words and how they ‘hang together’ in a client’s document, by actually writing, co-ordinating all the parts of the brain in the physical act of placing words artfully on the page.
Moreover, my clients (like the bespoke tailor’s) appreciate the precision and attention to detail which is the natural consequence of the ‘handcrafted approach’ I take to preparing their documents.
When you ‘go bespoke’, what you’re paying for is ultimately an experience, one that has been precisely tailored to you, your needs and preferences. And when an experience has been so intimately fitted to you, what you actually experience is a sense of satisfaction that you would not otherwise get from a generic offering.
Whether I’m collaborating with a small businessperson on a strategic document, editing a doctoral thesis, or collaborating with another writer on a creative project, when I rent out my brain to a client, it seems to give the client a ‘thrill’ to work with an artist rather than a corporate writer, someone who brings a bit of brio and temperament to their concerns, flourishing a pen over a page rather than drearily tapping onto a screen a bottom-of-the-drawer idea they drafted for someone else.
Whatever the project, no matter how utilitarian, the client always seems to feel as though he or she is getting a ‘masterpiece’ in exchange for his or her patronage.
It’s very gratifying for a client to actually feel as though he or she has been ‘heard’ by someone who understands words so well that he can even hear what the client hasn’t the words to say.
And it’s just as gratifying for the client to physically see his or her idea, that impalpable substance which is just as malleable, and yet can be just as hard and enduring as gold when transmuted into words, ‘taking shape’ on a page.
The tailor too takes a flat fabric and sculpts his client’s shape out of it, giving unique body to two-dimensional material. Tailors feel a sense of humble pride to see their masterpieces ‘walk out the door’, given life by the client, the last and most essential element in their art.
For in some fundamental sense, bespoke is a duet. It is in the intimate collaboration between a classically-trained virtuoso guiding a savant who cannot read a line of music, but one who can make some very interesting sounds, that the peculiar nature of the art resides. But if the client is in some sense the tailor’s ‘instrument’, the tailor is equally the client’s: each expresses himself through the other.
When I tailor a document for a client, the thing which is always expressed to me at each successive fitting is the ‘pleasure’ and ‘enjoyment’ the client experiences at the process, seeing his or her ideas being progressively expressed through me, becoming clearer every time we meet to take up and let out the document.
The client’s ‘art’, as muse and patron, is to be ringside at the consummate performance of the professional, watching me wield my pen—for then I become the client’s pen, a ‘living’ pen, the fusion of the tool that writes, the hand that forms the words calligraphically, the eye that sees and judges, and the brain that makes poetry of ideas.
This is Bespoke Document Tailoring, the art of writing and editing documentation the human way. If you are a small businessperson, academic or creative writer and would like to learn how I can help you specifically to craft a mail of words which clothes your thought as closely as a bespoke suit, I have a number of free brochures on my Personal Services page which you are most welcome to download.
What are your thoughts? Do you think there is still a place in this world of technology for the human touch—in manual production as well as service rôles? Is it still necessary for human beings to cultivate a sense of ‘craft’, particularly with respect to intellectual technologies like writing long-hand?
I look forward to reading your comments and responding to you below.
At the beginning of North by Northwest (1959), Mad Man Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) famously reminds his secretary that ‘in the world of advertising there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration….’
The most common confusion I find myself addressing when I meet prospective clients looking to engage my personal services is defining the difference between copywriting and writing what I call ‘strategic documentation’ for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.
It’s essentially the difference between telling a truth that your readers can hear and telling them an ‘expedient exaggeration’.
Language is a tool designed to represent reality via a common abstract symbology—a code, if you will. When we communicate in business, it’s important that the message we transmit is the same message that our clients, investors and other stakeholders receive, for a misinterpretation of the code can be costly.
The problem with marketing is that it’s a corruption of the fundamental function of human language. Whether you call it an outright ‘lie’ or an ‘exaggeration’ which expediently facilitates your short-term financial goals, the effect is the same: in seeking to manipulate language to create an impression of your product or service which is not strictly and accurately tied to the referent, marketing does a violence to human language which breaks trust.
If we want to continue doing business with people in the long term, we need to continually affirm our truthfulness, honesty, and trustworthiness—in short, our reliability—in our written communications with them.
But we have all had the experience of writing a memo to a difficult colleague who is hell-bent on pursuing an idée fixe, or a proposal to an investor we desperately want to impress. We seek to express and explain our truth to the reader as honestly as possible, and yet we can’t derail the difficult colleague from his costly plan or persuade the investor we are sure would be the perfect partner for our enterprise.
Our words meet resistance. It’s as though the other party cannot ‘hear’ the truth.
This is what I mean when I say that my Bespoke Document Tailoring service involves writing, editing and proofreading ‘strategic documentation’ for small businesspeople and individual entrepreneurs; for it involves telling the truth in a way that your audience can ‘hear’.
The strategy is empathy. Mirror neurons facilitate our written communications by giving us access to the common code of human language and allowing us to empathically ‘picture’ in our minds what a writer is trying to say in these abstract symbols scratched on a page.
But the problem, as Professor Steven Pinker observes, is that most people—even experts in their own professions—find it tedious and difficult to logically organize their ideas on the page from the point of view of the person who will ultimately read their words.
To put it bluntly, they’re lacking in the strategy of empathy.
Empathy for your reader is the fundamental difference between manipulating language so as to create an expedient impression of your product or service in his or her mind, and manipulating language so that the person you are seeking to persuade can hear the truth of your proposition and agree that the solution you are offering is a good one.
If you want to get your needs met in business, you better be prepared to offer value truthfully in a way that meets the needs of the people you are seeking to convince. Finding the beautiful synthesis between your concerns and theirs and stating it eloquently, reverse-engineering your argument so that it falls out logically from the point of view of your reader, is core to the strategy of empathy.
As you can see, the preparation of ‘strategic documentation’ goes far deeper than copywriting—and, indeed, is diametrically opposed to it.
When you tell the truth about your product or service in a way that your audience can hear, the old alchemy of marketing, trying to massage ‘features’ into ‘benefits’ by some linguistic sleight of hand, is revealed for what it is—an ‘expedient exaggeration’.
If you are in Melbourne and surrounds and you’re not sure how to frame your message in a way that your reader can hear and agree with, I invite you to contact me for a private measure, or download a free brochure to find out more about how I can assist your small business with my Bespoke Document Tailoring service.
One punishing summer day in January, I ‘flânographed’ this Atlas in my anklings about town as a Melbourne flâneur. One of a pair of Telamons who formerly held up the portal of the Colonial Bank of Australia, he now graces the doorway of an underground bicycle garage at the University of Melbourne.
An appropriate place for him to struggle with his eternal burden, perhaps.
As I said in this post, I most often describe the art of writing as being ‘sculptural’ or ‘architectural’, and often a writer feels like this fellow, trying to balance an elaborate structure of thought on the top of his head.
For an academic writer such as the Masters student or PhD candidate, the sense of ‘oppression’, of being weighed down by the burden of this elaborate architecture of thought you are trying to build in words can give you the haunted, worried expression this Atlas wears.
Many students arrive at the Masters—or even the PhD—level lacking confidence in their ability to write essays, reports and theses to an academic standard. And the sense of anxiety is doubled if your first language isn’t English.
In 2005, Wendy Larcombe, Anthony McCosker, and Kieran O’Loughlin conducted a study at the University of Melbourne. They wanted to know whether providing a ‘thesis-writing circle’ to doctoral students from both native English-speaking and non-native English-speaking backgrounds had any effect on the students’ confidence and abilities as academic writers.
Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin published the results of their study in the Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice in 2007, and if you’re a postgrad struggling with the burden of preparing a research thesis, their article makes for encouraging reading.
Two problems typically confront postgrads: the development of their skills as academic writers, and the development of their confidence.
As Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found, both doctoral candidates and their supervisors generally perceive the academic skills support services provided by universities to be ‘too generic’.
As a student at the postgraduate level, you require editorial support that is specific to your discipline. The writing advice and strategies offered by your editor must be bespoke to your needs, framed within the intellectual context and discourse of your discipline, and relevant to the concept you are trying to express in your thesis.
But students arrive at the postgraduate level with different editing skills and editing needs.
Editing the writing of students is something that supervisors don’t always feel is their ‘rôle’. When they do correct spelling mistakes or faulty syntax in draft chapters without providing explanation or instruction, students can feel ‘demoralized’ by the implicit negative judgment of their work, according to Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin.
A crucial part of developing your skills as an academic writer involves developing your confidence. Having a ‘writing facilitator’ who is independent of your supervisor, one who provides editorial advice tailored to your discipline and to your specific sticking points as a writer, improves both your ability and your confidence.
Larcombe, McCosker, and O’Loughlin found that being able to discuss what you are working on with another writer who offers supportive, positive feedback grows your confidence as an academic writer. Being tutored in the craft of writing by a professional who is able to intelligently discuss your thesis with you helps you to develop the practical skills of writing in a way which is relevant and specific to your discipline.
With my Bespoke Document Tailoring service, I offer postgraduate students in Melbourne a bespoke and personal approach to copyediting and proofreading their theses.
As a professional writer, my specialty is the logical architecture of written language, the organization of ideas at their deepest level so as to ensure maximal comprehension by your readers.
As an Associate Member of the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), I’m bound by a Code of Ethics, so I can’t help you to cheat, but as a writing facilitator, I can provide independent editorial support which is specific to your discipline and which complements the structural advice you’re receiving from your doctoral supervisor.
If you’re interested in working with a professional writer who can help you to find your own unique style on the page, tutoring you in the development of your voice, I invite you to contact me, or to download a free brochure describing how I can help you with your Bespoke Document Tailoring needs.
A question I am often asked is, ‘What is a flâneur?’ As I explain in today’s video, a flâneur is a kind of ‘Parisian idler’.
Flâner (the French verbal infinitive from which the noun is derived) means both to stroll, saunter, walk or wander more or less aimlessly, and to loaf, laze, or lounge about. The ambulatory motion of the former would seem to preclude the stasis of the latter:—how does one walk and sit at the same time?
This paradox is merely the foundation of a complex structure of irreconcilable logical paradoxes which comprise the ludic enterprise of flânerie and constitute the characteristics of the flâneur.
The question then follows, what is it like to be a Melbourne flâneur? If to be a flâneur is to be a Parisian idler, then to be a Parisian idler in Melbourne would seem to add one paradox de trop to the complex character of the flâneur.
Pas du tout.
I find a lot of similarities between Melbourne and Paris. People often ask if Melbourne is like Europe. The answer is yes. Of all the Australian capitals, Melbourne has the strongest ties to Europe, and despite its fraternal links to Greece and Italy, there seems to me to be an unmistakable soupçon parisien to its arcades and laneways, its bars and cafés, such that I sometimes think of Melbourne as being ‘Paris-on-the-Yarra’.
Key to Melbourne’s Parisian flavour is its walkability. It is, like Paris, a remarkably ‘walkable’ city: you can go very far on foot, and to be a flâneur you must be prepared to travel Melbourne without a car.
Fortunately, its famous tram network (the most extensive in the world) serves roughly an analogous rôle to the Paris Métro, being thoroughly integrated into the peculiar character of the city and the fabric of its streets.
This means that if you get tired of walking in Melbourne, you don’t have to go too far to find the nearest tram stop!
The reason why the flâneur is necessarily a pedestrian is because the pace of idle observation is measured by the foot. In his essay Le peintre de la vie moderne (1863), Charles Baudelaire defines the flâneur as a ‘passionate observer’ whose home lies in the crowd; as a ‘mirror’ large as the crowd itself; as ‘a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness’ which reflects its movements.
In fine, the flâneur is an instrument of observation which reflects the colourful spectacles it observes in two ways: both matter-of-factly, as a mirror reflects actuality, and interpretatively, as a thoughtful subject who reflects upon what it sees.
You can see why the observational avocation of the flâneur might be an amusing exercise for someone whose vocation it is to be a writer: the writer’s desire to transcribe the external details of reality with the rigorous exactitude of a piece of recording equipment finds its playful analogue in his detectival attempts to divine the hidden causes and motivations behind the riddle of events observed obliquely, en passant.
The art of writing is essentially the art of thinking, and there must necessarily be objects upon which the writer may reflect if he is to express his thoughts articulately. To wander dreamily through a beautiful city like Paris or Melbourne is, for a writer, both physical and mental exercise: it allows him scope to play with objects in the landscape, practising his powers of observation and description as he reflects them and reflects upon them in articulations he makes to himself.
‘To feel and to think’, to satisfy the desires associated with such abstract work, to cultivate the ideal of masculine beauty about their persons, this, for Baudelaire, is the sole profession of the dandy, whom he conflates with the flâneur, that ‘prince who revels in his incognito everywhere he goes.’
Indeed, there must always be something of the dandy about the flâneur. Among his many paradoxes, this slumming spy who loves ‘to be in the midst of the crowd and yet hidden from it’ is very much a ‘man of fashion’ in the classic sense, like an heir-apparent travelling in a foreign country under an assumed name, with nothing but the unmistakable marks of his elegance to betray his royal birth.
You cannot be a flâneur pur sang and not have more than a soupçon of the dandy about you. Precision of observation does not extend to external objects before it takes account of the correctness of one’s own comportment.
It is perhaps surprising to notice how many great writers, whose idle profession of feeling and thinking takes place in the ‘backstage’ of life, away from the observation of others, such that these spies are rarely the cynosure of all eyes, have nevertheless a touch of the dandy about them, a concern for dapper deportment.
An orderly mind is best expressed by orderly dress. And it is rare to find a writer who expresses himself on the page with unusual stylistic panache and who does not also possess some exquisite sprezzatura in his personal style.
Elegant writing, like elegant suiting, is the mastery of convention and the transcendence of strict limitations which define the correctness of expression.
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As an emerging writer, you gain valuable experience by networking with other writers. Their fresh ways of seeing the world open exciting new directions for your own writing.
As he demonstrates in this prose poem based on the ‘flânograph’ above, Dean Kyte doesn’t just see the world differently, he hears it differently too. And the poetic way in which he describes his personal experiences is idiosyncratic to say the least.
For the Melbourne Flâneur, even moments of banality, loitering in Melbourne at night, waiting for the perfect shot, are freighted with epiphanic mystery…
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Melbourne transforms itself into a foreign wonderland at night. Armed with my Pentax K1000, I venture forth after-hours to capture ‘a Brassaï moment’—the moment when Highlander lane, between Flinders street and Flinders lane, reminds me of the square Caulaincourt in Paris—the setting of my first book, Orpheid: L’Arrivée (2012).
As a writer, I move from obscurity to clarity. For me, writing is a flânerie through the chiaroscuro of consciousness and unconsciousness. I enjoy the frisson of venturing into dark places which are foreign to me—like alighting from a taxi in a cosmopolitan European locale late at night, not sure where you are, barely speaking the language, some menacing silhouettes in the milieu to greet you.
Before I was ever a Melbourne Flâneur, I was a flâneur in Paris, the Mecca of flânerie. In L’Arrivée I wrote about my experience of feeling both fearful and fearless, arriving alone, late at night, in a small Parisian square in Montmartre. Despite barely speaking the language, I had a strange sprezzatura, a strange confidence in myself—in my mission and message as an artist—going forward.
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