5.04.2011

All These Possible Lives At Once

I am increasingly aware of how much life takes place in the middle. It's something I've intellectually understood — or thought I understood — or even professed — but it's only just coming home to roost.

The middle is that place that is neither here nor there, that is both here and there. It is between you and me, between world and me, between words and me. Rather than understanding myself as either an actor or an object — one who does or is done to — I am beginning to understand myself as one who takes place in between myself and the world. I am beginning to understand myself as a sort of cog within a vast cosmic engine. (And, no, I'm not high right now.)

An idea comes over me (oh, god, I love that expression almost as much as I love that sensation — the erotics of being entangled, enmeshed, permeated, penetrated by an idea). It takes possession. And suddenly it — or is it I? — begin making connections between this and that. It — or is it I? — begins rereading the world, seeing it again, seeing it anew. To wit, the idea of the middle, of the in between.

Language, of course, always takes us out of ourselves, coerces us with its vocabulary — we choose words from what's out there; its structural grammar; and its syntax of sense. For instance, once you begin a sentence a certain way, there are only so many options left as to where it can go next. The grammar leads us down certain paths. So just as we speak and write, we are spoken and written.

Even the imagination takes place in the middle. And this never ceases to surprise and amaze me. After all, the imagination seems like that place of absolute control, that infinitely private domain where I am god and civil servant, able to carry out any deed in any fashion. But this is not the case, at least for me.

My imagination feels its way. Which is to say, it doesn't make its way. It usually begins with some kind of phantom that sits at the periphery of my consciousness — a flicker of a possibility, a fragment of an image. I go to it and begin exploring where it might take me — not where I might take it. Oh, I'll try and move it this way or that. And sometimes it seems to heed my will. But this is not an obedience to my will but an extension of that phantom, of that possibility: it goes like that.

This is so abstract. So let's take the example of an erotic fantasy I might have about a woman. In my imagination, the two of us can't do any old thing. The canvas of my imagination is neither blank nor limitless. On the contrary, it is highly stipulated. Feeling its way, my imagination tries to kiss her — but, no, no kissing here. But, for some reason, I can kiss her neck. On my imagination goes, seeing what's possible — a fondle, a grope, a lick. At each point, the scene works itself out, an ongoing negotiation.

But aren't I the director, actor, and producer of this scene? Well, yes, I am. But it turns out that being those things does not give me absolute control. A film is not that different from my imagination: it happens in the middle, between actors, writers, directors, producers, set designers, wardrobe, make up, and so on.

Even the subject of the fantasy, of the imagination, is not up to me alone. It comes to me (as it were)! And I love that — I love when I find a woman in my imagination. How did she get there? Well, through some kind of affective resonance, some kind of harmonic convergence. Perhaps she's an actress. Perhaps she's a coworker. Perhaps she's someone I just met in a bar. Perhaps it's someone I've known for ages. Suddenly, there she is. In my head!

This is all to say that I can't snatch any old woman, plop her into my imagination, and have my way with her. No, it is an event that takes place in the middle, between her and me.

I like to think that these negotiations in the imagination are real negotiations that remain virtual. And so the line that separates the real from the virtual is not the same as the line that separates the real from the unreal. Because the virtual is real, too.

And so I believe that imagination, fantasy, is a possible world in the Leibnizian or Borgesian sense of the word. It is a kind of virtual parallel (or aparallel, it depends) life. So rather than these limitations to my imagination being frustrating, I find them beautiful: all these lives, both virtual and real, streaming out of me.

All these possible lives at once.

7 comments:

Linz said...

Those last couple of lines are so...evocative. I think both of masturbation and of last week's New Yorker article on quantum computing.

Linz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Coffeen said...

Ah, masturbation, quantum computing, the New Yorker — sounds like home.

drwatson said...

In Intro to Metaphysics, Heidegger has this paragraph where he says Being is both highly determinate and indeterminate, which he rightly claims logic can't deal with. He argues that this middle position is the most real thing in the world - more real than the objects in the world. So in one sense we live in the world without much thought - Highly determinate. And at the same time if asked "What is Being?" We're rendered speechless - highly indeterminate. To me, that's the middle space that we all live in, but rarely acknowledge it because it's really hard to think that way.

dustygravel said...

Some questions for you.
Is this what you're talking about when you say that Derrida is concerned
with a things dissolution and Deleuze a things constitution, is a thing constituted between it and its something else? Is this true of Merleau-Ponty too?
I always wish you would expound more on that comparison of Deleuze and Derrida, every time you bring it up.

drwatson said...

I'm sure Coffeen can speak better to this than me - but since I've been reading Delueze I'm starting to get a sense of the difference between Derrida and Deleuze.

It seems to me - again with limited insight - that Delueze sees objects vibrating from a middle - not exactly an essence, but a middle - the object has what Heidegger calls an unground/ground.

Derrida is always concerned with the margins. The margin is where the idea/concept starts to break apart - like the fringes of a rug gathering dust.

So it's more about how they start - Derrida is looking for the problems within Structuralism and it seems to me that Deleuze is looking at the way some-thing grabs him. So the limit of a thing for Delueze is the way it gathers - and the limit for Derrida is the way it dissolves into its opposite.

Daniel Coffeen said...

DrW says pretty much what I'd say about Deleuze and Derrida. I think the key point is that they begin from very different places; they ask different questions — and the question is everything.

Derrida begins with metaphysics and looks at how it can't sustain itself — it always undoes itself. But he's more complex than that because he does offer a new logic, namely, differance. But that logic is not just the logic of difference but of deferral — deferral from closure, as if closure were ever possible. In my diss, I argued that Derrida's logic was electric: it's built on the relentless alternating between positive and negative.

Deleuze, meanwhile, offers a thoroughly positive view of the world. He begins with a different history of philosophy — Lucretius, Spinoza, Leibniz, Bergson. And then asks: What are the strange ways the world comes to constitute itself? He never asks: How does this undo itself. In Diff & Rep, he proffers "Pure difference" — something that is different in itself (and hence does not defer).