5.05.2015

We Are Here to Go, or Life & Relationships Aren't Linear So Enjoy the Ride


Often, too often — in fact, always for many — we think of life, and certainly relationships, as linear and progressive. You meet, flirt, date, kiss, fool around, fuck, spend more time together, move in together, marry, spawn, divorce (or not), then die. It's a nice neat line, even if punctuated with intense emotional experiences of love, doubt, heartbreak, loss.

This is what philosophers call a teleology: things moving with purpose towards an end and away from a beginning. The Fall is a teleology as we are moving away from innocence. This defines much of how we think about childhood: we had something beautiful and we lose it over time. The end of the world, or our prevalent eschatology, is another teleology: we had something beautiful but, because we're sinful, we're headed towards the end of all things. 

In both cases, and in most cases in which we figure our lives, we see life as a coming from or going to. There is a starting point or there is an ending point by which we can define our present position — I'm an adolescent, I'm having a mid-life crisis, I'm regressing, Our relationship isn't moving forward. Sure, these teleologies terrify us, riddle us with anxiety, but they orient us, help us feel grounded. And it seems we prefer this sense of orientation to freedom from angst. 

I'm not saying there is no such thing as these experiences. Surely, there is an experience of adolescence, of infancy, of old age. But these don't necessarily happen in order. I've seen my 11 year old son be an infant, an adult, and old man; I've seen the same in myself. Life is more spirals, twirls, and folds than neat little timelines. 

Such temporal teleologies are, as Nietzsche might say, nihilistic. They seek to control and define the multiplicity of time and the great indifference of the universe. They wish life to be other than it is, namely, an ever swirling flux of becoming. 

Histories tend to revolve around neat narratives with clear origins and endpoints. We entered the war because we were bombed; we ended the war with an even bigger bomb. But start poking at the beginning and end and those points become blurs, become multiple (did Japan and Germany really "lose" the war, as if winning and losing meant something? Weren't they the two financial superpowers for many years?). As Foucault says, when we look for the origin, we find the dissension of other things. 

History is not a movement of progress or regress; we've neither gained nor lost. We change, always. The time of the mountains and rivers and oceans is different than the time of nations which is different than the time of ideas and desires and individual lives and societies and birds and tortoises. Each goes as it goes, multiply, intersecting others (or not). There may be thresholds here and there but they are local and they inevitably bleed. 

Life is not linear. The moment you are born, you begin to die. With each breath you take, you live a little and die a little. Birth and death are not absolute beginnings and ends; they are local limits that in fact run through the whole of your life. You are constantly reborn and you are constantly dying. Life and death are folded together with infinitely dense pleats. 

And relationships, no matter how hard we try, are not linear — even when they seem that way. I once met a girl, dated, married, moved in together (we broke the order and married the day we moved in together, a fold in the traditional sequence), had a kid, got divorced. But the divorce only ended our legal marriage. In reality, our relationship keeps changing, morphing, even if it's long past romantic or sexual. I see this in all the relationships I've had: they don't have absolute beginnings or ends. They are nebulous folds, trajectories, differential equations with infinite limits that will never be reached precisely because they are always still happening.

This is what we might call a teleonomy rather than a teleology. There is some sense of purpose only that purpose doesn't exist outside the process of going; the going is the becoming of the purpose. That is, if the teleology of the Fall is a going away from a point, a receding horizon, the teleonomy of life and relationships offers its purpose right here, right now, as its going. It's the difference between walking to work and going for a stroll. 

And yet we cling to these insane wishes for linearity. In relationships in particular, we keep asking: Where is this going? When will you propose? When will we move in together? These might or might not be fair questions to ask now and again but they also avoid the now. For instance, there we are, having a great time hanging out, talking, playing, smooching, cooking. Everything is hunky dory; everything is great. And then one of us stops the fun and asks, demands: Where is this relationship going? It's not enough to enjoy this life; I need this life to be oriented within a false temporal scheme that inevitably gives way to the beautiful chaos of life. To stop and ask such a question is to prefer a false sense of ground to a beautiful sense of vertigo. For there is no there there. All there is is this going. 

As Brion Gysin writes, What are we here for? Does the great metaphysical nut revolve around that? Well, I'll crack it for you, right now. What are we here for? We are here to go! Not go anywhere in particular but just to go, to be a going. 

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