1.12.2019

Writing, Chaos, Remembering, Forgetting

A writer's will is the winds of dead calm in the Western Lands. Point way out he can start stirring of the sail. Writer, where are you going? To write. Here we are in texts already written on the sky. Where he doesn't need to write anymore. A slight seismic with the cat book. Always remember, the work is the mainsail to reach the Western Lands. The texts sing. Everything is grass and bushes, a desert or a maze of texts. Here you are ... never use the same door twice. Sky in all directions ... on the word for word. The word for word is word. The western sail stirs candles on 1920 country club table. Each page is a door to everything is permitted. The fragile lifeboat between this and that. Your words are the sails. - 
WS Burroughs


I just sat down to write about how my thinking these days has been less, well, ardent. Pointed. Didactic. I think things only to have said things open up their own radical doubt, their own dispersion and eventual effacement — thoughts in quicksand, as Emerson might say. It's as if the great tumult of it all erases the discretion of my thoughts and I find myself in the Big Soup, the sublime, where thoughts' borders are short lived and explosively multiple or folded in such impossibly complex configurations that I lack the stamina to keep up: origami to infinity, that place where chaos and the complexity of order blur. My thinking of late doesn't want to come to a point; my writing doesn't want to hammer or drill. 

For that is how I often took to the keyboard: to drive my point home (where- or whatever that home is. What does a writer hope when he assumes such drive? What does he want to do to and with the reader?). I have something to say. Listen to this! That mode of thinking and writing demands a certain kind certainty, even if said certainty is of uncertainty. (In fact, people who claim to know nothing tend to be so sure they don't know things, becoming a negative expert; I'm looking at you, Socrates; and, well, myself). (Phrases and structure often announce our age; the way I use a certain x signals that I came of intellectual age in the 90s, my prose ripe with telling traces of Derrida. (Trace, too, is a word — a figure — we of a certain age inherit from Derrida. Trace is a beautiful, fecund figure, surprisingly visceral — despite its meaning. Traces and ghosts: Derrida's greatest contribution, I believe, and where Derrida is closest to Deleuze and Guattari.)) (How many parentheses can we put in a row? Or embed like Russian dolls? Which becomes an aside to what? Burroughs says he can't imagine writing without parentheses. The fact is there are always parentheses, even when there aren't; writing is asides all the way down, even if silent, even if invisible)(Punctuation enacts a certain synesthesia, sight inflecting sound. Punctuation, of course, does more than that: it articulates a rhythm that moves the text's ideas along with the bodies of readers, an invisible conductor, a way for ghosts to shape experience — a trace of the writer perhaps.)) When I write these days, I hear all the echoes, see and sense a wild wealth of traces — historical, social, rhetorical, conceptual. This has me temper my certainty, shift directions in my writing: writing which was once moving towards a point, a mathematical equation all adding up to something suddenly sees its own lack of ground as well as how it's cross-crossed with so many other trajectories, how it forks and splays and fractures and frays all opening up other ways thinking, and writing, could go — and then I am Wile E. Coyote amid his resounding existential reckoning, realizing there's no ground beneath my feet.


I love when sentences get so long. How do you remember where you are — grammatically, conceptually, and rhetorically? Writing long sentences is what I imagine driving NASCAR is like: it demands such concerted continuous attention, trying to steer this barrelling sense-machine which has its own mad momentum you're at once creating and responding to. It's so easy to get distracted, scratch an itch, forget where you were, and have the whole thing crash and collapse into gibberish by the side of the road.

I usually sit down to write because I like the sensation of writing, not necessarily because I have something to say. I like the feeling of opening up. Writing is always an opening up or an opening onto, a reaching towards. I see the writer more and more as Burroughs imagined her: a medium, a cog. I am not the source of this just as a river is not the source of its water. I lean back into what's there as much as forward into the screen, my body and mind a conduit. Or: the writer is an athlete, a shortstop, poised for a ball that could bounce any which way, at this or that speed with these or those hops and is ready to snatch it to make the next move to complete the play. A great turn of phrase is a well turned out.

The proliferation of figures — rivers, bridges, shortstops — reveals the morphology of an idea and the fundamental plasticity of prose. Words are not a sure and firm passage from here to there. The transmission of writing will never have been a straight line (this strange temporal construction — "will never have been" — is another beautiful figure I inherit from Derrida. But is inheritance the right figure? Is it Derrida's trace? His ghost? Is it my possession of Derrida? Or my possession by Derrida? You suddenly see the ideology of grammar, the way language leads us into conceptual constructions. As Nietzsche says, when we say lighting strikes we double the action, positing a doer behind the deed. Such is what our language demands, a subject and a verb. When there is perhaps only a verb: lightning).

What happens when the writer doesn't try to keep ideas in their lanes? After all, writing is not a NASCAR race. What happens when the writer writes and, in so doing, summons all possible paths — and follows them? At some point, it seems to me, all thinking runs into or against this schizo condition. Usually, it plows ahead, blinders on the horse so she stays on the track. But, from time to time, the writing gives in and goes every which way — Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake, Clarice Lispector's Agua Viva, Burroughs' cut-ups. All writing negotiates its own dissipation.

Thinking and writing are acts of what Deleuze and Guattari call deterritorialization and reterritorialization — they colonize some areas, leave others, all while forging their own space. When we write, as when we live, we're always carving out a space, removing something that was there, add phrases and ideas from somewhere else, digging paths between disparate territories, moving through this or that thinker, concept, book — and then planting a flag: This! All writing is an assembling of various and diverse figures and forces into a localized territory. All writing says yes to some things, no to others. Writing is metabolic, an algorithm of not just inclusion and exclusion but of combination — an algorithm of laughter and forgetting alongside a chemistry of thought, body, and affect.

Of course, the way of standing towards this, towards this flag planting, differs. Some want to forge a large continent of rock, construct an immovable edifice; others, a forest; a botanical garden; a labyrinth; or maybe just some grass across fields and into pavement's cracks. So many ways of standing towards the word! Towards the world! So many different postures of the writer! For me, it's interesting, if at times disconcerting, to feel the adamance of my linguistic stance falter before the sublimity of it all. I've seen people, usually on LSD, become rendered mute before the world's sudden sublime illumination. It all becomes too much. Writing, like life, demands forgetting in order to write anything. (I am haunted by Borges' Funes the Memorious who remembers everything:""[H]e seems to me as monumental as bronze, more ancient than Egypt, older than the prophecies and the pyramids....Ireneo Funes died in 1889, of congestion of the lungs.")

Writing, like living, demands an ever-shifting algorithm of forgetting and remembering, a play of Yes and No. The adamant Yes of didactic writing leans into the No-saying of life, actively forgetting the play of forces that would unmoor it. The less my writing affirms, the more my writing says Yes to the forces of the chaosmos, of life, body, desire, history, yes to the forces of ghosts and traces of ideas, yes to the meandering of wills and the play of meanings: yes to the great drifts of becoming.

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