2.13.2011

Living Through, Living With

I've been quite attracted to this phrase — living through — for some time. I think it is related to sincerity and, like sincerity, it is difficult to articulate, even if it's readily known within an encounter. This is how I imagine it, what it means, the sense it makes.

To live through is to experience this or that, to experience life, thoroughly. (I've been attracted to this word, thorough, for a long time, as well. I like it because it is, well, thorough without being exhaustive: it does not suggest that there is a finality or fixed limit but that there is some kind of totality).

But what does that mean, to live thoroughly? I've only begged the question.

There are times — most times, in fact — in which I'm doing something. Let's say I'm writing.

In some instances, I'm writing what I already know; I'm writing by rote, by habit. It's as though my anima is not involved. I'm not excited; the words are not on the brink of the new, the ideas are not alive. My energy is being used elsewhere (or, more likely, not at all).

Perhaps living through, then, is a matter of a thermodynamic system, a distribution of energies. I like this because it makes it an engineering problem: tweak the system, align the valves, and voila: living through!

Other times, I'm writing but it's not habit per se that propels me, animates me: it's copying. I'm regurgitating what someone else has just told me — Houellebecq or Deleuze or Nietzsche or Foucault. I did this quite a bit when I was in college; some more in grad school; less, as time goes on (more on this in a moment).

This is a tough one because, when copying, I can be incredibly animated. I often have all my energy focused. I remember writing my undergraduate thesis on Foucault: I was thoroughly animated, all right, only I was thoroughly animated by my poor but excited understanding of Foucault. Oh, man, it was glorious! I'd write like a maniac, fervently, passionately about power and knowledge!

But rather than living through, in a sense, I was lived through. I loved every moment of it. But I was occupied, possessed, by someone else's style: I'd become host to the Foucault virus, if you will. Now, this is a beautiful experience and is an important aspect of learning something: to be possessed by it. I learned Foucault well because I ate is for every meal, breathed it for every breath.

Again, this is a tough one to articulate because, well, aren't we always playing host? Aren't we always being lived through?

So perhaps, when writing about Foucault — nay, when copying Foucault — I was doing a kind of living through. But I wasn't yet becoming myself. Nietzsche says, when writing, one must be careful not to read lest an alien scale the wall.

(Let me ask this: my undergrad thesis was filled with passionate sincerity, spewing dumbed down Foucault. But what is it sincere? It was sincerely...something. I'm just not sure what.)

Then there are times I'm writing when I feel possessed all right — possessed by my place in the world, possessed by ideas and words and their force. Everything in me is contributing. My heart pounds; my fingers twitch. I'm intellectually, physically, sexually aroused. This is why I write: to find that thorough possession that is not an alien possession per se but a kind of self-possession.

This, too, is an odd kind of living through because, yes, words and ideas live through me. But they are thoroughly digested by my metabolism, working with my style, my tics and speeds and intensities, my way of making sense. The system flourishes. (Of course, other aspects of the ecology begin to malfunction — cleanliness, relations with others.)

(Although, this state can be manic and begin to cannibalize itself, which is redundant, I think.)

I want to say living through, like sincerity, entails a certain kind of self-presence, an owning of oneself — which is a strange, impossible circuit: to own oneself. Living through is attentive. It is encompassing of (close to) the entirety of the system — thoughts and feelings and fingers and desires and digestions and needs and lusts.

I want to say that living through emanates from the inside out, but only if we understand that inside and outside are relative terms, that there is no real inside. I am not talking about a soul or some kind of knowing homunculus.

Perhaps living through is really a living with — a going with ideas and people and affects, a going with what is healthy, what is enlivened and enlivening. Perhaps living through is truly a thermodynamic matter of going well with the forces of the cosmos.

I am thinking out loud.

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