Sat Feb 13 2021 exegesistools-for-thought
Working on exegesis was a grueling affair at times. I rewrote the schema multiple times, rewrote the backend from scratch 2 months before release, chased countless UI bugs, and manually patched abandoned NPM packages. Part of it may have been due to my inexperience, but working with rich text is just a difficult task, period. At one point, I considered giving up after finding a rival writing app I thought I simply couldn't compete with - I have a copy of an unfinished essay I started writing on why I had given up tucked away somewhere.

Anyone who takes satisfaction in creative work knows how good it feels to make something. That feeling can get addicting, to the point where you hunger to make progress on a creative project even when you're burned out - you want to create something so badly you can't take a break without thinking about it, but you're too burned out to make progress on it. At moments like these, one craves divine creative stamina, the ability to create out of thin air effortlessly, to beam ideas from one's head into reality, to spawn an entire universe within the span of a week like the God of the Old Testament.[[personal-reflection]]

But this is something forbidden to mortal men. We face a kind of creative asymmetry - to bring beauty into the world, it is neccessary to confront ugliness. Creating beautiful, original music requires endless, stupid, and frustrating scale practice, finger exercises, and theory study; behind the sublime beauty of a master's painting lies hours of practice filling sketchbooks with mind numbing still lifes and ugly anatomical mistakes. On the one hand, it seems paradoxical that beauty, freedom and originality require ugliness, servitude, and repetition. On the other hand, it is almost coldly rational - perhaps there is a kind of aesthetic entropy at play, like there's a set amount of beauty in the universe, and to "produce" any more of it, you first have to take on ugliness as a burden.[[music]] [[aesthetics]] [[art]]

Is creative work painful by nature? Nietzsche calls boredom "that disagreeable 'windless calm' of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds." Maybe it is good for creative stamina to be burned out from time to time.

Higher-order creativity

There is at least one creative medium for which this is not true, however, and that is programming. Here is a unique and strange property of programming: Making tools to program better itself involves programming. This is not true for music or art - the process of making a guitar is not the art of playing the guitar, the process of making paints is not the art of painting, and while luthiers and paint-makers are certainly artists in their own right (and are often good at playing the guitar and painting, respectively), they practice an art that is distinct from the art that they enable.

This is not the case for programming. Making better tools for programming (new languages, new frameworks, new libraries) itself requires programming, and while making programming tools is different in important respects from writing regular programs, it is still programming. Making guitars is not playing guitars, making paints is not painting, but making better programming tools is programming. Programming, then, is an, intrinsically recursive creative medium.

It is this property that allows programmers to cheat the Gods, and achieve divine levels of creative output thought forbidden to mortals. A programmer can create abstractions than enable them to create in days what previously took months. I myself rewrote a good part of exegesis 2 months before I released it, and the new abstractions I picked enabled me to redo in those 2 months what took me almost a year at first. Moreover, programmers can share their abstractions, and borrow the inventions of others as well.

In general, computers have enabled the Promethean task of stealing creative abilities previously reserved for deities. Musicians have their electrically amplified instruments, their DAWs, the vast oceans of samples available on the internet; artists have been blessed with digital canvases, 3D modeling, and the ubiquity of screens that renders a possible canvas in every man's pocket.

But it is only recently that writers have endeavored to steal fire for themselves. Only recently have brave pioneers ventured to create tools for that one art synonymous with thought, that one medium separating man from animal, that one power "which outlasts kingdoms." Here, the work has only begun.