9.05.2015

Knowing is a Process


For many years, I taught a course on joy. Joy, I'd argue, is the affirmation of life as it is, as it happens, as it becomes. Joy doesn't kvetch or whine; it doesn't hope things will get better. It declares Yes to everything, even pain and suffering. Joy doesn't seek an elsewhere. It regrets nothing; it wishes for nothing other than what is. I'd teach Nietzsche's Ecce Homo and his great dictum, amor fati: don't just accept fate, love your fate! I'd teach Whitman's unabashed voraciousness for life. And, eventually, I'd come to teach the story of Job, who really got the shit end of the stick but still affirmed his faith without wishing things to be otherwise. That Job!

But, while understanding the concept and mechanics of joy, I actually knew nothing. For when I was confronted with my own pain and suffering, my own dark hour, I didn't say Yes. I flailed and whined; I turned sour, dour, and blue. I imagined the great relief a bullet to the head would bring. I still often pine and whine, fear and dread. I don't just take things as they come; I fear what might come and hope things go a certain way.

What, then, was I teaching of joy?  My knowledge? My understanding? What is it to know something?

There was a long, beautiful period of my life where I was making all sorts of connections, seeing the world anew constantly. I loved spinning things, seeing how they could and would meld and reconfigure according to this or that theory, this or that view of the world. It was a constant high. I'd see lines of flight here, knights of faith there, the will to power abounding; I'd see différance playing itself out, the post-modern condition in action, the society of the spectacle folding me in. I killed authors, found meaning in the slightest gestures, saw montage create movement where there'd been none.

Then a conspiracy of sort occurred as time and circumstance (is that redundant?) had its way with me. I aged. I spawned. I became tired, admittedly sad, often distracted by the newfound burdens of work (grad school was all play) and parenting. Ghosts of my childhood came to roost, unearthed by the presence of my own progeny. I stopped seeing things anew; I crashed from that high.

But a funny thing happened. I began to know things I already knew. That may sound silly but that's precisely what happened. I knew what a line of flight was, in some sense. But it wasn't until confronted by the traps of parental discourse that I really learned what a line of flight was — and only after many, many failed flights that ended in crashes of the most unseemly sort. I may have known what exploitation and alienation from the means of production meant but it wasn't until prices skyrocketed and my expenses along with them that I knew, and saw, how things work and how deeply fucked we all are.

There are different kinds of knowing, different modes of understanding. I don't want to say that my early reckonings of ideas were false. I did see something, know something, understand something. However, my knowledge was limited, tempered by the mechanics of my own body and experience. Sure, joy found me, found the part of me that could grapple with it, even articulate it. But it didn't find other parts of me, the folds of my being, the whispers of my becoming. The resonance of that doppler wave was limited.

For the past few years, my mode of knowing has changed. I rarely see the world radically realigned; I rarely find newfound connections between aspects of the cosmos. But I continue to know, to learn, to understand those ideas and possibilities I nibbled on in my youth. I was about to say that every day, I understand Deleuze, Nietzsche, Whitman, Eistenstein a little more thoroughly, from a different angle, in a different way. But I'm not sure it's every day.

Which makes me thing about the time of learning, the time of understanding. I used to tell my students that, for the most part, they wouldn't understand a word I was saying at the time. But, years and even decades later, fragments might strike and resonate. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was talking to myself, telling myself that these ideas that were bouncing all around my body and mind would take root at different speeds, in different rhythms, with different reactions, affects, and effects.

I recently spent a few days on the Oregon coast, fueled by mental and existential accelerants and catalysts, expecting and wanting to see the world anew. I missed the old days of my old high in which the world would and could realign itself before my eyes and I'd declare, Holy fuck fuck! Yes! That! But that yearning already showed me the limit of my understanding of joy as I was still hoping for an outcome, not affirming whatever.

What I experienced, then, were no new revelations, not of that sort. Rather, I experienced the profound resonance of some things I've been in the act of understanding not just for decades but for scores. I saw the sky, the infinite sky, yawn and fold before me and around me. I felt the sun touch me in all sorts of places: I felt life happening in me, as me, with me. I knew joy again; I knew it anew.

To know is not to conquer, despite anachronistic academic protestations to the contrary. To know is to live through, over and over again, a process of reckoning, of resonating, of becoming.

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