Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The shallow end of the alphabet

My principal task this morning has been to write a 500-word abstract for a conference, and damn if it doesn't make me want to jump off a bridge. When did writing something so short become so painful?

Anyways ... as is my wont as I sit in front of the computer agonizing over writer's block, I turn my head and stare blankly off in space. As it happens, this has me looking at the bookcase right beside my door, the bookcase I think of as the "Shelves of Theory" ... five shelves of critics, theorists, philosophers and literary historians arranged alphabetically -- the only shelf I have arranged alphabetically, as it happens.

So as I sit here not writing my abstract, staring at the Shelves of Theory, I notice the odd phenomenon that the vast majority of the authors there fall into the first half of the alphabet. Given that A-M is the first half, and N-Z is the second, we don't have that M-N transition (When Alan Nadel picks up the baton from Elaine Tyler May) until almost at the end of shelf #4. Which means that -- taking into consideration that the first half of shelf #1 is taken up with anthologies and essay collections -- the A-M crowd account for three and a half shelves, while the N-Zers have just slightly more than one.

So I'm wondering if this bespeaks a broader trend in surnames to fall into the first half of the alphabet? Or whether something more insidious is at work: that on a deep genetic level, the first thirteen letters make you more inclined to engage in the exercise of literary criticism? Or perhaps there is a secret conspiracy on the part of academic presses giving precedence to the A-M fraternity (in which case, dudes -- I'm an "L"! just barely in the first half, perhaps, but there nonetheless). Mysterious.

Upon reading back over this post, I'm a little leery of offering this insight into the inner workings of my mind while in the throes of composition. Little wonder my writing process is glacial.

I do want to point out however that I'm very pleased with the title of my post, and I think someone should use it as the title of a novel.


Lesley said...

I am only slightly offended by the idea that the A-M crowd is more intelligent or philosophical or whatever term you've given them. Especially since I am an R near the end of the alphabet. However, I am deeply content with the idea that quite possibly, it could be that your bookshelf has little in the N-Z crowd because you haven't really opened yourself up to the idea of thinking like us alphabet enders. Or quite possibly we have a higher thinking that you just have not morphed to yet. Or perhaps it is because we're so smart we don't waste our time writing philosophical theory books that grow dusty on shelves.

Or maybe we were just the paste eaters in school and can't really string a coherent sentence together.

On the 500 word problem...write as much as you want and then pare it down. Always works for me. And considering most of my time is spent writing press releases and newsletters, it's sage advice.

Anonymous said...

9 shelves to 4 for me -- your theory holds true in this office.


Mandy said...

so what about me? i was born a "p," but am a "g" by marriage. am i a lightweight, or a heavy-duty theorist? riddle me that =D

Chris in NF said...

I'd just like to observe that, among the N-Zers are such lightweights as Nietszche, Richard Rorty and Slavoj Zizek ...

Anonymous said...

Slavoj Zizek? You can't just make up names you know.