A new essay from me now online at Lapsus Lima.
Many, many thanks to Tobias Ewe, Max Castle and Robin Mackay for looking over some earlier versions of this essay and giving some much appreciated tips and pointers!
I was honoured to be asked to contribute something to Lapsus Lima way back in November of last year by Mónica and it has taken me numerous false starts to finally end up with something that I’m happy with. Apologies to her for taking so long but her patience and enthusiasm have been very much appreciated!
It’s called “The Primal Wound: An Anti-Oedipal Consideration” and it’s an attempt to bring together various events and philosophies through which I’ve come to terms with — and even tried to affirm — my experiences as an adopted child.
It goes without saying that it’s a very personal essay but readers of the blog will no doubt be aware that this isn’t exactly a step outside my comfort zone. I get the impression that an open and often personal standpoint is something this blog has become known for and, frankly, that’s a very conscious choice on my part — I’ve written about why before. Showing your working and your own intellectual pathway, rather than just presenting the destination, is a mode of writing that can be effective when you’re trying to carve out a way into otherwise difficult issues — philosophical, political or otherwise — but it is, of course, not for everyone…
Undoubtedly, there are hazards when taking this kind of approach. I have been told — both critically and lovingly — that I have a regrettable tendency to comes across as narcissistic in so often centring myself within my texts. This isn’t often something I take to be a problem. It is rather something of an occupational hazard.
More to the point, I think there is a certain power that comes from this kind of narcissistic writing when it is done well. It’s a mode of writing that I admire in everyone from Georges Bataille to Maggie Nelson and it’s a register that I have always admired, always attempting to capture my own version of it as best I can when the moment presents itself.
This is done in order to leave a door open for others, leading — I hope — to a more empathic entry point to various philosophies that are often hard-nosed in their own context and, secondary to this, discussed in ways that are typically academic, with all the repressive rigidity that comes with that.
However, I would want to emphasise that autobiography is not the aim but rather the starting point, opening the “I” outwards, unfolding it and laying its flayed skin over the top of a poetics; an interscalar and even “violent” or “evil” movement — in a Bataillean sense — between the personal and impersonal. The intention is less autobiography and more autobiopsy.
I hope that this essay speaks for itself in this regard but there is one bit of context that I would like to add here on the blog because there’s a dribble of Twitter toxicity niggling at the back of my mind at the moment as I watch this thing go out into the world:
The elephant in the room here is an awareness that some seasoned blogospheric ankle-biters — one in particular, let’s not kid ourselves — take the view that my style of writing is little more than “new-age self-help” and , in hindsight, this essay has emerged as an unconscious response to this. A way of saying, “Okay then, hold my beer…”
Oftentimes I think many of us forget (or even deny within ourselves) the frequency with which people come to philosophy as a kind of last resort.
There is a cliché in those who study psychology often being those most in need of a psychotherapist and I would argue that philosophy shares a similar sort of relationship to thought — especially today, when psychoanalysis and philosophy are often seen as being (theoretically at least) so closely related.
This is not to confuse psychology and philosophy as disciplines but rather to highlight that both nonetheless share an interrogative relationship with our patchwork realities.
In my experience, philosophers and philosophy students often seem to have been through something or perhaps are living with something that weighs on them and which demands interrogation if they’re going to keep going forwards in this world. Rather than looking inwards, however, they look outwards… But we must ask how absolute this orientation really is…
(This is a point that was central to many of Mark Fisher’s writings. His declaration in The Weird and the Eerie that the “inside is a folding of the outside” is a phrase that echoes around my head perpetually and is, perhaps, the ontological manoeuvre that imbues an unspoken paradox and labyrinthine sensibility onto this blog’s unofficial tagline: “Looking for an exit.”)
(I’m also remembering somewhat fondly that the first work of philosophy I ever read was Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and there is perhaps no better example of all this form of questioning than that.)
I was reminded of all this after recently picking up Joshua Ramey’s wonderfully strange book The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal — unfortunately after I finished writing this essay.
In the introduction Ramey summarises his book’s position and reason for existing with a note on Deleuze’s thought that I think must be common to many but often left unacknowledged. It will be a sensation familiar to anyone, I hope, who still remembers the initial (and often prolonged) intoxication of reading philosophy — and this is an experience that is extra persistent within Deleuze’s writings in particular. It is that sensation of, at first, not understanding a word of what you’ve just read but nonetheless sensing something within it; some sort of force which escapes his writing (and which is otherwise missing from so much other impenetrable philosophy).
Commenting on this, in relation to one of Deleuze’s most often misunderstood influences, Ramey writes:
Deleuze argues that immanent thought, at the limit of cognitive capacity, discovers as-yet-unrealized potentials of the mind, and the body. That is to say, what connects Deleuze to [Antonin] Artaud is the conviction that what matters for life, and for thought, is an encounter with imperceptible forces in sensations, affections, and conceptions, and that these forces truly generate the mind, challenging the coordination of the faculties by rendering the self from its habits.
It is the argument of this book that the power of thought, for Deleuze, consists in a kind of initiatory ordeal. Such ordeal transpires through an immersion of the self in uncanny moments when a surprising and alluring complicity of nature and psyche is revealed.
Ramey’s grounding rings especially true, for me, with this new essay. If it reads like an introduction to DeleuzoGuattarian thought, that’s somewhat intentional. Speaking of initiatory ordeals, this essay conflates two of my own that I have found frequently overlapping — one deeply personal, the other intellectual.
The primal trauma of adoption is my own initiatory ordeal: a problem at the heart of my existence that has troubled me for longer than I can remember, escaping the trappings of cognitive memory and instead lurking somewhere else, somewhere impenetrable. It is an ordeal that psychotherapy has never gotten anywhere near. It is, rather, an experience that can only be accessed via philosophy and, beyond that even, a poetics.