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Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson

The following is an excerpt from "Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline" from Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson, published by Graywolf Press.

Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline

I. Start with the Roman numeral I with an authoritative period trailing just after it. This is the Harvard Online, which comes in Caps and is a method of organizing information
a. remembered from high school as a major step toward creating an essay
i. though there was a decimal method, too
b. but I've never been comfortable with the thing—its seeming rigor, its scaffolding so white against the language
i. never felt the top-down structuralist method of constructing writing to be useful or effective; the mind, so idiosyncratic, unusual
1. its strangeness and its often-incoherence
a. the lovely anomaly
c. and the Harvard Online is the reason I get 55 5-paragraph essays every month
d. it is, I think, suspect, (its
e. headings
i. subheadings
1. sub-subheadings
a. etc.
b. though there is a pleasure to this iteration, this recursion—like mathematics and the algorithms I played with and admired in computer-science classes, writing functions that called themselves
i. which called themselves
1. which called themselves
a. until they were satisfied
2. and exited
ii. right back
c. out
i. like those Russian nesting [Matryoshka] dolls; a lovely symmetry; such satisfaction comes in nesting
ii. such starkness
1. elegance)
f. all those steps out and down across the page—like the writing task is that of going downhill, like a waterfall in its rush
i. or the incremental, slow plod down the slope, skis buried behind in some drift
g. While technically called "The Harvard Online"
i. it has nothing to do with Harvard
1. according to their archivists, "it appears to be a generic term"
ii. so it's difficult to track it down in the history of organizing information
1. which is what this culture spends increasing time (and money!) doing
a. witness the amazing success of the search engine Google
i. as created by Larry Page and Sergey Brin
ii. with its elegant mechanism of concordance
1. of ranking searches by the number of pages that link to each individual page or site in order to establish the relative importance of that initial page or site
a. and look—there's no need for parentheses in 1. above thanks to the Harvard Online
b. again that attraction to self-examination
c. again that attraction to what elegance there is to find

—From "Outline Toward a Theory of the Mine Versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline" from Neck Deep and Other Predicaments by Ander Monson. Copyright © 2007 by Ander Monson. Permission granted by Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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