Tools for Discovery: Tim Taylor

Tools for Discovery is a monthly profile series that inspects the computer programs, gadgets and methods behind WID’s ideas and discoveries.

Tim Taylor is the director’s special projects manager and program coordinator for the Center for Complexity and Collective Computation (C4), a research center in WID.

Tim Taylor
Tim Taylor

What do you work on at WID?

I’m not a researcher at WID; I’m an administrative factotum who writes on the side — somewhere off in the margins. I’m intrigued by things such as pattern, simultaneity, and valence. I like the reader to be heavily involved in the outcome of his or her experience, and so most of my texts have an aleatoric element to them in that they encourage multiple ways of reading. This is very frustrating to a lot of people who don’t enjoy the sensation of bewilderment or being given too much freedom to choose. I’ve come to accept that I’m lousy at self-marketing and that my writing will attract only a small niche audience of readers who relish a particular kind of vertigo in their literature.

Tools for analysis?

As a non-scientist, I’ll dodge this question a little. The word analysis comes from the Ancient Greek νάλυσις (analusis), meaning a “breaking up” or a “loosening throughout.” It’s the opposite of synthesis — another vital action. The tension between the two seems necessary. Loosen. Tighten. Break it down. Build it up. Scatter. Combine. I try to stop working on a text when the thought of scattering it or loosening it or breaking it down again no longer compels me. So my tool of analysis is really just the manifested urge to construct beyond my willingness to destroy.

“There is no substitute for the intensity of desire. Talent, artisanal competence, deft cleverness, even intellectual brilliance — none of these ever quite compensate for its lack.”

— Tim Taylor

Tools for writing?

Le Pens in a variety of colors, probably because they resemble pencils in thinness and shape. I had to force myself to stop writing with pencils over a dozen years ago so that I wouldn’t keep erasing everything out of some constant longing for eradication (I had “build it up” and “break it down” in the wrong order — or at least I was comfortable with leaving too many projects broken down). Nearly all of my structural texts are hand-rendered as drafts before being typed into InDesign. InDesign allows options for nuanced placement and layering that MS Word doesn’t. When taking notes, I like IA Writer for its ease and its illusion of endless white space. And I keep a journal on gridded paper (Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917) using a system of letters in proximity to one another that almost guarantees even I won’t be able to read it in the future. That’s a relief!

Tools for collaboration?

I don’t actively collaborate as a writer anymore. I worry about dilution and homogenization, which too often seem to be the end result of collaborative artworks. But I’ve vaguely imagined running a “Vivifiction” Lab where “living” texts would be dissected and altered in real time by a group of writers trying to simultaneously shift the text’s equilibrium toward their own aesthetics and sensibilities (like the push and pull of fingers on those Ouija board pointers). The product probably wouldn’t shine, but the process might be illuminating.

In the deeper and more resonant sense of the question (person-to-person collaboration), I agree with those who think of reading as a conversation between writer and reader. Once the writer’s done her part, it’s time for the reader to do his. Unfortunately, as readers — lazy lunkheads that we are — we seldom do. Open dialogue between willing minds, to me, is the highest form of collaboration — some blend of classical rigor with fervor toward the new. And wherever this happens in my life — at work, at home, at a cafe, during a long walk with my best friend — it makes any day a better day.

Ultimate tool for discovery?

There is no substitute for the intensity of desire. Talent, artisanal competence, deft cleverness, even intellectual brilliance — none of these ever quite compensate for its lack.