Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#11: Navigating the end of year scaries

There is a strange and unsettling feeling that happens in December, as time rushes forward and slows down all at once. And so it becomes a balancing act of sorts. Here are the kinds of things that I am personally trying to balance:

  • I have a really exciting new direction for History of the Web I’m trying to mock up right now
  • I’ve been trying to sell this damn dining room table on Facebook Marketplace (which, by the way, fuck Facebook Marketplace). It’s not going well.
  • Balancing a couple of client projects, and a fun internal one as well
  • Presents. We’re buying them, wrapping them, putting them under a tree. Trying to get ahead of it all this week.

But anyway, I like to end the year with some focus and something new. And that energy is going to be put into what I have going on with the History of the Web right now. To mock up the site, I’ve been using WordPress’ full site editing a whole lot lately, and I want to write that up this week. The results have been… mixed, but I think it’s more liberating than it is limiting.

The key is in the results, and I can often get bogged down in the details. Full Site Editing helps me to focus away from that and figure out solutions with what’s already there. It’s not perfect, but hey that was standing in the way of good anyway. By next month, I expect to have something out.

I am getting to the end of reading (listening to) Bleak House. And as it all comes together in the final chapters, I’m struck by the emphasis on the power of the individual even inside an overwrought and broken down system. It is only through the compassion of John Jardynce that Ada and Esther are given a chance at all. It is only through the tenacity for truth of Mr Bucket that an innocent man does not go to jail. Sir Leicester’s final act with his wife is to forgive all, and Dickens pauses to praise this gesture:

His noble earnestness, his fidelity, his gallant shielding of her, his generous conquest of his own wrong and his own pride for her sake, are simply honourable, manly, and true. Nothing less worthy can be seen through the lustre of such qualities in the commonest mechanic, nothing less worthy can be seen in the best-born gentleman. In such a light both aspire alike, both rise alike, both children of the dust shine equally.

Much gets stuck in the mud in Bleak House. And those that embed themselves within government and the law and all manners of buereaucracy are eventually ground down by it. But those that cut through that, and simply act out of their own goodness (Jardynce, Woodcourt, Esther, Bucket, Mrs. Bagnet, etc.) are able to advance the world forward nonetheless. And that is a powerful message.

Just one more thing to add. Michael Silverblatt’s interview with David Foster Wallace about Infinite Jest on the former’s radio program Bookworm. Silverblatt is a fantastic interviewer and immediately interrogates Wallace on the particularities of the novels structure, which he compares to fractals, and the journey to find the message inside of the book. And Wallace quotes from a similar refrain which is that his job is not only to challenge but to entertain, so despite the labyrinth of a plot and structure, he strove to fid clarity for his readers.

Martha Nussbaum, on Proust, and a possible explanation for why the exact matches of dating profiles so often miss anyway:

Intellect’s account of psychology lacks all sense of proportion and depth and importance… [Such a] cost-benefit analysis of the heart — the only comparative assessment of which intellect, by itself, is capable — is bound, Proust suggests, to miss differences of depth. Not only to miss them, but to impede their recognition. Cost-benefit analysis is a way of comforting oneself, of putting oneself in control by pretending that all losses can be made up by sufficient quantities of something else. This stratagem opposes the recognition of love — and, indeed, love itself.