Actualising Literature

The schizo knows how to leave: he has made departure into something as simple as being born or dying. But at the same time his journey is strangely stationary, in place. He does not speak of another world, he is not from another world: even when he is displacing himself in space, his is a journey in intensity, around the desiring-machine that is erected here and remains here. For here is the desert propagated by our world, and also the new earth, and the machine that hums, around which the schizos revolve, planets for a new sun. These men of desire — or do they not yet exist? — are like Zarathustra. They know incredibly sufferings, vertigos, and sicknesses. They have their specters. They must reinvent every gesture. But such a man produces himself as a free man, irresponsible, solitary, and joyous, finally able to say and do something simply in his own name, without asking permission; a desire lacking nothing, a flux that overcomes barriers and codes, a name that no longer designates any ego whatever. He has simply ceased being afraid of becoming mad. He experiences and lives himself as the sublime sickness that will no longer affect him. Here, what is, what would a psychiatrist be worth?

I sleep little, despite taking a Nytol held over from the new embargo on my drawer of medicines. In the night, I feel sick, like I am preparing for the onset of a head cold. A throat of scratches wakes me repeatedly. I lie there for hours with my eyes closed, willing rest. At 11am, I feel like my brain is on fire. For the first time in days, a distinct feeling of thought being separated from mind, as if only a portion of it has caught a fever, bending the rest of it to the inferno, which scrambles for shelter from the heat. I want to get drunk again.

I look up Deleuze and Guattari’s references to Henry Miller in Anti-Oedipus, doing my best to ignore the part of my brain that wants to do anything else. There is a footnote referencing Laing and Foucault, in which Foucault is quoted on a new kind of madness: “Madness is breaking its kinship ties with mental illness”, he writes; “madness and mental illness are ceasing to belong to the same anthropological entity”. I’m not sure if I’m mad any longer, having entered a new state of thought, where most days I am no longer subsumed under the weight of my own depression. The mass of the void that once crushed has been voided by medication and the air inside has rushed me to the surface, replaced by a new weightlessness that feels like the bends.

Deleuze and Guattari’s odes to the schizo are hardly something to affirm in this regard. But what is a schizo for them in actuality, untethered from medical nomenclature? Is the schizo a new literary archetype, a new conceptual persona, a new mythology for a new earth? It is an impossible thing to be in the present, something only dreamt of that is to come. They turn to the same literary works that I do, where there is a glimpse of something being born. But it is malformed in being born of certain men alone. Women remain conspicuously absent from their appraisals.

Strange Anglo-American literature: from Thomas Hardy, from D. H. Lawrence to Malcolm Lowry, from Henry Miller to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, men who know how to leave, to scramble the codes, to cause flows to circulate, to traverse the desert of the body without organs. They overcome a limit, they shatter a wall, the capitalist barrier. And of course they fail to complete the process, they never cease failing to do so. The neurotic impasse again closes — the daddy-mommy of oedipalization, America, the return to the native land — or else the perversion of the exotic territorialities, then drugs, alcohol — or worse still, the old fascist dream. Never has delirium oscillated more between its two poles.

The shadow of the old fascist dream is a long one. Even at the time, among the letters exchanged by those writers who were peers, it is only infrequently that anyone will reference Wyndham Lewis and Tarr, a clear example of the work being chased but one they already recognise as being betrayed.

Glancing back over each day spent writing, I wonder about the flights into how literature is produced, the journals read, the books that affect me, and the strange preoccupation with the craft of writing. At times, I question my own intentions, wondering what this thing is that is being produced, made public, made private, being considered; the strange sensation that every day I produce an object to be read and consumed.

I look back over a section excised from the narrative eventually presented, as I wandered through rain and drunkenness, carelessly popping zopiclone down the Ouseburn valley, later discarded as euphoric irrelevance, the surreal preoccupation of writing about the writing, as if literature even matters as I flirt casually with an overdose:

I feel oddly tormented by a compliment given to these hurried entries on Twitter. I should gather them into a book, someone suggests. As an acknowledgement of the apparent value of these ramblings, I am humbled. But surely such a containment is impossible and, in fact, so very far from desirable. The book in which these thoughts exist is singular: their original handwritten form. Page 170 of 188 is the current state of pagination. A furious filling of lines. But to put these writings on the blog is already a strange betrayal. How is a further betrayal even possible?

Is the book we have approached the actual work? Or is it only the appearance of that? Might it be there only ironically to hide another, more difficult, more dangerous attempt, whose shadows and ambition we infer?

This is how Blanchot approaches Jean Paulhan’s The Flowers of Tarbes, Bousquet’s bedside bible, in which he wrestles with a critic’s sensitivity towards literary cliche and convention. “Any writer who gives in to cliches and conventions … becomes the victim of words”, Blanchot writes, summarising Paulhan’s argument, “the soul of laziness and inertia, prey to readymade formulae that impose their degrading power on his thought.”

I’m five pints deep at the Tyne Bar and all too aware of the habits of thought, the cliches that act as crutches for a mind in the process of estranging itself from itself. “…all too aware…”, “…weathering…”, “…speaking to…”. “Commonplaces betray an intelligence that is at once indolent and submissive, inert and carried along, condemned to a language it does not guide.” “Language sketches an invisible and absent body through cliche, through well-trodden phrasing”, Blanchot adds. Perhaps cliche is inevitable in the midst of a loss of self. As such, commonplace language may mean nothing to a writer; it is the reader who is jarred, looking for something novel, undiscovered, but left disappointed; but no more than the writer themselves is disappointed by a compulsive circling of an indescribable void.

Blanchot notes, however, how commonplace language is a double bind. We dismiss it for its familiarity, but it is this same familiarity that gives way to uncertainty, ambiguity. “If the writer uses suitable images, unities, rhyme, that is to say all the renewed methods of rhetoric, he can rediscover the impersonal and innocent language he is seeking, the only one that allows him to be what he is and to have contact with the virginal newness of things.” This linguistic liminality is a battlefield, across which the familiar renders experience insufficiently described, perhaps all the better to express the insufficiency of language in general, which the writer enthralled by their own process by make all attempts to avoid. We champion the effort made, if novel enough, if the newness of expression makes us consider anew that which we as readers may have already taken for granted. The critic wishes for their own ignorance to be estranged; no reader wants to have their own ignorance affirmed.

I wonder how this translates into action, speaks to action. In confessing my erratic responses to irrational distress, friends are shocked and surprised by how commonplace such responses can be. They’ve all done it, to some degree. So what does it mean to find oneself again in a cliched disregard? The only thing unrelatable is the most abject exit, and yet even suicide becomes contagious. The things done instead — self-harm, self-sabotage, eating too little, eating too much, sleeping around, getting drunk, getting high — are so oddly relatable. What is it to find a new comportment in the most cliched of coping mechanisms? How is such a thing possible?

It is false to see some authentic actor at work, in literature or, we might argue, even otherwise. For Blanchot, via Paulhan, “the true role of language is not to express but to communicate, not to translate but to be; and it would be absurd to see in it only an intermediary, a miserable agent: it has a power unique to itself, which it is exactly the writer’s duty to discover or to restore.” But what of all that happens before language? Or after? What of the elusive actions that are only vaguely and elusively expressed? How does language transform the agent in (or out) of experience?

To restore some errant truth to impulse, to desire, to an embodied being-with-others, beyond the fractious negotiating of social ideals, feels essential. The risk taken is against the mess that may inevitably follow, connection without ego. But egos are hard things to shake off. We appeal to them constantly, are accosted by them when least desired. Bet to get rid of it altogether? But at what cost to communication, when action and language become but are without subject?

What draws me into the words of strange Anglo-American literature, the anti-capitalist fleeing of desire, the ignored patriarchal capture in masculine disregard, is not so much the narrativisation of madness, of flight, of attempts to understand, of dice throws, but rather the glimmer of a process arrested for others that I find myself in the midst of.

Literature, Deleuze and Guattari write, “is like schizophrenia” in this sense: “a process and not a goal, a production and not an expression.” It is only in writing that I feel plugged into something other than the goal and expression of wellness and sickness, of psychiatric advice and pharmacological routines. The paranoia is whether such an exercise, which makes the day feel empty when avoided, may well be self-sabotaging — it is easily framed that way beyond the self-care insisted upon by others. But it does not feel like an attempt to dwell in sickness. It feels like the only thing that allows me to stay connected to experience, to existence, to the human condition in all its errant irresponsibility. Writing as self-transformation.

I must hold onto this. I must keep writing. Some days I still feel overwhelmed by the desire to write the last thing, to condense it all into a final goodbye. But as long as the work feels undone, incomplete, like a process and not a goal. If I were to ever feel like this process were finished, I feel I would be to. How to relearn how to care about anything else? I feel like an alcoholic, at risk of becoming one in actuality, relying too much on its numbing affects, but it is writing that is the addiction. I am unsurprised by the number of writers that turn to drink, the sad men who want to drink up language, but the women are hardly much better. Woolf and Plath meet comparable fates, give in to their own miserable agencies. Nin remains the guiding light, Du Maurier too, but all the harder to withstand what they express. How to exist so publicly and still have so much kept secret. Literature’s becoming-woman seems under-explored. The real lessons to be learned cannot be actualised by so many men.

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