Friday, April 1, 2011

Getting Tangential

You know how you approach a topic from many different angles, immersing yourself in it so that you can arrive at your own version of 'an informed opinion'? And you know when you start to get bored with all the perspectives and start zoning out? Well, I don't know about you, but sometime the most productive thing I can do is follow a tangent...

A tangent is a line of thought (or narrative of fragments) that emerges from what you're doing in a way that doesn't seem to have anything to do with the matter at hand. Tangents in the arts and social sciences are often neglected, dismissed or put down (like you might inject an unwanted animal with a needle) for the sake of 'getting back on track' and 'staying on topic'. Yet in an educational system where the irrelevant can often be an inspiring place to be, isn't it a good idea to pay attention to your tangents, and let them guide you?

A tangent can be a stroke of genius. What's seen as excess mental activity or un-cooperative neurons which fail to fall back in line with your thesis can actually contain deep pockets of brilliance, which, if handled the right way, can lead to a new body of work which is much more interesting than what you were doing before...

A man with very high intellectual curiosity, Pico Iyer, once described his process of writing as follows:

I pose a question as a starting point, to frame an argument, and, of course, as soon as I get to one of those places, that question flies out the window and is replaced by another question. And then—the hope is—a deeper question and a still deeper one, and finally one that can’t be answered at all.

You can read the entire interview this was taken out of here

It seems to me that the moment you disallow the mind to wander and have that contribute to whatever you're doing, you're setting yourself up for an exercise in frustration, which grows more difficult by the minute. By suppressing random associations, flights of reality, 'pointless' whims and capricious fancies, you're inhibiting your imagination and not listening to parts of your creativity which are begging for attention. You are wiser and more wildly brilliant than you realise, so get in touch with what's really going on inside, and your work will be all the better for it...

Here's to making things up as you go along, working with a 'free-style' kind of structure, and making every deeply inspiring tangent count! :D

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