Writing and Speaking as Performance

For the last 25 years, writing has been a kind of meditation for me, if you will. It's how I slip into the ether, letting go of ego as ideas and words play through me. Writing never feels like mastery. It feels like participation, the grammars of the social, conceptual, and linguistic carrying me along a series of possible trajectories and necessarily landing me on this one, here and now. Writing is beautiful like that, at once so generous and despotic. It gives you x number of options and then demands you choose one.

I always loved writing as a practice rather than as a mode of communication. It's the writing itself that turns me on and riles me up — to be carried along by the mechanics of ideas meeting language meeting what's coherent (more or less).  It takes me out of myself, out of the insistent and insane demands of the everyday ego.

No doubt, we tend to see the writer as an egomaniac, forging the world in his likeness. But that's to forget and ignore all the constraints of language, of words, of people. Burroughs and Beckett and others pushed up against this — these logics, these possibilities, these necessary limits.  Writing is a kind of surrender that doesn't abandon self but becomes self:

The old writer lived in a boxcar by the river. … Often in the morning he would lie in bed and watch grids of typewritten words in front of his eyes that moved and shifted as he tried to read the words, but he never could. He thought if he could just copy these words down, which were not his own words, he might be able to put together another book and then…yes, and then what (Burroughs, The Western Lands, his greatest book).

I loved writing my dissertation. I know grad students complain about this part which, frankly, is insane to me. Why else go to grad school? Writing my dissertation was writing a book, a sustained argument for around 200 pages. It was like building a house from the inside out, deciding what needed to be built next based on whim and necessity. Ah, a veranda here! A hall and stairway here leading back down there! A turret here! Perfect! Only, the only person living in the edifice was me. Which is awesome!

We think about writing as a mode of expression. It's way to communicate what's inside me to you who's outside me. But that's not all that writing is. Writing is itself — and first and foremost — a practice of engineering, aligning, assembling ideas, words, and one's self. It's a kind of surfing, ocean and crowd, leaping into the undulation and riding it out.

And so, after the pleasure of writing my dissertation, I continued writing books — sustained arguments over 100 or so pages. I never did anything with them. Publication always seemed foreign to my writing practice. I wasn't writing to tell anybody anything; and I sure as shit wasn't writing to make money. I was writing as I loved to get lost, and found, in the performance itself. (Alas, I do have a book coming out later this year, published by Zero Books. Publishing speaks to a different component of writing, an ethical component. But more on that another time.)

Oh, that's an awesome moment! To be carried along the waves of an idea, veering this way and that along the grammars of language! This is bliss. This is what I assume the surfers are talking about, feeling the ocean's tumult and power, letting them be your guide as you steer into the wave's vortex. This is writing: steering into the crest of an idea hitting words hitting the world and it's fucking beautiful.

A few months ago, writing began to feel like a chore. It wasn't something that carried me along; it was something that I carried along. But I craved that abandon and remembered that that was what I experienced when I was teaching: performance as the subsuming of ego. I loved prancing and rambling to students. I was always less interested in their comprehension of the material than in the rhetorical postures we created as a classroom (eeesh! That sounds vague and odd!).

So I began speaking into a mic rather than writing — which explains the past few weeks of podcasting rather than bloggng. When I turn on my mic, I have an idea but that's all. I'm not sure where it's going to take me either in words, ideas, or inflection. And that's the pleasure! Getting lost in the performance of articulation!

I'm not that interested in explicating this or that idea. For me, that's just so much fodder. I love the performance of writing and speaking — not in terms of performing for an audience but in terms of performing as doing.

After all, life happens. That is, life isn't per se. Life is always an activity; we're always doing something. Writing and speaking are not a matter of this ego using language as a tool to convey to you, another ego over there, what I want or need. Writing and speaking are actions, ways and modes of taking on the world, of taking on ideas and words, and at once abandoning and superseding the ego. Writing and speaking are not means. They are actions, practices. And should afford the speaker and writer the pleasure of living.


The Graduate, Age, Time, and Irony (a verbal essay)

Here's the podcast link.

After talking with an old friend and re-watching The Graduate, I was struck by the hilarity of youth's claim to certainty, to vision, to sanctimony when we all know, all experience, the relentless flux of perspectives.

There is something different about the gap that separates the young from the old. When it comes to race, gender, sexual orientation (is that the right word?), there is at once an infinite gap and a certain affinity or fluidity as we all occupy the same space. We endure together and so our respective ways of going intersect, bleed.

The divide between the young and old is not spatial; it's temporal. In fact, the young and old share certain spatial continuity — my 12 year old body and my 46 year old body spatially share the same body even if that body is qualitatively different. But we are temporally divided, necessarily.

This is odd. My 46 year old self supersedes my 12 year old self: I know what it is to be 12 and to be 46. But my 12 year old can't possibly know what it is to be 46. All the 12 year old knows is that he doesn't know; he can intimate but not know. After all, he was different at 10, 7, 4 so, for all he knows, he'll be different at 46. We all know what it is to change.

Which is what makes the adamance of youth so cosmically hilarious. You're sitting there speaking and acting like this is the way things are while the rest of us see and feel the waves of change about to pound down upon your very and every being.

This is why I can't understand sanctimony and only understand irony. How can we not know that what we feel and believe here and now is going to change? I mean: Duh!


Notes on the Plenum

Going through old files of my writing, I found this. I have no idea what prompted it. The tone is a bit preachy know-it-all as this was before the fall, as it were. I've edited it a bit for good measure....

Let’s begin, then, from here: everything is multiple. A person, a body, a family, an animal, politics, feelings, moods, ideas, cocktails, love, technology, business, desire, appetite, meaning: everything is a multiplicity.

A thing is one thing that is many things. I am father, lover, pervert, sweet, nasty, brand consultant, critic, writer, blogger of philosophy, would-be adult, man, adolescent, frustrated driver — often all at once, sometimes one more than another.

We are run through with ways of going that exceed us, crisscrossed with flows of culture, blood, history, image, desire, disease, ideas, fears, anxieties, needs, dreams, and drugs.

The weather in San Francisco changes frequently. And with it, the moods of its citizens. Which is to say, our very private selves are environmental selves — the world, the universe, the cosmos runs through us, in us, with us at all times.

So-called Western medicine tries to isolate an ailment from its environs — treat the stomach, treat the toe, treat the mood. It then finds itself following a trail of effects — the stomach treatment changed the mood; the new mood treatment changed the kidneys; so treat the kidneys….and on it goes.

We are body but we are also mood; we are flesh and we are idea; we are blood and we are notion. The visible and invisible parts of us are marbled and cannot be separated once and for all. Things and ideas go together. This is important to understand.

We are ever changing networks (without an outside), internally and externally. These networks break down the perceived rigid lines that would separate me from the weather, me from the traffic, me from you.

The self is fundamentally ecological: it is part of an infinite system of relations, contingencies, connections, a Rube Goldberg machine of cosmic proportions.

We are multiple from the get go. This is not something to be avoided, shunned, or reduced. It is something to be celebrated and negotiated. Multiplicity is the state of things. And this is good, even if at times overwhelming and difficult. Making sense of life in all its teeming complexity should not always be easy.

It’s not that I am sometimes this and sometimes that. It’s that I am always this, that, that, and that in ever varying degrees of intensity. This variation never stops, not for one moment, even if at times it moves very, very slowly.

But this is not to say that we are a chaos. No, each of us is a singular node of networks, a singular amalgamating of elements, ideas, bodies, gestures, moods. Each of us is a way of going, a process, infinitely becoming — a differential equation.

I want to say that each of us is a different way of assembling these things. This way is what we might call a style: each of us has his own style of putting himself together. This style emerges rather than determines. Style changes.

We are productive nodes. Each of us takes up different things in different ways at different speeds with different intensity and makes different things of them. What I do with tequila is talk; what you do with tequila is dance; what he does with tequila is vomit.

You are an assemblage point. Things and ideas and people and moods and events gather around you, gather with you. You are a local torrent of activity, a magnet for certain kinds of things — some you attract strongly, some less so, some not at all. Others, you repel. So it is with bodies: they push, pull, and ignore each other. This is the cosmos, galaxies, solar systems, marriages, friendships, diets, addictions.

You are a manner of going. You are not first yourself and then you act. You are always acting, putting yourself and your world together. Which is to say, you are fundamentally temporal.

You are not. You become. You don’t become something. You just become — always moving, always shifting, but within limits.

You are bound and you are infinite. You are forever becoming along a particular trajectory — that is determined by that trajectory (rails are rare in the universe).

The world flows through us, in and around us, always. Before we are born, we are already figured in a network of becoming — race, class, gender, sexuality, religion. And throughout our lives, every day in many ways, the power of the world streams through us, carries us along and we inflect it just so. We are not determined; nor do we determine. We all go together, more or less. Just because I'm a so-called man doesn't mean I have to do manly things. I make — inflect — "man" just as "man" makes — inflects — me.

The world — what we might call our environment as long as we understand our environment to include buildings, roads, people, trees, air, clouds, stars, planets, oceans — the world is not an empty stage. It’s not a blank canvas, a neutral space, a background, a backdrop. The world has its moods, its needs, its complex desires: the roots of trees will sprawl, crab grass will find a way, the moon will tug at the ocean, billions upon billions of microbes will adapt and morph.

The air itself is curved. Just look at the clouds. 

We, as human beings, do not dictate this vast ecology of forces. But neither are we outside of them. We are part of them. Just as the wind blows the leaves that, in turn, shape that wind, we are part of everything happening. We are inflection points, changing things and being changed by things — always. This is the way of the world, of the universe happening. It exceeds us and includes us, envelops us. There is no outside and it's always happening. 


On Sense (a verbal essay)

Here's the link. 

Sense is the way bodies cohere, or don't, in a perceptive field.

Sense is not the meaning of an experience; sense is the meaning + the immediate affect  + temperature + speed + intensity + color + shape and the diverse terms in which different bodies interact and cohere, more or less, with other bodies (visible, invisible, organic, machine, vegetal (yes, that's redundant)).

Sense happens at the cusp of events, in the seams of bodies assembling and disassembling.

Sense is always at the point of its own dissolution, fragmenting infinitely into chaos or cohering too rigidly into cliché or meaning.

William Burroughs, in his cut-up method, plays at the borders of sense and chaos. It's often a subtle, tenuous, and moving line that separates one from the other. Artists reckon this moment at every moment.


Sense & Meaning (a verbal essay)

Here's the link

Another verbal essay as I'm enjoying my disappearance into the spoken moment....

Here, I talk about the distinction between meaning and sense. Meaning is general and abstract; it subsumes disparate uses under a common rubric. We can say the word "smattering" different times, by different people, but the meaning stays the same (more or less).

Sense, however, is right here and now, an emergent shape of bodies interacting just so.

Words make the distinction clear. The meaning of smattering is "a slight, superficial, or introductory knowledge of something." 

But the sense of "smattering" is clearly more, or other, than that. A smattering is a knowing that comes from multiple sources without cohering, a quasi random assemblage and influx of facts and concepts that don't quite cohere into a sure, confident expertise. Smattering is not just superficial; it's scattered, seeking, the pieces not yet firmly glued together.

Of course, meaning shifts over time, too. Only it does so slowly. We are living in a time of accelerated shifts in meaning as we write so much in new contexts, with new technologies and constraints — texts, emails, tweets, posts. The word "literally" has shifted meaning rather quickly, coming to mean an emphatic "really" rather than a firm, even absolute, tethering to the real. 

 Much happens in the sense of things, the sense of words.


The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...