Gedankenspiel I: The Pen


[I have written a series of blog posts on paper entitled “Gedankenspiel” that I am entering verbatim into WordPress. The thought is that I write differently by hand than via computer.]


The pen is not only mightier than the sword, it’s mightier than the COMPUTER.

When I confront my students with the task of research, I usually present to them their mightiest tool:

the pen.

Why this, in an age of smartphones, micro-cameras and ubiquitous information?

First of all, information is neither neutral nor ubiquitous.

It is invested, complicit, contextual, and throttled.

Invested, in that powerful interests support only certain information flows

Complicit, because the flows themselves impact the information available (McLuhan, Kittler)

Contextual, in that it cannot convey but a partial view of the given story


Throttled, because access even to the permitted information is part of someone’s profit model

You use your pen to invest in your own, simple information flow

The pen allows us to be selective about reality, because we by nature have to be.

No circuitboards or touch screens or operating systems stand between us and the comparatively simple algorithms of writing.

Pens afford a mastery over language, which is itself not only a means to power over others, but also over one’s own thoughts.

Should our notebooks be set alight, our memories, narratives and control over them blown away as ashes into the wind, then we shall use our pens to once again inscribe power – via the written word and image – into the personal realities we perceive.






9 responses to “Gedankenspiel I: The Pen”

  1. Bienia Avatar

    Like your meditation. I use fountain pens and good paper. Good paper? Well, you are familiar with Misery by S. King, right? Fountain pens allow your thoughts to bleed on the paper – literally. I wonder about your understanding of ‘throttled’. How do you see profit relevant for thinking?

    1. guyintheblackhat Avatar

      Profit rates tend to fall over time, so new ways to release/restrain information is required in order to fight against this falling profit rate. Thought itself becomes hardwired against the falling profit rate (i.e., entrepreneurial innovation, etc.), though information itself cannot survey the terrain which it does not know (i.e., where the new profit is to be made).

  2. mirandate Avatar

    interesting! I have always noticed a difference in writing by hand vs. by computer, though I can barely write by hand anymore (overwhelming impatience + carpal tunnel). But reading this made me want to try again. Just since it’s on my mind lately, what do you make of the triumphalist rhetoric regarding the ways in which computer-assisted writing helps those who would not be able to write otherwise? Is that conversation all somehow part of the profit-driven system, rhetoric they circulate to ensure our total compliance with the digital system (I mean that as a sincere question) ?

    1. guyintheblackhat Avatar

      Computer-assisted writing is certainly a societal boon. But it is also used as a self-congratulatory instance that justifies structures of power, just how modern charities currently run moral interference for Wall Street thievery.

      I remain convinced that the technology would have been here sooner had we not required some sort of corporate profit from it.

      No matter how liberating our computers may be to us, they also operate us as we operate them.

      1. mirandate Avatar

        Cool. Good points, and I fundamentally agree with you. I am just not sure myself how to wean myself back onto physical writing – it’s something that has always been difficult for me.

      2. guyintheblackhat Avatar

        Yeah, I have found myself painfully weaning myself away from the computer little by little, as the computer becomes a tether to distraction and co-opting of my thought.

      3. mirandate Avatar

        Any tips?

      4. guyintheblackhat Avatar

        None – I’m an outright web addict at the moment, so I have to start from ground zero and work my way back into control…

  3. mirandate Avatar

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. I don’t know why I can’t respond directly to your comments. Sorry if that is annoying.

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