Excerpts from three days spent reading and writing in Newcastle city centre.
[…] I booked a train ticket to London to have lunch with my publisher — so much more than that; a deep friendship, formed through an affinity with language and expression. My anticipation for the trip began expanding my world again. I thought of Provence, Languedoc, the Roussillon, the Pyrenees, Catalonia. Last summer, a week spent in the small town of Collioure was the last time I felt content, endlessly inspired in the home of romance whilst weathering the dying embers of a loveless companionship. We had been to the region before, almost a decade previously, when it felt like life was just beginning. It was the last holiday embarked on with my parents, a recce for retirement, before my mother’s mind gave way.
A decade of slow reading emboldened an affinity with the region. From Collioure, I fell in love with colour and texture and the sea, guided by Matisse and the other wild beasts. From there to Carcassonne, where we watched the Bastille fireworks explode above the castle. The city swelled with ghosts as yet undiscovered, the final home of Joë Bousquet, whose wound was embodied through language. Echoes of Spinozist poetry and Deleuzian events congealed with gnostics and troubadours, surrealists and modernists. A world of love and outsides, effortlessly beautiful.
The sun beat down on Newcastle city centre and burnt my skin. Serotonin and cortisol fought for neurochemical supremacy. I was there, by the sea, my eyes affixed to the page with scenes of other lives projecting outwards from the arc of my bowed head. In a separate notebook, I jot down resonant quotations from Monsieur, the first book of Durrell’s Avignon quintet.
The entangled love affairs with which the book begins, ruminated on as Bruce travels south from Paris, returning to his wife, following the suicide of her brother, his lover, begets jewels of love’s difficulty:
… they loved each other to distraction; it was simply the sad story of inversion — it had left him high and dry, without inner resources.
Such is the apparent source of Piers’ suicide: love for another that leaves the self a void. It felt like something I myself was predisposed to. How to steady oneself in company without evacuating all internal capacity for self-care? Writing it all down provides the only solace. “Scribbling all this gives me something to do,” Bruce says, “I am resetting the broken bones of the past.” I try to re-establish faith in life and love through its narrativization. But the people in my life take on the texture of characters in a fiction. I already know some find this alienating, objectifying. The intent is only to make solid, even fleetingly, my amorphous experiences of another. Nonetheless, I’m sorry.
I try and prepare myself to love differently by retreating into books again, turning to fiction if only to return to some semblance of the real. “[L]ove is a real thing — perhaps the only real thing in this bereft world”, Bruce declares as he paces and reflects through Avignon’s pregnant night. “And yet how to achieve the only sort which is reliable, enriching — one with no sanctions, no reservations, one without guilt?” I don’t know, but perhaps the secret really does lie in Avignon.
The word “trauma” has become so ever present in my current vernacular as to lose all meaning. It feels foreign in my mouth, to the extent I can’t help but utter it out loud, a singular point of expression, in a comical and facetious German accent.
It is a word of Germanic root, after all, meaning “wound”. But in my cliched pronunciation, all emphasis is placed on the word’s beginning. “Traum”, in German, means vision or dream. No surprises Freud sought to understand wounding through the free associations of the sleeping mind. But these dreams and visions can stalk us whilst awake. I find myself chasing ideals, promises, utopias that arise from hope but cannot be actualised. Visions of a life lived contently are intolerable in their phantastical distance. I want the thing I can’t have, have never had, like a dog chasing a car with no clue what to do with it if even I found it.
Durrell puts the whole pain of love into sharp relief. The duress my friends have been under, who seem to have come to love me suddenly and unconditionally, is transformed into a thing of beauty and evil. I cannot control my own distress, even leaning into it in desperation with alcohol, as anti-depressants only numb, painfully curtailing the possibility of a cathartic cry and release. I unsteady myself selfishly just to feel something, and then feel so much worse as I see the toll it takes on them.
There is nothing stranger than to love something who is mad, or who is intermittently so. The weight, the stain, the anxiety is a heavy load to bear — if only because among these confusional states and hysterias loom dreadful probabilities like suicide or murder. It shakes one’s hold on one’s own grasp of reality; one realises how precarious we manage to hold on to our reason. With the spectacle of madness before one’s eyes one feels the odds shorten. The eclipse of reason seems such an uneasy affair, the grasp on sanity so provisional and insecure.
My unwellness is compounded by its effect on others.
The long account of Piers’ funeral, the stalking of the hearse to the chateau, reminds me of when Uncle Tim died — surely the start of my mother’s dementia. We pulled up to the crematorium in the family car, and on seeing the coffin as yet not unloaded, my mother let out a devastating cry.
They played “Bye Bye Baby” by the Bay City Rollers before the coffin disappeared behind the deafening grind of a mechanical curtain. No one recovered from the death of the middle child so full of life.
I have been at the cafe-bar in Newcastle’s centre for close to six hours, the sun lingering timelessly in the sky, just a few days out from the solstice — a strange sensation but one that reminds you just how north you are.
A man joined me on the elongated table outside some two hours ago, also scribbling notes. Occasionally we’d write to the same rhythm and nearly overturn the table, although neither of us acknowledged it.
Lecturers are drinking into the evening from Northumbria University, identifiable by their lanyards. I had assumed the man was one of them, but on being joined by a woman, he began expanding on proceedings written down for a wedding. I couldn’t tell if they were bride and groom. He bequeathed various responsibilities to her, apologetically, in a sullen tone. Love lovelessly administered. What a horror.
After yesterday’s writing and reading I was drunk and exhausted. I walked to the Cumberland, grabbing some food on the way. I like how much weight I’m losing as I abstain from most meals, a stark contrast to the pleasure of overeating that I became dependent on with my last partner.
At the Cumberland, I briefly bumped into friends, grabbed another pint, and finished the first chapter of Monsieur before heading to a friend’s house and interrupting a meeting that was partly about me. Food was made, the three of us DJed together. By 10pm I was exhausted, flat, got the bus home and went to bed.
The next morning I felt good, clear, perhaps the best I’d felt all month. Something had clicked, although I wasn’t sure what. I set about having the same day all over again, feeling like something was working.
I try to connect Durrell’s Avignon to the literary endeavours of its other proximal inhabitants. I remain fascinated by the aura surrounding Joë Bousquet, the paraplegic poet of Carcassonne, who was enamoured by surrealists, modernists and philosophers alike. “My wound existed before me, I was born to embody it” is the declaration often quoted by all who admired him. Deleuze, in Logic of Sense, interprets Bousquet’s work as always being “a question of attaining this will that the event creates in us; of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us.” Bousquet, it seems, wills himself to write from in the midst of things, “communicating singularities [that are] effectively liberated from the limits of individuals and persons.” “The actor thus actualizes the event”, Deleuze continues, “but in a way which is entirely different from the actualization of the event in the depths of things.” In this way, “the actor delimits the original, disengages from it an abstract line, and keeps from the event only its contour and its splendor, becoming thereby the actor of one’s own events — a counter-actualization.”
What is the counter-actualization, the contour and splendor, of a wound? A singularity is not something that refers only to the individual in this sense, but something that spreads itself over everything without delineation. “Everything is singular, and thus both collective and private, particular and general, neither individual nor universal.” After all, as Deleuze continues, “What private event does not have all its coordinates, that is, all its impersonal social singularities?”
The hardest thing to weather these past few weeks has been the realisation that my distinctly personal, seemingly enclosed trauma has had repercussions for my entire social field. An experience that feels so unshareable has nonetheless resonated outwards, bringing everyone closer, even as I feel wholly disconnected.
Writing feels like an attempt to build a bridge, or even counter-actualize my own isolation. Every day spent writing whatever comes to mind generates a double of myself that I begin to make distant. In pits of despair, I write; in moments of clarity, I read. The self read back often sounds morose, self-pitying, unlikeable, and in coming to dislike this self, I estrange it.
René Nelli, writing on Bousquet’s writerly double, suggests that this process is not simply cognitive but embodying and disembodying:
These are not only the glimmerings of a Dialectic of the Imaginary that proceeds by successive abolition or reversal of its image-supports, (the nymph who dresses herself with that which denudes her), but the data of a lived, visceral experience, within which Bousquet aspired, and undoubtedly succeeded, in creating for himself a body of absence that compensated for his absent body.
What Bousquet struggles against, it seems, is the expectation that his wound should leave him broken. From the outside, it would be perfectly understandable, logical even, for his pain to subsume and diminish him. Such is the need, as Nelli writes, for “a kind of logic of the irrational.” To be unwell is to madly strive for wellness, which may feel wholly unnatural in the depths of things.
In Monsieur, Piers’ death is at first framed explicitly as a suicide. It is an end that is hard to make sense of but seems like the only one. Later, it is hypothesised that Sylvie killed him by accident, pouring him too potent a sleeping draught. On account of her mental illness, her constant confusion, she is immediately absolved of all responsibility. But how was it possible that this institutionalized woman, constantly watched over by her stern nurse Jourdain, was able to find herself in such a position? As likely as this new explanation seems, nothing sits right within it, but the uncertainty of the event frees all those bound up within it from resentment.
With no one to blame, the no less unreasonable events that precede and follow Piers’ death become easier to bear. “It is at this mobile and precise point,” Deleuze writes of an event’s singularity, “where all events gather together in one that transmutation happens.” It is at this moment, where “the impersonality of dying no longer indicates only the moment when I disappear outside of myself, but rather the moment when death loses itself in itself”, that the entire social field is transformed. Truth is at its most potent in ambiguity.
It has been said that, in his final years, amongst the mounds of books, letters and papers that surrounded his bed, Bousquet kept Jean Paulhan’s The Flowers of Tarbes closest to hand.
As a study of terror in literature, Paulhan is preoccupied with this tension between ambiguity and truth:
To talk about the ineffable is to say precisely nothing at all. To talk about secrets is to confess nothing. Poets may indeed by devout, but to what are they devout? Writers may know a great deal, but what kind of knowledge is it?
It is up to the poet or novelist to decide whether he is happy with this deplorable confusion. If he has an experience of mystery, and spreads it around, it’s not his business to explain it. He may in fact convey it all the better by refusing himself to it. But there is another kind of writer whose task it is to remind us tirelessly what this mystery is all about, and who seems lost.
Bousquet seemed to see himself as this other kind of writer.
To read those who admired Bousquet, we find them enraptured both by his successes and his failures. Paulhan notes how, for the poet and critic Remy de Gourmont, “a personal work quickly becomes obscure if it is a failure, banal is it is a success, and discouraging in any event.” For Paulhan, we have become confused with regards to what literature owes us. “Even the most modest among us expect literature to reveal at last a religion, a moral code, and the meaning of life.”
What if nothing is left unsaid? What about literature that does not dull but scandalise in its inventions or honesty? It is painful to speak one’s truth and risk the alienation it can bring. An adolescent disregard, perhaps, but one we hope will bring us closer to the world as it estranges us from those we want to understand us best. “It seems, when it is all said and done, that one cannot be a decent writer if one is not disgusted by literature. Just as there is no revelation that literature is not expected to provide so there is no contempt it does not also seem to deserve.”
“I have talked about literature. I might just as well be talking about language: discussions, things shouted out, confessions, tales told of an evening.” But expression abounds in this sense, from everywhere. There is, at the heart of all utterances, “a chronic illness of expression in general”; language that is wounding and wounded, that is both gap and hasty suture.
Paulhan draws, somewhat predictably, on the great failure of language in the twentieth century: the silence of soldiers returning from war, all wounded in some sense by the event. “The right thing to do would have been to interpret this silence as the great mystery, and the paradox, of war. It was as if every man were mysteriously afflicted by an illness of language.”
Bousquet himself was injured at the Battle of Vailly, but the illness of language that afflicted him was a great and copious outpouring. He denied the silence of his wound. But such sincerity often leaves much to be desired. Eloquence is itself a paradox of language that denies the truth of silence, just as silence denies the truth of expression. “There is not a single thought, even the subtlest, which does not also seem to call for its expression”, Paulhan writes. “But there is not a single expression which does not seem willfully deceptive or false.”
I remember reeling from this criticism, levied at my book Egress. One reviewer noted how “Colquhoun’s account of his own struggle with mental illness … and his description of the aftermath of [Mark] Fisher’s death both have the ring of truth to them.” But the book was undermined by the diversity of its expression, they said, veering “awkwardly from high-flown academic prose … to informal” registers and cliches. These are valid comments for any critic to make — indeed, perhaps the only comments a critic can make today. I would hardly declare myself a master of expression, not least in a book that was the product of a first attempt to take writing seriously. I might argue, in my defense, that the promiscuity of my own modes of expression was the point, in a book so overtly concerned with the insufficiency of them all. (And now here again, of course.) A study, an artform, a reflection, an expulsion; “discussions, things shouted out, confessions, tales told of an evening.” Nothing is true; everything is permitted. Nothing is permitted; everything is true.
The title of Paulhan’s study is taken from “a sign at the entrance to the Tarbes public park”:
IT IS FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THE PARK
“The same sign can be found these days at the entrance of literature”, he adds. He quotes Jules Renard: “The art of writing today lies in mistrusting worn-out words.” But what is to be done when one finds a pecularity of experience in our culture’s most worn-out mythologies, as I have done in feeling the resonance of a primal wound in the most ubiquitous tales of familial tragedy? What is it to find, in that most worn-out of tales, a secret not yet revealed in its totality? What is it to find the most obscure experience explored so ubiquitously? To find one’s wound in a great cultural singularity that poetry has exhausted but science and psychology have not yet understood? What was it for Bousquet to find the most mystical experience in the great singularity of the twentieth century?
“I feel like any work which claims to do without deprivation is quite mediocre.” Maybe a work that deals explicitly with deprivation, of one kind or another, can be mediocre anyway. “We only wanted to break free from a language that was too conventional and now we are close to breaking free from all language.” Even more so now, considering Paulhan’s words were first published in 1941. He could doubtless have seen how much further we would stray, and how longingly we would hold onto language regardless.
In our attempts to circumvent the sheer abundance of language, and expressing ourselves anyway, Paulhan insists that one of the simplest excuses writers use to keep writing is “describing feelings or presenting characters that are so out of the ordinary that commonplace expressions would be inappropriate for them, feelings and characters that are so complex that an entirely new language would be needed for them, one that made no prior allowance for them.” But when the experience escapes language, despite being routinely addressed by it, perhaps “a writer will try to be so originally personal that he can only see or say things which are completely unexpected.” It seems that “some monsters have a more durable novelty”, poetic bywords for which become a form of literature in themselves. This is certainly true of the orphan, the foundling. What more can be said in the telling of this story that is not suffocatingly personal? It is a strange thing to move through life feeling so aberrant and yet culturally ubiquitous. The temptation is always to exaggerate monstrosity, but the experience is also more common that we might think.
Nancy Newton Verrier does not draw hard lines in her exposition of the primal wound. I’m reminded of the French use of the word “orphan”, which is adopted at any stage of life following the death of one’s parents. One can become an orphan in middle age, for instance. One can also become displaced no matter whether a relationship to one’s family has been re-established. I have found my own issues echoed in friends who grew up with their biological parents but were nonetheless separated for a time, in that most formative of times, for less final reasons — perhaps because a mother experienced post-natal depression and struggled to rear her child post-partum. How common are these experiences, albeit disregarded for not falling neatly at the most extreme poles of malformed attachments? Scrupulously common experiences require scrupulously common expressions, and yet each still fails the other.
All this might feel like an attempt to self-consciously explain these passages to a critic, to preempt any critique and nullify it, but it is more true to say that writing these words is an attempt to convince myself to still keep writing, to assure myself that it is worth believing in the process first and foremost, and sharing it only secondarily. I am fatally concerned with my own navel, that is true, but as an adoptee it is hard to be otherwise. That these words might be useless to someone else is a distant concern. I only hope that, in the end, they are useful to me.
A little art and a lot of substance, Balzac, Stendhal, and Zola readily admitted — as did Rimbaud and Nerval too. “Your fine poem,” Claudel was told. “Oh, it was nothing to do with me.” Ramuz said: “I am not an artist.” And Taine: “My style comes to me from facts.”
Such modesty is more warranted from such lauded names, but the attempt is recognisable. Such stature is far from desired, but it is affirming to read of their nonchalance all the same. Stylistic considerations are far from thought. All that is desired is expression, and that others might be generous enough to bear witness to it. Does this alone make a writer’s life worth living? A sorry state of affairs if yes, but the answer is hopefully and desperately yes all the same.
“Another no less curious aspect of the illness we are concerned with is that we can hide more easily behind the thing inside us that’s doing the talking.” An inevitability, no doubt, but the intention remains to address this thing in its nakedness, adding layers of thought in all its guises as if the more that is said the more that is pulled away.
“I am astonished in fact to see you begin with a lie. Because you are still writing, whether you like it or not, and you’re perfectly aware of it.” So many of my favourite books begin with or proactively entertain such a lie. The lie, presumably, is that writing is hard. That’s true, but books also emerge from so many people who write through difficultly with ease. I certainly do.
Okay, so the difficulty is rather in the editing, then; in jousting with past selves and then, later still, knowing when to stop. But stopping often comes from exhaustion, when one cannot write or edit the same piece of writing any longer. All the better that this journal is being constructed piecemeal, from various other journals and Word documents (I write in my current journal, already ahead of time).
Yesterday’s writing session was wonderfully interrupted by a friend. A new day begins, still calm for the most part, although a scheduled visit from the crisis team reminds me just how unwell I’ve recently been.
I try to pick up from where I left off with Paulhan:
Here is what happened, more or less (I think): a woman was walking along carrying a rose. The keeper said to her: “You know very well that no one is allowed to pick the flowers.” “I had it when I came in,” the woman answered. “Well, then, no one will be allowed to enter carrying flowers.”
But some writers chose the strangest flowers, columbines and petunias. “Don’t tell me they come from your own flowers beds.” Others think they can walk around with paper twists for roses. And finally there are those who protest: “Flowers in my hair? Really? Well it’s nothing to do with me. I did it without thinking. I hadn’t noticed they were flowers. They must have fallen out of a tree.” What it really amounts to is sidestepping the need to defend oneself, rather than examining one’s reasons.
My own reasons are clear, if no less worthy of questioning; “I am resetting the broken bones of the past”, as Bruce says in Monsieur. Although I am no physician. Home surgery is reckless, and flits between mending and breaking things further. Trial and error, but always the refusal to let each linguistic graft stick, no matter how much it might at first address a certain dysmorphia.
The friend I met in town was due to go on a date and I asked how she met the person in question. I was oddly relieved to hear it was not through a dating app. The last decade spent in a relationship meant I missed the normalisation of online dating, but now I find myself becoming envious of those who connect with others this way at ease.
We shared the same anxiety around these apps, the false stability of a self presented, the insufficiency of every profile, which in truth shares so little. The problem was not so much an explicit self-awareness but rather a non-self-awareness. It feels dishonest to project something into the social that is so reducticely stable. All the better, if less intuitive, to write a constant stream of thoughts from shifting grounds, embracing the fluidity of writing that journaling and blogging provides. “Words are frightening”, Paulhan declares. Flowers picked soon wilt. It is more affirming to tend and pick those planted only for oneself, each bouquet changing with each season.
To put it simply, we have witnessed the emergence of a new literary genre these days, which has been very successful, and which could be called “justification” or “alibi”. Its common theme would more or less be: “The author establishes that, despite appearances, he is not an author.”
Is the self-negating author, in this instance, someone who denies themselves the label for giving into language and commonplace expression, or someone who attempts to circumvent language and our preconceptions of it? It is “as if literature were bearing down with all its weight on each new writer, compelling and constricting him, so that he is only able to remain a man at the cost of an infinite flight.”
“The Stoic paradox is to affirm destiny and to deny necessity”, Deleuze writes. I write because I feel I must, encouraged by life’s discontinuity to construct a new mythology of the self — one which I am nonetheless always eluding, in fear of stasis on the page. There is always flight in such an expression.
What brings destiny about at the level of events, what brings an event to repeat another in spite of all its difference, what makes it possible that a life is composed of one and the same Event, despite the variety of what might happen, that it be traversed by a single and same fissure, that it play one and the same air over all possible tunes and all possible ends — all these are not due to relations between cause and effect; it is rather an aggregate of noncausal correspondences which form a system of echoes, an expressive quasi-causality, and not at all a necessitating causality.
The writing of the event, fuelled by echoes of a primal wound, links disjunctive affects. What I am attempting to understand, always, is the way that experiences of such drastic variability and consequence nonetheless feel identically world-ending in each instance, or how an archipelago of writers can be affirming when nonetheless disparate links are drawn between them.
Fact and fiction enter into broken dialogue.
There is a cynicism projected onto a current generation, who find themselves enthralled by a materialist conception of politics, unearthing with new ferocity various explanations for how this insane world has come to be how it is. Then, over pints, you construct your birth chart and find yourself irrationally surmised. What a contradiction! But as Deleuze writes, “Astrology was perhaps the first important attempt to establish a theory of alogical incompatibilities and noncausal correspondences.” Physical causality only accounts for so much. There is much more for us all to learn from the cosmic trauma of birth.
I find all of this clarifying, encouraging, calming in some sense. And yet, despite having spent the afternoon away from alcohol, an anxiety is resurfacing. Lower than it usually manifests, I feel a tension somewhere above my stomach but below my heart. There is no immediate cause I can put my finger on, not least because this ball of energy seems distended from any identifiable organ. My mind suddenly feels less clear, but rather because it is distracted by something from elsewhere.
I sip on a pint called Sea of Dreams, a hazy pale, hoping it might remedy the sudden seasickness, dulling the echoes of unremembered and free-floating trauma.
Nietzsche exhorts us to live health and sickness in such a manner that health be a living perspective on sickness and sickness a living perspective on health; to make of sickness an exploration of health, of health an exploration of sickness… Health affirms sickness when it makes its distance from sickness an object of affirmation. Distance is, at arm’s length, the affirmation of that which is distances.
My current sickness emerged from a site of quasi-causality. Feeling a new proximity to love, I felt its possibility was in fact more distant than ever. But to feel lovesick has only helped to clarify what a healthy love looks like, and how difficult a thing that is to truly achieve. Distance is disorientating rather than orientating. “‘Point of view’ does not signify a theoretical judgement; as for ‘procedure’, it is life itself.” The role of writing in exploring and investigating a future wellness is not to establish a theory of self-renewal but rather to deconstruct the messy procedure that felt lost. To feel overcome by suicidal tendencies was to feel the procedure had abjectly failed; my point of view a distorted conspiracy against life itself.
Nietzsche does not lose his health when he is sick, but when he can no longer affirm the distance, when he is no longer able, by means of his health, to establish as a point of view on health (then, as the Stoics says, the role is over, the play has ended).
Communication is an act of compossibility, Deleuze says. (The greatest sadness I feel with regards to my mother’s mental illness is that she stopped abruptly to write poetry, at least of a kind that was expressive; if she writes at all today, it is lists of information, acquired in passive conversation, on disparate scraps of paper, paying little heed to what is actually said, to the dialectical narrative of what is lived, and instead only records disjunctive dates, times and details that never amount to anything meaningfully; she only writes now, quite literally, without rhyme or reason.) “The communication of events replaces the exclusion of predicates.” (My mother only records predicates, albeit wholly out of time.)
The self merges with the very disjunction which it liberates and places outside of itself the divergent series as so many impersonal and pre-individual singularities. Counter-actualization is already infinite distance instead of infinite identity. Everything happens through the resonance of disparates, point of view on a point of view, displacement of perspective, differentiation of difference, and not through the identity of contraries.
Sorry, Deleuze, you’ve lost me, even if all this feels distantly resonant.
If the self is the principle of manifestation, in relation to the proposition, the world is the principle of denotation, and God the principle of signification. But sense expressed as an event is of an entirely different nature; it emanates from nonsense as from the always displaced paradoxical instance and from the eternally decentred ex-centric center.
“Solitude as the world understands it is a hurt which requires no further comment here.” The solitude of the work of art, however, Blanchot insists in The Space of Literature, “excludes the complacent isolation of individualism; it has nothing to do with the quest for singularity.” The singularity of a wound, an event, as Deleuze writes, contains and expounds upon everything. It is univocal, and to speak with one’s own voice, to write or otherwise, is instead to avoid the singularity altogether. “It distracts him by authorising him to persevere.” Because, although the writer might feel wholly contained by a wound, the work itself is infinite, uncontainable. A new event is established, breaking with one’s primal wound. “This event occurs when the work becomes the intimacy between someone who writes it and someone who reads it.”
The reestablishment of this habit of writing, entered into with as much caution as recklessness, comes from a new affirmation of the work never being done.
On a trip to town last week, I bought a pack of slim notebooks and began filling them voraciously. My intent was, at first, self-destructive. Every journal began felt like a suicide note. I would imagine myself writing to the end, then doing the deed. When my suicide attempt, two weeks ago today, was interrupted, it is more true to say that I was denied the opportunity to finish the note. I was scribbling when friends burst in. They later asked sternly, would I have gone through with it? I think yes, if only I had managed to finish the note. Could I have finished the note? Of that I am less certain.
If writing all this down has been calming, it has been the result of an acceptance that the work will never be done. At one time, that very fact was indurably dispiriting. But apropos of nothing, I am writing now in a much thicker notebook, usefully paginated. (I am now at the end of page 41, moving onto page 42, with 146 pages left to go. Will I fill them all? Maybe. But I have an identical journal, unmarked, waiting for me on my desk for when the time comes.)
The solitude of the work refills my own inner resources. (It seems far from a coincidence to me that my present sickness has emerged from a writerly limbo, following the completion of a new book draft, some four or five months before I start my PhD.) But I remain desirous of a life where writing is unnecessary, a life that can be lived without the work, fully with others, where self-narration is discarded like a tattered band-aid, revealing a scar, no doubt, but one that can be lived with, that is picked no longer. (My incapacity for which is no doubt an echo of Paulhan’s questioned lie.)
I wrote little, beyond the new work, an ode to self-transformation, when I moved here. I miss that time intensely. I miss the stability of a life lived far more publicly. The intimacy maintained as a writer with readers is wholly insufficient. I would much prefer a life of real love, of unsanctuoned physical intimacy, of embodied rather than purely linguistic connection. Writing is nothing more than a work, a groundwork. Like any good communist, I hope to work no longer.
Blanchot in The Space of Literature:
No one who has written the work can linger close to it. For the work is the very decision, which dismisses him, cuts him off, makes of him a survivor, without work. He becomes the inert idler upon whom art does not depend.
Perhaps this is where Deleuze’s abstruse language is further clarified. The writer is always at a distance from himself, who perseveres only because the self lingers perpetually on the horizon. “Counter-actualization is already infinite distance instead of infinitive identity.” Disparate books, essays, blogposts sketch the splendor and contours of an event eluded.
Blanchot again; Blanchot still, this time in The Infinite Conversation:
Let us learn to read by reading words that offer a resource to forgetting; there where writing, a writing without discourse, a tracing without trace, takes up again the always aleatory truth into the neutrality of its own enigma… Thus, through fragmentary writing, the return of the hesperic accord is announced. It is a time of decline, but a decline of ascendancy, pure detour in its strangeness: that which, permitting to go, from one deception to another (as René Char states elsewhere), leads from one courage to another. The gods? Returning, having never come.
The work is not over, only paused. I decide tonight to return to the scene of my latest crime. Last Friday, I spent the evening drinking at the Old Coal Yard, not so much to distraction, as I feel newly capable of doing, but into despair. It was a night of fissures and fractures, tears and phone calls to paramedics and psychiatrists. I will not repeat it — only the repetition of another day, a disjunctive series of days, each survived through the work. I will begin again tomorrow.