A World of One’s Own
(Part Six)

In moments of tense solitude, Zambreno turns to blogging. (The one she manifests whilst living in Akron, Ohio, is titled: Frances Farmer is my Sister.) Blogging always feels like touching at a distance. The attraction of an “invisible community.” I do not feel like I have one at present. Though I blog, I do so absentmindedly, scheduling the excerpts copied out from my journal and then leaving them to enter the ether as I go about my life, doing other things. In truth, my community at present feels euphorically visible.

The blog is kept up out of habit, still the desire for others to bear witness to thoughts and feelings that rarely make for good conversation over pints and coffees. And yet, I have tentatively stepped into a new community of late, since the drunken night, a few weekends ago, at the Lubber Fiend. I long to spend more and more time with the women met there, who enthused over Nin with me into the early hours.

But everyone works; has lives of their own. My life still feels like it is on hold, at least to some extent. And I daren’t mention to anyone newly met that my free time is not some writer’s dream but rather that I’m on the sick, recovering from an acute bout of mental illness; sick and writing. Some may read the blog, already aware. I’m grateful they never mention it. The normality, the fun, the adventure, the conversation: it all feels key to recovery. Still, I shift uncomfortably in my seat every time I send a message, asking if anyone has time for a midweek drink of some description. At present, not really. But I am desperate to punctuate the elongated periods of writing with sociality, with experience, with chatter. It is not hard to come by, but still my days feel so empty.

Zambreno affirms how she doesn’t talk to “the greats”, but to “the wives and mistresses.” I think about my mum, working as a social worker in Hull, writing poetry on the side but only really for herself. She used to tell stories, when I was much older, and after her death in 2001, of her weekly visits to see Monica Jones, Philip Larkin’s “mistress” — the term scorned by literary historians, not least for its latent misogyny but also for how it undermined her central literary role in his life, as confidante and editor.

I don’t know if my mother and Jones ever talked about poetry. She lived off Newland Park, a stone’s throw from what was then the main office for Hull’s social services.

The crisis team mix up my meds. I sheepishly don’t question it at first. For the last week they have been controlling the daily doses I am allowed to keep in my possession. I am still an overdose risk. Then, out of nowhere, a week’s worth of zopiclone. I hold onto it.

I am increasingly aware that I am cannabalizing Zambreno, quoting her text incessantly. I feel this currently fragmented style of writing inauthentically apes her own. And yet it feels natural to follow each and every thought as an opportunity for a kind of automatic writing. But each flight into memory or digression into experience makes me feel like I am following her lead, as if her books, her drifts, have given me permission.

I meet someone new outside the Cluny — a visiting friend of a friend. “So what do you do?” I’m a writer, I say, newly comfortable in affirming this compulsion as my primary occupation, regardless of the fact it has never paid my bills. “What do you write?” I always stumble over this question. At present, the answer feels obvious enough but also quite elusive: I write about writing. But I am also writing as I read about writers that write about reading. And I am most certainly obsessed with Zambreno. I am consuming her. Am I taking possession of her? I’m not sure how that would even be possible. Her writing, and the quotations weaved into my own, are like smoke. I am affirming the ouroboros of the reading writer, treating her texts as she treats the texts of others. If this is consumptive, vampiric, I am Bacchus at a banquet — sickly, engorged, vomit-writing so that I might then consume and write some more.

Of course at first she was so terrified, “so absolutely alone.” But then she fell madly in love with the city, she wandered around, she took notes. She began to record impressions in a black notebook…

The Bloomsbury group: “Gossip the common fuel among that circle.” It is a period of literary drama romanticised these days, but the narration of lives lived with others in the age of social media forces the writer to take on a whole new set of literary quandaries. There is so much new potential for offense. Perhaps rightly so, but literature feels undermined by social media and its tyrannical (in)corporations of the self. Being with others, and the writing of that experience especially, is now even harder to negotiate.

The crisis team, supposedly responsible for my medication, are only slightly less responsible than I am. I am having to chase my scripts constantly, trying to ensure that I don’t miss a dose. One day without, I panic. I rely on the zopiclone given to me by mistake and take it all, being familiar enough with it now — a smaller dose than what I started on — that all I have to look forward to is a high. But it is a peculiar high. I feel drunk, wobbly, with the motor skills of someone many pints deep, but have absolute clarity of mind. It is an interesting combination, like a waking sleep — an active mind coupled with an estrangement from the body. It is euphoric; dysmorphia inverted.

I fragment Zambreno once more before letting sleep take me. She wonders what is the “most confessional (i.e. feminine? photographic?).”

A World of One’s Own
(Part Five)

I’m struggling with the power relations of patient and carer. For the most part, those designated my “carers” are my friends — at least in the nomenclature of social workers, offering “carer support” to anyone who is living with and around someone who is unwell. Friends have routinely made it clear how they too struggle with the responsibility, not out of a lack of care but a lack of training. Some weeks ago, they made phone call after phone call looking to see if I could find a place to stay at an in-patient facility, but every time the doctors said no. Not only was there a lack of beds but they stressed how this was often only suitable in the most extreme of cases. To be removed from one’s community often only makes things worse. The somewhat romantic idea of a convalescence is a myth. Even the nurses know that a room of one’s own can easily become a cell. I don’t need a room but a reorientation towards the world in which I live. Even support in that process can be a stressful and ungrounding to do.

I think often about what it means to navigate this reorientation as a male-bodied person specifically. I worry about actualizing myself and my comportment, or even seeking out care when necessary, in the wrong way. So many of my friends are women. I feel guilty about putting on a further burden of care, already expected under patriarchy. “But you’re not a misogynist”, they will say. I don’t think I am either, but nothing is ever so simple.

I worry too about my compulsion to write about it all.

Zambreno talks about how the modernist “masters wrote the emotional, the hysterical, they were also overwrought, but then they punished and disciplined their muse’s emotional lives in real life.” I have no such desire but still occasionally feel conflicted as I witness the liberations and explorations of others. But I don’t want to gain a sense of control over their lives; only my own. I don’t want to control them; I want to be them. I want to participate in a kind of femininity that I have always been thrust towards but then never allowed to fully enter — a desire complicated by the dysphoric experience of the body I live in; too feminine to be a Man, too masculine to be a Woman.

I read Simone de Beauvoir on the myth of femininity: “The myth of woman plays a significant role in literature; but what is its importance in everyday life? To what extent does it affect individual social customs and behaviour?” she asks.

There are different kinds of myths. This one, sublimating an immutable aspect of the human condition, that is, the ‘division’ of humanity into two categories of individuals, is a static myth; it projects into a Platonic heaven a reality grasped through experience; for fact, value, significance, notion and empirical law, it substitutes a transcendent Idea, timeless, immutable and necessary. This idea escapes all contention because it is situated beyond the given; it is endowed with an absolute truth. Thus, to the dispersed, contingent and multiple existence of women, mythic thinking opposes the Eternal Feminine, unique and fixed; if the definition given is contradicted by the behaviour of real flesh-and-blood women, it is women who are wrong: it is said not that Femininity is an entity but that women are not feminine. Experiential denials cannot do anything against myth. Though in a way, its source is in experience. It is thus true that woman is other than man, and this alterity is concretely felt in desire, embrace and love; but the real relation is one of reciprocity; as such, it gives rise to authentic dramas: through eroticism, love, friendship and their alternatives of disappointment, hatred and rivalry, the relation is a struggle of consciousness, each of which wants to be essential, it is the recognition of freedoms that confirm each other, it is the undefined passage from enmity to complicity. To posit the Woman is to posit the absolute Other, without reciprocity, refusing, against experience, that she could be a subject, a peer.

(I think about Beauvoir’s novel She Came to Stay, “an act of revenge against the woman who so nearly disrupted her life with Jean-Paul Sartre.” It sits on the stack I build next to my bed, for which I have already had to buy a bookcase to accommodate, presently unread. I am intrigued to learn how well she follows her own advice, separates herself from her own tethering to the myth.)

The strange experience of a life lived as an apparently feminine man only accentuates this divide from the other side, particularly at present, as an invalid (and invalidated) person wrestling in tandem ways with mental illness and a non-binary identity, desiring a new subjectivity against the objectification of being a male-bodied patient of communal care and medical bureaucracy.

Am I fetishizing the women in my life, who live as I wish to? In trying to make myself new, am I falling into the trap of the modernist masters? “These men fetishizing and vampirizing the excessive (in their texts) while disciplining and punishing her in real life.” What is it, instead, to fetishize the excessive as someone who feels newly disciplined in a state of instability?

I long for someone to join me in my own irresponsibility, my own excess, not with the toxicity of co-dependency but through a new and tender ethics of intensive sensation. Let’s not implode together but commingle. If I found such a relation — and I may have already found a few — I almost doubt I would write about it, at least not without express permission or collaboration. I have no desire, as Zambreno puts it, for “the writer’s possession” of man or woman “as some sort of genderbending alchemy.” The only thing I hope to possess is myself in multitude, as a non-singular being. Even then, notions of possession, of property, are far from my mind. I want only to meet in intensity.

Zambreno skewers the revelation that has defined this current fit of reading and writing for me, albeit only in passing:

That these literary geniuses have someone been filled with Women, the madwoman or woman in love (a sort of madness) as conduit. Deleuze and Guattari, who worshipped the manwoman as metaphor, this ideal state of the “Body without Organs”, their term the “becoming-woman” (they use as exemplars of this the male modernists, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and the rest. “The first task of the revolutionary”, they add, “is to learn from the psychotic”, from the introduction of D&G’s Anti-Oedipus.

But where is Nin, H.D., Zelda Fitzgerald…? Woolf appears periodically, of course. No one else? They turn only to the students, the authors, the artists, never the muses, the wives, the lovers; never to the source material, to the women themselves trying to be a new sort of woman, pathologised for their attempts, drawn upon (or simply drawn in caricature).

Every woman must also become-woman, of course, they insist; de Beauvoir herself first tells us this. But always absent, secondary, to the man who becomes-woman. The only hysterical women considered are those somehow fictionalized in literature or pseudonymised in the case studies of various male psychoanalysts. Okay, so men must embrace a becoming-woman, yes, but the women themselves, made into new archetypes of becoming, are nonetheless confined to male prejudices. The line of flight Deleuze and Guattari affirm so forcefully, rarely attending to the ways that, in their choices of literature, it is always already controlled. Always a kind of “HAG-iography.” Each channels another’s — another woman’s — hysteria into the work, but never truly affirms their own. “They can only play women, fetishize her excesses, make fun of her frivolity They don’t have to be women.”

I feel like maybe I do; “to write another self as if it is your own is a form of self-destruction.” Reflecting Narcissus.

Sense, Sensation, Sensuality:
Sex and the Body without Organs

The other night I heard about a birthday party, a public party, thrown by someone I didn’t know. Friends considered it, but were too tired after weeks of hard work. I wasn’t sure I had the energy either, but always reluctant for the fun to be over, as if to go home is to admit defeat, curl up and die, sleep and surrender, the desire to keep on living was more palpable.

I walked past the venue on my way home, still in two minds, and said “fuck it”. It looked quiet — still early doors. I’ll go in for one drink and see how I feel, I said to myself. The women on the bar were wonderful, chatty, hilarious. Their good spirits put me in good spirits. It felt like a good place to stick around.

I’d barely sat down before I was joined by a young man in his early 20s, I later learnt. We start talking, then flirting, then dancing. By the end of the night, we were kissing on the dancefloor.

As the party wound down, I agreed to walk him home, laughing together the whole way. He wanted to me to come upstairs and wanted to meet up again. He’s leaving Newcastle soon and I feel his desire for a final romance. We exchange contact details; he messages me. But I feel anxious, pulled into a brief moment of privatization of self. I pull back. I head home. Nothing about it feels right. The strangeness of sensation becomes an anxious preoccupation.

… the crack pursues its silent course, changes direction following lines of least resistance, and extends its web only under the immediate influence of what happens, until sound and silence wed each other intimately and continuously in the shattering and bursting of the end.

The crack spreads, but not in his direction. A rush but not the right kind. It has been over a decade since I was last with a man, and the anxiety of men’s advances is still triggering.

At the moment I was primed to explore a bisexuality in Hull’s various gay bars and clubs, it was always older men stealing glances at urinals, groping, chatting up, commenting on my dis-ease like any stereotypical drunken straight man would do, and doing nothing to settle it, as if aroused by the smell of virginal fear.

It takes a lot for me to trust men.

This is not something I project onto the man met recently. In fact, the sensation is oddly reversed. I am 30; he is 22. My more historic anxiety has been inverted. But still, I am the older man being chased. The discomfort is disorientating.

For whatever reason, I turn to Deleuze’s depressively asexual writings on the body’s erogenous zones, albeit not those at the surface, which he discusses in his book on Francis Bacon. “When people note that internal organs are also able to become erogenous zones, it appears that this is conditional upon the spontaneous topology of the body”, he writes. Inside and outside are not disconnected. I feel this acutely. Conversations around sexual exploration can only be entered into, at least at present, through a mitigation between the desires of flesh and the cracks of the interior — and each, of course, mirrors the other in striking ways.

“Our sexual body is initially a Harlequin’s cloak”, Deleuze says — a comment I am puzzled by and do my best to interpret. Perhaps he means they are chequered, patchworked; cloaked like a dazzle ship, obscured on the horizon, with an irregular beauty when seen up close. The harlequin is also a sort of jester, a clown; cunning and mischievous. But unlike the clown, the harlequin is sophisticated, astute, even romantic; a Chaucerian character whose sexual proclivities are buried in the depths of costume but which nonetheless flash and traverse the void. Sexuality, in this sense, plays simultaneously upon the surfaces and depths of the body. “It is important,” Deleuze notes, “to distinguish, for example, between the oral stage of depths and the oral zone of the surface.” There are so, so many things we can do with our mouths.

I wonder if this fluidity, this traversing of the body without organs, has something to do with my recent anxiety, equal parts social and sexual — a desire for deep connection, the affection for the surface, the pull toward the depths. The self undulates across all levels, from the social to the animal, and we feel that desire to run our hands over each and ever one.

Nin, in the first paragraph of her unexpurgated journals, published under the title Henry and June: “The impetus to grow and live intensely is so powerful in me I cannot resist it.”

A love entertained with a man named Eduardo:

He has suffered from the realization that we are both seeking an experience which we might have given each other. It has seemed strange to me, too. The men I have wanted, I couldn’t have. But I am determined to have an experience when it comes my way.

‘Sensuality is a secret power in my body,’ I said to Eduardo. ‘Someday it will show, healthy and ample. Wait a while.’

This erogenous folding of inside and outside, where internal organs are not so much central to the functioning organism as they are to the intensive and extensive body in itself, may be more easily understood through the fluidity of sexuality. Who has not heard or uttered the post-coital cliche, if the sex is good enough, of having melted into a puddle at the point of orgasm — the orgasm in which organs and organisms lose all sense of definition and determination? Orgasm as the paroxysm of the organism. It is the body overrun by sensation, by excess — it is no coincidence that female sexuality struggled to free itself from its diagnostic containment in hysteria. Orgasms are hysterical sensations, perhaps the most desirous and delirious of all.

For Deleuze, sensation “has only an intensive reality, which no longer determines with itself representative elements, but allotropic variations. Sensation is vibration”, it is a shuddering, quaking, tectonic rapture beyond the body’s surface.

If only Deleuze, for all his love of Lawrence and Miller, was able to write a bit sexier. If only he’d read and referenced more female modernists.

Deleuze and the Temporalities of Mental Illness

The psychiatrist begins to talk about causality. Many therapies, like the Laingian psychodynamic approach undertaken recently, focus so much on the past, unpacking it to explore the present. But the past need not define the present in any way. If anything, this exacerbates depression, which can so often lead us to catastrophise events we cannot change.

I’m reminded of Deleuze in Logic of Sense, who affirms the strange acausality of emotional experience in his Stoicism. The two kinds of Stoic time, which I can barely profess to understand and articulate with any proficiency, nonetheless lead me to wonder how they might be laid over the disjointed temporalities of mental illness — the time of trauma, free-floating and pervasive; the time of the present, of action, of acausality. Deleuze writes:

The fragility of sense can easily be explained. The attribute has an entirely different nature than corporeal qualities. The event has a different nature than the actions and passions of the body. But it results from them, since sense is the effect of corporeal causes and their mixtures. It is always therefore in danger of being snapped up by its cause. It escapes and affirms its irreducibility only to the extent that the causal relation comprises the heterogeneity of cause and effect — the connection of causes between themselves and the link of effects between themselves. This is to say that incorporeal sense, as the result of the actions and the passions of the body, may preserve its difference from the corporeal cause only to the degree that it is linked, at the surface, to a quasi-cause which is itself incorporeal. The Stoics saw clearly that the event is subject to a double causality, referring on one hand to mixtures of bodies which are its cause and, on the other, to other events which are its quasi-cause.

It is easy to unpack this passage through a consideration of trauma, which is an event made incorporeal, returning to the surface of the body through a quasi-causality detached from present experience. What are “triggers”, in this sense, if not incorporeal events of quasi-causality. They make no sense, and are often ridiculed as such when trigger warnings are offered to those derided for a certain sensitivity. But each denouncement betrays an anemic conception of time.

Deleuze names these two times, following the Stoics, as aiôn and chronos, the two Greek gods of temporality. Aiôn represents cyclical time, “an infinite past and present”; chronos represents linear time, “the extended present”.

In typically Deleuzian fashion, these concepts are put to work for his own ends, making notable if elusive breaks with the Stoic philosophy he supposedly takes as his foundation. For Deleuze, “time must be grasped twice, in two complementary though mutually exclusive fashions.” The present, as a sort of duration, of course includes past and future in our understanding of its movement; a kind of corporeal sense of movement. But past and future can also be considered as distinct incorporeal entities. It is a kind of further wrestling with Xeno’s paradox. The flight of an arrow can be understood as an event in itself, as a causal event with a duration. But as Xeno adds, when considering this event in isolation, we can divide it infinitely into segments; not a movement but a series of moments. We are left with two quite distinct ways of understanding the nature of a present moment, one that endures and one that can be infinitely divided. But this is far from a clear-cut distinction. As John Sellars writes:

The tension that remains is this: while on the one hand time infinitely extends into the past and future and the past and future are separated by a durationless instant, on the other hand the present moment is said to be extended and to ‘belong’, which accords it a greater ontological status than the past or future.

This kind of complicated unpacking of Deleuze’s quasi-Stoic theory of time is, as Sellars acknowledges, a “relatively minor scholarly point”, but it nonetheless remains important to Deleuze’s ethics, which argues for “‘…willing the event as such’ and that the ultimate task of ethics is ‘not to be unworthy of what happens to us’.” And this point is of course made in reference to the trauma and wounding of Joë Bousquet, who broke with his carnal birth, affirming the new birth of his wound, welcoming it as a fissure in time that could give rise to a new sense of the universe.

But not all wounds are alike, and not all persons are able to enter into them like Bousquet did. What then?

“There is the crack which extends its straight, incorporeal, and silent line at the surface; and there are external blows or noisy internal pressures which make it deviate, deepen it, and inscribe or actualize it in the thickness of the body.” As always, death looms, as that most fundamental of internal cracks: organ failure. But also the petite mort of orgasm, in which organ function becomes indeterminate, blurred, sensual, given over to pure sensation.

I skirt the line, flirt with death in moments of abject disregard, abusing my prescribed medication and drinking too much. Deleuze writes that “the use of drugs or alcohol … are the most perfect” example of how we often weather the storm that deviates the line, like a wind that buffers a ship’s course, maintained with difficulty on rocky seas, “because rather than bringing the two lines together in a fatal point,” though fatality may be destructively made an acquaintance, the effects of these substances “take time”. To become drunk is to pass the time; to become as drunk as a sailor is to pass time on land.

When Blanchot thinks of suicide as the wish to bring about the coincidence of the two faces of death — of prolonging impersonal death by means of the most personal act — he clearly shows the inevitability of this coupling or of this attempt at coupling. But he tries also to define the illusion.

In a footnote, Deleuze quotes Blanchot directly: “Suicide, in this respect, is not a welcoming of death. It is rather a wishing to abolish it as the future, to deprive it of that part of the future which is its essence…” Deleuze continues: “an entire difference of nature subsists between what is joined together or what is narrowly extended.” The difference is promiscuous: What is to be joined? What is to be extended? The personal and the impersonal are surely, on the one hand, joined fatally in the final act. But whether personal or impersonal are extended depends on the success of the act itself, the actualization of the event. Of course, in the moment, the choice is false.

Each attempt on my own life has felt so prolonged, prevaricated over. Impulsive, yes, in each instance, but an impulse that lasts for hours at a time, is built up to, swells and wanes. After every decision, every incremental step towards, another throw of the dice.

If to will is to will the event, how could we not also will its full actualization in a corporeal mixture, subject to this tragic will which prescribes over all ingestions? If the order of the surface is itself cracked, how could it not itself break up, how is it to be prevented from precipitating destruction, even if this meant losing all accompanying benefits — the organisation of language and even life itself? […] More precisely, is it possible to limit ourselves to the counter-actualization of an event — to actor’s or dancer’s simple, flat representation — while taking care to present the full actualization which characterizes the victim or the true patient?

This is “the ridiculousness of the thinker”, the eternal battle waged where the victory of either side feels like a kind of loss regardless. Philosophy is a cold war within the self. The only thing left to do is to tentatively walk the Gothic line.

Each of the thinkers Deleuze considers in his study walk the line in their own way, but still find themselves leaning this way and that:

Bousquet speaks of the wound’s eternal truth which he bears on within his body. When Fitzgerald and Lowry speak of this incorporeal metaphysical crack and find in it the locus as well as the obstacle of their thought, its source as well as its drying up, sense and nonsense, they speak with all the gallons of alcohol they have drunk which have actualised the crack in the body.

I wonder where I lie, enthused by Bousquet at first — and still — but now wrestling with these alcoholic and promiscuous men, enveloped completely by that primal wound and discovering the weak will of drowning in it on my own terms, with my own choice of liquid.

The man who saw me in A&E on the night of my most recent overdose challenged my new reliance on alcohol. Alcohol makes you reckless, impulsive; it is a depressant. I know all of this, of course, but I reject his assumed chronology that I am doing these things because I am drunk. I am reckless and impulsive and depressed first, and turn to alcohol to numb those feelings. He thinks this as a kind of chicken-and-egg argument. He knows alcoholics, he says — and there are plenty with them, known well to staff, populating the waiting room outside. I don’t challenge him on this. I defer to his expertise. “I know they says grief gets easier”, he says, but he knows so many alcoholics who grieve their ruptures like they were yesterday, as if alcohol pickles aiôn into a traumatic stasis, making it impossible to move on.

Deleuze himself echoes this comment on an alcoholic stasis in Logic of Sense: “Alcoholism does not seem to be such a search for pleasure, but a search for an effect which consists mainly in an extraordinary hardening of the present.”

I don’t want to harden my present; I want to move on.

I feel newly empowered by a sudden disinterest in drink. The day after this last visit to A&E, I am given a new script for 5mg diazepam, which I can take up to three times a day. I am going to miss it when it is gone. I fear I will turn back to alcohol too readily, to the perverse desire for multiple temporalities experienced at once, the dissatisfaction that drives and arrests desire in equal measure. “The alcoholic does not like this rigidity which overtakes him”, Deleuze continues, “any less than the softness that it surrounds and conceals.” Valium melts all that is solid, hard or soft, into air.

I am due to go back to work soon. This is my last official week on the sick. The doctors are forgiving, offering me a further six weeks, carefully monitoring the new cocktail of drugs I am taking daily. But in six weeks’ time I should be starting my PhD. So much of this note-taking feels like preparation for it, but it makes the job I currently have feel like a pity employment.

Somewhat shamefully, I long to hang onto this limbo, if only so I can continue this writer’s convalescence. Going out every day with a bag of books, a notebook and a pen, is the one thing I can rely on, the one thing I enjoy effortlessly, the only thing I feel effortlessly absorbed within. This is the joy of illness. Like so many pleasures, it enchants because it is so fleeting. Writing has become like a drug to me now. But I reject the narrative of the suffering artist, even though it is ill-health that provides the time to create and feel uninhibited by the world of wellness. Health means a return to the capitalist enclosure. How much do I really want to be well? Or at least well enough for that?

Deleuze: “If one asks why health does not suffice, why the crack is desirable, it is perhaps because only by means of the crack and at its edges that thought occurs, that anything that is good and great in humanity enters and and exits through it, in people ready to destroy themselves — better death than the health which we are given.”

The psychiatrist in A&E asks me about what I do for work. Do I enjoy it? I umm and ahh. I am indifferent. I do not find it torturous, but at the end of the day — always at the end of the day — it is only a job to me. It allows me to afford the cost of existence. It does not allow me especially to live. “What would you rather do instead?” Whatever I want, I reply. Not a life of drugs and of hedonism but nonetheless to make a home in the freedom they supply. What I mean to say is I want to live and write about it.

Deleuze once more:

We cannot give up the hope that the effects of drugs and alcohol (their “revelations”) will be able to be relived and recovered for their own sake at the surface of the world, independently of the use of those substances, provided that the techniques of social alienation which determine this use are reversed into revolutionary means of exploration. Burroughs wrote some strange passages on this point which attest to this quest for the great Health — our own manner of being pious: “Imagine that everything that can be attained by chemical means is accessible by other paths…” A strafing of the surface in order to transmute the stabbing of bodies, oh psychedelia.

Oh acid communism.

Japanese Translation of Postcapitalist Desire

Following the recent translation of Postcapitalist Desire into Italian, a Japanese translation by Kantaro Ohashi is also now on the way, due for release on August 3rd via Sayusha. (There’s a Spanish one in the works too, I believe.)

I’ve only seen it available to buy from Amazon so far, but support your local bookshops.

My U/Acc Primer from years back will also be translated and published in the first issue of a forthcoming Japanese magazine, but not sure on the details of that yet. More on that when I know.

A World of One’s Own
(Part Four)

Today I feel restless, jittery. I had a desire to go to the Laing Art Gallery, which I have passed so many times but never entered. This impulse is arrested, just as I decide to write it down. I receive a call from a psychiatrist who wants to see me at home as soon as possible. I won’t have any time left to visit the gallery after our conversation. I feel unusually stressed and disappointed by this. I’m not sure how I am supposed to fill the rest of my day.

As I wait, I start reading Kate Zambreno’s Heroines and feel the same deep attachment to the wives of modernism. She too reads Nin and Miller and feels the same pull of sexual liberation that Nin so powerfully put into words, that fills me with a fire of sexual promiscuity:

Reading Anaïs Nin’s diaries and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in tandem makes me want to have affairs… Because of the mythical lothario conjured in Nin’s journals I’ve always fantasised about having an affair with Henry Miller, who can’t keep his hands off me, who will back me over a couch and go at me, who will fuck me so I stay fucked.

Perhaps it is yesterday’s brush with self-destruction, but despite the free love of this city plunged into in recent weeks, I feel a deep anxiety now reading these words of lustful connection.

Still, the lingering fantasies of Zambreno’s lust inverted: I’d rather be pegged by Nin. All these women already have me pegged. Their experiences, their inner experiences, feel far more relatable than those of men indifferent to the women and the world around them.

“I distrust the Feminine in literature,” T.S. Eliot once opined. A fear of the feminine in writing — of the hysterical, the emotional, the violent. Much as we fear women’s rage and tears.

I remember the fear my mother brought to the family home when I was growing up. She was candid about the extreme emotions she felt every month. Premenstrual tension, she said, perhaps truthfully or perhaps internalising the patriarchal pathologisation of her own fury. In time, we began to mirror each other. My puberty synchronised with her menopause, a most volatile time to be at home.

Zambreno comments on Eliot’s famous essay on Hamlet, in which he theorises the mad prince’s excesses and the literary lack of an “objective correlative” — the way a poet correlates the emotional states of their characters with objects or causal events that appear from without: proportionate and external containers for inner experience, transmuted to audiences, to the spectral and spectating other. Hamlet fails as an artistic work because the protagonist’s emotions far exceed “the facts as they appear”, he argues. But Zambreno notes how Eliot wholly ignores Ophelia’s despair, does not consider her objective correlatives. It is a mistake, in Eliot’s eyes, for Hamlet to emote to excess; for Ophelia, it is presumably to be expected. “Nothing is objective to Ophelia”, Zambreno continues. “It is all, so so subjective. She takes things so personally.”

I often worry about the compulsive subjectivity of my own writing, the attempts to express emotional excess in language. In my current state of illness, psychiatric professionals repeatedly talk about my clear emotional dysregulation. And yet, though it may simply be a meaningless factor in the context of my social circle, I find my experiences best understood by the women in my life. (This is no comment on any essential feminine constitution; I simply know more women than men. And the men whom I adore are adored precisely for a sensitivity that feels so rare in this world.) They offer excellent advice, informed in a few cases by diagnoses with various acronyms, that come to resemble in speech a kind of short-hand for errant chemical compounds that dysregulate their lives — ADHD, OCD, BPD, PTSD. Many of these diagnoses feel innately gendered — only the women in my life seem to have acquired the documentation and official recognition I’ve sought for years. I wonder often about how my sudden fast-track through mental health services has occurred alongside an inconsistent affirmation of a non-binary gender identity.

My own recent adoption of they/them pronouns has been understated socially, with a close circle of friends adapting to the change with ease — whether out of support, politeness or a deeper recognition, I do not know. Sometimes even I forget, not yet out of the habit of referring to this masculine body in my possession. I often think about what this means for me in the present. It is, of course, offensively reductive to suggest I feel things like a woman does. But a life of finding friendships with women effortless, more comfortable; a persistent identification with women’s writing; all this sketches out contours of an elusive truth, the ambiguous affirmation of which makes me feel more at home in my world, in my skin. Set against the patriarchal structuring of the world, its cultures, its standardised selves, I continue to refuse to be a man in all but appearance — a mode of expression not yet explored with any confidence. At present, it is only a “women’s writing”, historically understood, that feels possible to affirm with an open heart.

The repetitive early afternoon appointments with crisis teams, psychiatrists, counsellors, nurses. “Have you heard of Andy’s Man Club?” A place for men to find community, to speak together, as men are seldom said to do. They generalise. This is not my problem. I serve a compulsion to narrativize everything, to share the all too personal.

Finally, a meeting with a psychiatrist for the purpose of a medication review. First, resistance to the idea from all sides, then acquiescence after yesterday’s overdose. A suicide attempt one month into the maximum dosage of citalopram suggests the drugs don’t work.

We talk for two hours, then he provides me with a whole new regimen of medicines to be rapidly transitioned to. Still the zopiclone, then a rapid descent from citalopram; diazepam to replace the calm I look for in drink, then a shift to sertraline, quickly ramping up the doses every three days.

I embrace it. I pick up a new set of prescriptions immediately. I spend the afternoon in the sun. No alcohol today; the end of a prolonged bender. Just Valium and vitamin D.

The series of tableaux that begin Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, her treatise on the material conditions that could allow a woman to write, to write well. Her scenes illuminating women banned from the grounds and libraries and luncheons of the fictional college Oxbridge, to show that a woman of her time would be banned from all the public spaces of reflection and socialization and higher learning that Woolf argues are important in order to begin to have the interior space to roam about in, to think the lucid thoughts that foster Great Texts.

But then the fear of interiority, the rooms of quiet afforded by institutions, now open to Zambreno but suffocating; the room of one’s own afforded by marriage, by domestication. Insufferable. Only drifting, wandering. Woolf knew of the same experience. “The first years of Woolf’s marriage ‘beset by arguments, extended periods of alienation.’ Virginia’s suicide attempt the second year.”

The anxiety of freedom. The pursuit of connection, unencumbered. In Huddersfield, I felt incapable of leaving the house, always wanting to work, to write. No real desire to furnish the writing with experience; with the hollow wanderings done purely for exercise, it often felt, prescribed by government during lockdown. In Newcastle, a constant restlessness at home. Every morning spent in the garden, in the rising sun; every afternoon in the Ouseburn Valley.

I spend a few days obsessively lugging around a tote bag of Nin in the intensity of a July heatwave. I flirt with the idea of dancing, discos, club nights, always slightly embarrassed to walk in with a bag heavy enough to constitute a health hazard or weapon; the comically large para-academic equivalent of a bar of soap in a sock.

People occasionally ask what I’m reading. I don’t want them to know. It feels like there is a discrepancy of power at play. No matter how I may identify, always the baggage of a masculine body, no matter how violently rejected I have often felt by peers in patriarchy. “I begin to cannibalize these women, literally incorporating them, their traumas, an uncanny feeling of repeating, of reliving”, Zambreno writes. I feel uneasy about my desire to do the same. “Read women”: the persistent refrain hurled at masculine adherents to a masculine canon. What does it mean to do more than that?

Zambreno, or at least her semi-fictionalised self, rails against her equally fictionalised husband John in the midst of depression and sinusitis. Still relatable, I am afflicted by both. The latter is chronic and self-inflicted — too many tabs. The former? It is harder to say.

Zambreno, in railing against her literary husband, describes how he “Leonard Woolfs me.” I feel like both Virginia and Leonard in one body. I relish it, distrust it, enjoy it perversely.

Perhaps what I find oddly enchanting, oddly relatable about these narratives is the archetype of the invalid wife. My last relationship, with ten years spent together, was always regrettable defined from the start by own unwellness. I remember an early moment of intimacy, a gentle hand caressing the scars that cover my arm. I dismiss them as marks from the past, denying the reality that the feelings released in the process were always bubbling under the surface, barely contained.

This was similarly true of the relationship before this one. Always the initial moments of intimacy, fingers tracing skin that is cracked like porcelain, remade, chunks still missing. My own fragility is always predetermined, made abstract and perhaps even being attractive, to some extent: the discomfort of appearing, on the surface, like something to fix. But then the reality, the lived experience of implicit unwellness, the shifting relation, from care to resentment, of someone who may need to be fixed, but who in fact never asks for anyone to take on the burden of repair. The desire to be needed meeting the reality that I can contend with this on my own, or rather I must. I cannot live for someone else’s sake.

I find it all triggering: the ways that people insert themselves in life as a new kind of “primary caregiver”, troubling the relationship from within, filling me with a growing fear that this person, like so many other caregivers, will eventually leave. I don’t need care. I need stability. Estrangement is the constant result. The heteronormative and patriarchal relation of nurse and patient, simultaneously fallen into and rejected from both sides. It is a horror to me every time. I don’t want to roleplay it, I don’t want to live it. I want to share my life — it is only unfortunately that it is one I have found quite difficult.

Zambreno discusses the literary trope of hereditary madness, passed along the maternal line from mother to daughter. I have always thought of motherhood as constituting an innate form of madness, the reproduction of self bringing joy before this fragment of genetic material must then go its own way. “Empty nest syndrome”, it is sometimes called. When does this begin exactly? No doubt far earlier than we think.

Always an innate misogyny to these pathologisations of life’s progress, of the maturation of selves. But I do not feel free from the nest. Home haunts me. An uncanny home; an unheimlich heim. I am painfully aware of neuroses past down the maternal line — from grandmother to mother and then, the aberration, to the son. I have been shaped by these women more than any of the men in my childhood. It makes me feel like a strange daughter to a stranger mother, dressed-up as a son but never son enough.

I get the bus into town and sit outside the Tyneside Cinema but forget to bring a pen. I ask the woman behind the reception desk if I might borrow one. “Yes!” she says excitedly. “But it’s my favourite, so I’ll need it back.” It’s a girthy thing that contains nibs for ten different colours. I think I hate it. I write this down and then give it back and leave.

Having lost the ability to write leaves me bereft. I sprint to a stationary shop, leaving all my belongings on a chair in the street so as not to lose my perch. Having an implement of my own with which to write becomes more important to me than any other worldly possession.

Zambreno notes how, during the nineteenth century, and under the control of Phillippe Pinel, “the French asylum espoused physical discipline and a detailed schedule as a way to become well again.” Cold showers were recommended as a particular treatment for women’s hysteria. It is jarring to read these words, which are scathing in their assumed disciplinary pseudoscience, knowing that the same advice has been given to me repeatedly of late.

The cold showers work, it must be said. The self-discipline is less palatable. Because it is more than just self-discipline, of course. “This philosophy of traitement morale, or moral management.” Stoicism, on the contrary, entails a certain perversion in the face of causal and acausal events, a “turning-through”.

When I feel well, no matter how momentarily, I want to feel alive. I want to make the most of every good feeling, not knowing how long it will last. The comedowns may only make my depression linger for longer, but mere tolerated and striated existence, constantly time-keeping, feels like no road to recovery from suicidal ideation. Always the errant and seemingly amoral desire for more.

“This idea that one must control oneself and stop being so FULL of self remains a dominating theory around mental illness,” Zambreno notes, “and, perhaps tellingly, around other patriarchal laws and narratives, including the ones governing and disciplining literature.”

But always the anxiety that this journaled candour might be interpreted as a symptom. “Enjoy your symptom”, as Žižek says. What else is there to do? “A diagnostic label becomes a sort of straightjacket” for Zambreno — “one learns to self-discipline, to watch over oneself for signs of dis-ease, and any symptoms are read through this filter (energy is suspect, excitability is to be dulled down, how did they get up the nerve to do anything”, these women of modernism, “let alone write?)”

Not only how women should behave, but how writing should behave.

Cixous’s écriture féminine comes to mind, an approach — a politics — of writing that seeks the unsayable, those experiences of excess that exceed the tenets of structuralism and plunge themselves into the stream of consciousness, eluding masculine modes of language.

I think inevitably, narcissistically, of fleeting critics of my own approach to writing who, from time to time, have dismissed it as too subjective, constituting little more than a “self-help” philosophy. But always the desire to allow language to play off and around the self prevails. Is this self contained in a female body? No. But to what extent, then, if any, can an écriture féminine be embodied by someone like me?

In writing, of course, the disembodiment is so often the point

Hysterical women were often pathologised “because of this belief that illness came from deviating from one’s natural sex role.” From the other side, always the recommendations that I should enter community groups, talk to other male-bodied persons who struggle to talk but bottle things up. There are posters plastered all over A&E at the RVI — something along the lines of “telling someone to MAN UP can result in a man DOWN.” What to do with this feeling, not innate but structured from without, that I may suffer from a more “feminine” form of mental illness? Is this anything to affirm, or just a sense of displacement within the still depressingly patriarchal structuring of mental health discourses, the misogyny of yesteryear ever present, only dissolved into so many euphemisms, with every recommended treatment unable to shake off the echoes of its gendered histories?

Compose yourself. Compose yourself. They are supposed to hold it in. To control themselves. Perhaps the fury is one’s own containment. If one wasn’t so contained, one wouldn’t be so furious.

Zambreno on Madame Bovary: “instead of destroying something (not permissible) she sets off to systematically self-destruct. Or to live intensely. Or perhaps those are the same things.”

Does being well mean not living intensely? I fucking hope not. The challenge perhaps is not to be overwhelmed by the intensity of one’s own experiences. Writing becomes a tightrope strung between two points — life and death. A thrill like no other, but no doubt unnerving to watch.

Beauvoir: “The boy can become a subject, the girl knows she cannot.” Zambreno: “To be seen primarily as an invalid is to be invalidated.” Cixous: “The hysterics are my sisters.”

My first blog, or succession of blogs — one on Blogspot, one on Tumblr — were all called The Wahnbriefe. A pretentious Nietzschean nod at the height of adolescence, but still now the anxiety that Zambreno expresses is ever-present: “Days I worry, wonder — what if I’m not a writer? What if I’m a depressive masquerading as a notetaker? Is this the text of an author or a madwoman?” People seem to think I’m a writer, and quite a good one, although I think this is more a comment on the quantity I produce over a consistent quality.

I have a conversation with Dan about not feeling very imaginative, finding it impossible to make up stories. A frustrated painter, I turned to photography, and even today I feel like a photographer who one day picked up a pen. Writing in journals — another sense of the journalistic. “Not the incandescent state of mind that produces great literature… but one that was able to look down upon the car crash and take notes.”

I recently heard, following the dramatic reacquisition of Zer0 Books by Repeater Books and the public falling-out among factions that ensued, that some of those writers most aggrieved at my public critiques of their work, their incessant and useless wading into the Culture War for clicks, took to trying denounce me more in private than in public. Mike Watson thinks I’m mad. The usual suspect. Why would Repeater work with someone who is mad? Continue to work with me instead. Tariq Goddard, who relays the exchange at a luncheon, not long after a suicide attempt, laughs when I lightly affirm this. Of course I’m mad. I’m mad even when I’m not ill. There are good sorts of madness.

Personally, I’m not sure how I would write otherwise. I’m not sure I would write at all. There is something quietly amusing about spiteful writers denouncing each other’s sanity. Who writes who isn’t mad to some degree? Not madly incoherent, nor madly unintelligible. Rather having a talent for madness. Good with it, sharp with it, weaponizing it against a mad world of mediocrity and dissonance. Repeater’s mantra: “We are alive and we do not agree.” Mad angry, oscillating between setting one’s own world on fire and setting the world to rights. To be sane is to be uncontained. Who wants to be contained?

I use the term ‘madness’ here to describe these women’s alienation, because I see their breakdowns as a philosophical experience that is about the confinement, or even death, of the self.

The horror of citalopram. Is it working? My emotional excesses feel constrained, still present but as if compressed in a container that I find easier to carry. Like a Ghostbusters exorcism — not banished but boxed. But still the recklessness, the suicide attempts. Moments of overflow. Containment becomes a new kind of psychic torture. All the better to be coming off that bastard drug now and feel more capable of living in a more seductive intensity.

“The voice unedited, wild, wanting.” The talking cure. Communication contained, transference analysed. Better to write it and fling it outwards.

I address no subject, no audience in particular. No stable self communicated, no stable self communicated to. How it should be? Often just how it is.

L’écriture féminine, which has such a close link aesthetically to automatic writing — writing of and through the body, privileging the raw and emotional over masculine logic, and more than anything defined by VOICE.

I think about Mark Fisher’s lectures on “vocalities”.

What Cixous calls La Genet, her name for the feminine outlaw writer, after the famous French writer and criminal who wrote of social outlaws and misfits. Also a play on words, for La Jeune Née, the newly born woman.

Feminine or queer utterances? Uttunul channelling… The self I am not that writes through. Automatic. Aleatoric. “Writing as a nervous system, as Deleuze writes in his chapter ‘Hysteria’ in his book on the painter Francis Bacon.”

The Great Men fetishized the hysteric, they channeled hysteria both in style (automatic writing) as well as in their writing of these female characters, yet in their material lives these men were not objects, but authors, subjects.

Perhaps that is the source of this new affinity with the women, the repressed wives, of modernism. I detail the schedules, regimens, routines of psychiatric treatment to friends, nurses, doctors. “How do you feel about all this?” I don’t know, I say repeatedly, ad nauseum. I’m just doing as I am told. Not subject but fractured object, trying to wrestle back my own agency and struggling constantly to do so. Only when writing do I feel comfortable with this abject estrangement from self.

A World of One’s Own
(Part Three)

Woolf speaks generally about the women of her time in A Room of One’s Own, but still the personal circumstances of her own inner experiences, the illnesses that linger, the madness. Mrs Dalloway, after all, is hardly an affirmation of the bourgeois life, in which all women may take a small amount of charge and choose to buy the flowers themselves. Septimus Smith has far more existential decisions to make, but still this man and this woman share the same city, the same world, if not the same rooms. Reading biographical details into the work is perhaps too easily done, but Dalloway and Smith nonetheless feel like two sides of the same coin, with Woolf an embodied synthesis of the two. Both of the characters’ lives are defined by politics, dramas of the heart and mind, each predisposed to falls from grace. But one is protected, the other traumatised and more acutely at risk. Their lives are set against each other. The truth for so many, particularly Woolf herself, is that these dialectically opposed experiences are more often than not intensely entwined.

Kate Zambreno on Mrs Dalloway:

all the characters are at risk of slipping on the surface of sanity, some are able to prevent the fall, to keep themselves upright. The most privileged characters of the novel are less likely to be viewed as mad, even if they have dark nights of the soul. The traditional wife and the solider of the lower class are the most susceptible to being pathologized.

Later, a further aside:

… shell shock (the masculine term for hysteria, soldiers coming home from WWI and jumping out of windows, like Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway).

I’m struggling to care about writing anymore, or anything for that matter. I’m doing this to myself no doubt, drinking too much. I want the feeling that the zopiclone gives me constantly.

I’m also isolating myself. I don’t know how to feel, and this unknowing has led to a real breakdown in communication. I feel like I am constantly disparaging myself for this and giving into a feeling that no one would want to spend time with someone so reckless and volatile, so impulsive and unstable; someone so prone to fluctuations in mood. “It’s not your fault.” That’s true; it’s not. But I have a hard enough time spending time with myself, forced to perpetually play The Generation Game with a revolving conveyor belt of alter-egos. I am loved, but I love in return, and wish not to put loved ones through the strain of my own instability.

I flick absentmindedly through A Thousand Plateaus, eventually turning to the index to look up the various sections on becoming. Woolf remains on my mind.

It is perhaps the special situation of women in relation to the man-standard that accounts for the fact that becomings, being minoritarian, always pass through a becoming-woman.

Mrs Dalloway may be the perfect encapsulation of Deleuzoguattarian becoming in this regard; the two sides of the coin of madness. Becoming, they write, implies “two simultaneous movements, one by which a term (the subject) is withdrawn from the majority, and another by which a term (the medium or agent) rises up from the minority.” Dalloway as agent; Smith as subject.

Every time the nurses visit they ask me how the last few days have been and, more often than not, I struggle to string together a narrative from memory alone. Something is happening, changes are occurring, but I’m not remembering them, I’m not dreaming them, I am not sorting them within the ruinous architecture of my own fractured unconscious.

Becoming is an antimemory“, Deleuze and Guattari write.

I take another cocktail of substances I know I shouldn’t mix. A zopiclone and Nytol and alcohol high, all on an empty stomach, is appropriately dreamy. Pissing makes me laugh. But the next day I learn that Nytol is no substitute for zopiclone, which is legally a controlled substance, not an over-the-counter herbal remedy. (The active ingredient in Nytol being dry Valerian root extract.)

Like many herbal remedies, overdose achieves little other than nausea. In a sickly daze, I bail on a conversation with friends bumped into at a local bar, knocking my drink over as I go, and disappear to another friend’s house, a safer haven. I feel like giving into the lure of sleep and lie down on their couch, then almost immediately get up to vomit. Back to the couch, then back to the bathroom. I vomit mostly cheap whiskey but feel better for it. A sobering expulsion.

We talk, laugh; I forget, go home. I sleep poorly despite the cocktail of sleeping aids, prescribed and otherwise, in my system. I wake up feeling like my stomach is full of rocks. I’m unsure if this is a purely physical nausea or an emotional one also. In bed, a frank and painful conversation over WhatsApp with someone I am sleeping with, only just beginning to get to know, trying to do what’s right but feels wrong, insisting on a flailing grasp at reason over desire.

I feel like I am in no place to get to know anyone right now. Not really. I feel newly capable of being liked, being loved, but an emotional instability makes for a cruel and malformed reciprocity. Who can hope to love another whilst feeling incapable of loving oneself? A cliche made abject as my life resolves around the wrong kinds of sleep: sleeping around, abusing sleep meds, struggling to get any of the actual sleep my body needs.

Today I would like to propose the principle explanation for a divergent attitude: I’m afraid… My approach is that of a sick man, or at least of a breathless, exhausted man…

The search for truth is not my strong suit (above all, I mean the phraseology that represents it). And I should put this forward: more than truth, it is fear that I want and that I am seeking: that which opens a dizzying fall, that which attains the unlimited possibility of thought.

It’s been a few years since I read Bataille’s Summa Atheologica, but it resonates today in a new way, perhaps more profoundly than when I first read the third volume, On Nietzsche, in late 2016.

Today I turn to the second volume, Guilty, its title turning over and around in my mind for some time. My depressions have often manifested as guilt, projected onto one person or another, as if I feel I must compulsively confess crimes not committed, eaten alive by an impulse to tell a truth I do not know. “This is how I feel, this is my inner experience. If I let you into it, would you punish me? Hate me? Leave me?”

I feel like I must turn away from this guilt, irrational and self-deprecating, but in turn find myself turning away from confession, from communication. I try to comprehend a new sexual hunger and its jarring with my complete lack of any other kind of appetite. Bataille: “I laugh at my own hunger, I don’t want to eat anything, I would rather be eaten.”

There is a dreadful truth found in the relationships that have blossomed and wilted with breakneck speed in recent weeks. I stagger into intense connections, and within each there is a breaking point, a point of fracture, where the other person experiences the deep pain and shock of attempts on my own life, made when it seems everyone is having a nice time. Each attempt is botched or interrupted. I feel more and more guilt as relationships break apart on the rocks of a jagged sense of self, as if I am spreading my own sickness, but each time the response is always the same: what terrifies is that they see something of themselves in me. (Past selves, thankfully.)

“Communication demands a defect, a ‘fault'”, Bataille writes. “It enters, like death, through a chink in the armour. It demands a coincidence of lacerations, in myself and in the other.” Wounds attract, congeal in intensity, but to lay one over the other is both the most affirming thrill and the most reckless violence. It is always combustive; the mixture of bodily fluids into a highly reactive compound. The love between two people, in this sense, can signify “that they do not see their being in one another, but their wound, and the need to be lost: there is no greater desire than that of a wounded person for another wound.” No truth, only fear.

I start reading Durrell’s The Black Book, wondering about the black book I am now writing in, having already filled one bound in green. I bought two packs of paracetamol before coming here, to the Tyne Bar, and take four. Eight seems to be the danger point. Some websites say ten. I take sixteen. I feel calm as I begin this game of chicken with myself, not so much full of despair as impulsive and exhausted. There is a poetry to taking so much pain medication, as if I must take enough to numb the insurmountable. There is so much work left to do and I feel depleted of all energy to engage with it. Just this pen, this notebook, and the idea of fading away with Durrell echoing around my head like a linguistic fever.

After the overdose on paracetamol, I stagger and answer a call from a concerned friend, having turned my phone off for a few hours, for no reason other than to disappear into a world without connection. We spend six hours in A&E at the RVI. After a barrage of tests, good news: liver undamaged. I have another conversation with the psychiatric liaison team that feels somewhat productive, if harrowing. “Paracetamol overdose isn’t quick, you know,” the nurse says. “I’ve seen it. It takes days and it is excruciating. It is no way to go.” In my ignorance, I presumed I’d just fade away. Not so.

A conversation is had about the possibility of bipolar disorder but I am not present for it.

A World of One’s Own
(Part Two)

The beauty of Woolf’s essay-lectures lies in her drifting, in the stream of her consciousness — the only river, it seems, that she can languish next to undisturbed; the one she often disappears into, stones in her pocket; the river later disastrously actualised as a kind of objective correlative.

It is intriguing that many seem to take her at her word, affirming the desire for “a room of one’s own”, disregarding the reality that this pronouncement is one she openly struggles with, acknowledging this desire as an insufficient solution but perhaps one of the few new options now in reach for women after the explosive social adaptations forced through by suffrage.

The tension is also just outside the text itself, which we recognise as a kind of fictionalised recollection, surely thought but not written on the riverbanks of Oxbridge but rather in some isolated corner of a flat, a house, a cottage, even though nothing written here directly describes the stasis of a room, a chair, a desk. It is the liminal space of literature, where even in writing Woolf records lapses of concentration, detailing caricatures drawn absentmindedly in the margins of old white men’s faces; and always food — what is ordered, digested, walked off; meals imagined or consumed, it is hard to say.

It is money, of course, that allows her to wander, gives her the freedom to look at the world not with “fear and bitterness”, nor even “pity and toleration” — though she must consciously process both these tendencies when they inevitably arise — but rather savouring the “freedom to think of things in themselves.” And Woolf’s privileged existence is never far from her mind. Though she acknowledges the luck of her circumstances — a life funded by an annual inheritance bequeathed from an aunt who fell from a horse — she is all too aware how fragile life is; how a life explored, and the time necessary to explore it, are an exceptionally rare thing, for the women of her time especially. Even though so many things have improved for women, she writes, to no longer be “the protected sex” comes with its own complications, which may not lead to more freedom but more acceptance in a wider world of servitude, further caught up in the web of capital; women’s labour no longer abstracted but recognised, but remaining a labour that restricts life nonetheless.

This is a reality no doubt familiar to us, and today especially, where consciousness of the material conditions that govern our lives are more explicit than ever before in the popular imagination. The bullshit jobs, the drudgery, the time-poverty. Women continue to bear the brunt of so much social labour, but still the material conditions of womanhood remain a fraught topic of conversation. So often online this debate, over-amplified despite the myopia of social media, returns to the biological essentialism that Woolf herself would have surely had no time for. What she dreads, it seems, is the ascendance of womanhood from a kind of “protected sex” to a kind of “protected occupation”, in which there is little room for imagining womanhood otherwise. This is surely why the questions of women and literature are so entwined for her. Both are fragile, fleeting, malleable — for better and for worse. The space of literature, the role of fiction in women’s lives, she writes

is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners … Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there completely by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

I often think about how I first started to write, first began to play the game of writing. At university, I was a typical student of photography. Writing was secondary. Most essays were written hurriedly in the dead of the night before, fueled by caffeine and cigarettes, each chained irresponsibly and anti-socially in my tiny cupboard of a room on campus. When it came to writing my dissertation, however, I found a love of the commitment to a longer process, the commitment necessary to do it well. The shift from short 1500-word essays to what then felt like a 10,000-word tome was electrifying. I loved the days, the weeks spent working on nothing else. But on graduating, writing was hard. Unemployment provided little room for rumination and reflection, incapable of thinking about anything other than where my next paltry payment would come from. Moving to Cardiff, desperate for work in a city I knew better, at that point, than my own hometown, I found a job as an “exhibitions officer”. I was the key holder to a photography gallery in Penarth, responsible for cleaning, tidying, greeting visitors who were often few and far between. The empty time afforded me a space to write in, tethered to a desk and finding that activity to be the only thing, some days, that felt fulfilling. I would eat and write, eat and write, sedentary, getting fat on Tesco meal deals and ideas, quite unhappy but employed and occupied with thoughts that were my own.

I later lost that job, which was always somewhat precarious. But by that time I knew I wanted to return to university, having the time but not the community in which to develop my ideas, craving the intensity of that environment where I felt real progress could be made. Writing began to feel like an occupation soon enough, even if it meant I was never paid for it (or that any of my work was ever actually published). Another student loan at least provided some degree of comfort, though certainly not enough in a city like London, through which I was able to respond to texts, contexts, largely performing the idea of a life desired, which required an anxiety-inducing buy-in, the investment of other people’s money; an experience full of confusion, false confidence, emboldened by the only true wealth I had, which was doled out in time — and even then, only twelve months — but which also only expanded the abstract weight of debt to a society that cared relatively little for the work undertaken.

Another job in exhibitions followed my second graduation, and with the habit of time-theft well established, I found the time to write a book. The blog took off too. But still the low-level anxiety underlying everything — financial concerns, strained relationships, grief and bereavement, a desperate attempt to carve out the life I wanted against the strictures of my material conditions. I fell into a depression, feeling like the thing I loved to do was its own form of self-sabotage, a way of picking holes in the life I was expected to be content within. I remember the isolation felt, especially at work — the inability to talk to anyone about myself or how I felt, hiding self-inflicted wounds at sweltering office parties during the summer months, only finding connection with colleagues outside the office with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. No one questioned this self-sabotaging behaviour or seemed to acknowledge it as a symptom of something much deeper. In the end, I was let go from that job; an opportune moment arose where I was told that my contract would not be renewed due to building refurbishments and budget cuts, various excuses made, only to see the job advertised again a month or two later. I wish they’d just been honest with me; then again, I wish I could have been honest with them as well.

Every bout of writing, every burst of productivity, always the same material circumstances. I have wondered repeatedly whether I can count writing as an illness, as a psychological compulsion, as a symptom. But perhaps it is more true to say that the strange temporality of ill-health has been the only time I have felt truly in possession of the time required to think for myself. Financial stability helps; at least having enough to live on. But a room of one’s own? I write in beer gardens, parks, public houses. Work in an office of any kind is uninspiring. I do not need a room but rather the room to drift, internally and externally.

A World of One’s Own
(Part One)

“Having a room of one’s own is a desire, but also a control.” A seemingly throwaway remark toward the end of Gilles Deleuze’s preface to The Policing of Families, the 1977 work by Jacques Donzelot, but one that nonetheless seems scathing. What is it to find a room of one’s own in a house of uneasy dwelling? To carve out an enclave within rather than an exit without?

Virginia Woolf, in her essay A Room of One’s Own, is hardly unaware of this tension herself. To say simply that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, she argues, still “leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.” The opinion nonetheless explored is one buoyed by prejudices that Woolf, in the first person, acknowledges may only be “true” to her; such is the “I” of her narrative, her speech, her position: “only a convenient term for something who has no real being.”

Her assertion is a kind of meta-provocation, in which an affirmation of a space for women’s writing may do nothing more than further call woman and literature themselves into question — and that is no doubt the point. If literature and woman, as two subjects, are defined in any way, it is thanks to men. To talk of women and fiction in tandem is to necessarily unground both. And Woolf, of course, does this throughout all of her novels, but she is not the singular barometer of a world in which the answers given to these questions may be better for women and literature, or worse.

Woolf begins her essay with the beautiful narrative of having a thought — a thought on the riverbanks of Oxbridge, a fictionalised amalgamation of those two elitist institutions and their environs. She is first moved on from her perch in the grounds for clearly, as a woman, not being a Fellow or Scholar. She heads to one of the fabled libraries instead, somewhat absentmindedly, under no pretense she will be anymore welcome there, but daydreaming of Thackeray’s manuscripts and pulled towards that document of a work then in progress. She is once again turned away as a woman unaccompanied.

To strive for a room of one’s own quickly becomes a desire for a protected space where she will not be bothered, in which she can develop a new self, a new mode of thought, set apart from the cloistered environment of the masculine university, already a kind of museum erected to the Great Texts of Great Men. “As I leant against the wall”, she writes, “the University indeed seemed like a sanctuary in which are preserved here types which would soon be obsolete if left to fight for existence on the pavement of the Strand.” How little seems to have changed. Or at least how more inhospitable universities have become for anyone who might have found their way inside and set about rearranging the furniture. But lest we forget how Woolf also felt spurned from without, by the world at large.

What is most affirming is that Woolf produces a work of literature regardless, and this essay in particular is a beautiful document of a frustrated meander. She describes the splendor of architectural exteriors, nature, a luncheon had, a talk heard, cats encountered or dreamt of, poems remembered, the war recently waged, the social changes that have made the patriarchal traditions of the colleges all the more jarring and stultifying. She ruminates on the impossibility of poetry after the First World War, but also the poetry written anyway, that hardly resonates like Tennyson or Rossetti once did, at least to her mind, but which still strives to “express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out of us at the moment.”

I can’t help but think of my own recent trips to Oxford, visiting a friend who was studying there last year. Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the place — with the walks from Wolfson College into town, breaking free from our small group to indulge in solitary hours at Blackwell’s, then on the various college greens, reading the imagists. I bought some paperback Durrell’s there, in an Oxfam charity shop: the original Faber editions with covers that have yet to be bettered, even sullied by recent reissues with more complacent designs. We visited Tolkien’s home, the home of T.E. Lawrence. So many Oxford men, who still cast canonical shadows over its contemporary women, who require no comparison but who are yet to leave their marks on the bricks and mortar that record things in centuries, not years or decades, seemingly untouched by the rapid changes of more recent times.

At that time I was formulating a PhD proposal on photography’s influence on imagism. I reached out to Rebecca Beasley, read Merve Emre’s various essays; later, Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex. Emre’s introduction to The Annotated Mrs Dalloway, in particular, is something I have returned to often over the year or so since. But still, despite my excitement over the prospect of interacting with current faculty, being there was jarring, a daydream of another life, of other circumstances. What I found most attractive about Oxford, having had a series of tumultuous academic experiences, was that I felt in this place I would be looked after, taken care of. Life felt slower under the eye of Oxford’s histories; elongated; calming. Funding felt like a prize, an opportunity; not a blurred line between self-directed study and ill-defined wage-labour.

I’m still trying to process the pull of that institution — a place that never even entered my mind as a prospective undergraduate. The lure of a postgraduate experience there was like something of an escape, a retreat into its past, no matter how fraught and inhospitable it has been to peoples the world over. An impulse, like so many, that is more than worthy of questioning.

But it wasn’t to be. My PhD proposal was ultimately uncoached and unsuccessful — expensive too, having paid £70 for the honour of a rejection. Despite the dream, it still felt inaccessible, inhospitable, impenetrable. Of course, it is hardly worth prevaricating over my experiences in the context of Woolf’s own, regardless of how I may feel about my own gender identity. To be read as a man, even a failed one, is one thing; a woman, quite another. In Oxford, I felt read in other fragmented ways. I felt newly aware of a less than certain class position. And of course, the transgressive traditions, the excess, the expenditures. Sitting in the park with Hilda Doolittle, the silence was periodically interrupted by young students engaging in the supposedly banned tradition of “trashing” — covering those who emerge from exam halls in their customary gowns for the final time in food, paint, alcohol, confetti, water, foam, silly string. You would see evidence of these convulsions everywhere, staining pavements like students had spontaneously combusted, human piñatas of privilege rigged to blow. The joy expressed and the relief felt after three years of study was relatable, but the thought that overwhelmed on seeing this spectacle, in action or after the fact, was always how much these suits must cost, and the recollection of care taken at graduations over the years not to ruin rented gowns donned only for a few hours, as if it is the rest of us plebs that can’t be trusted, must be overseen, policed, watched, whilst those with money act with an abandon and sense of release that students elsewhere are ridiculed and more strictly disciplined for.

Woolf cannot separate past from present as she wanders through Oxbridge. Ever aware of the injustice of it all, the sad machinations of imperial capital that have left indelible marks and yet nonetheless become something fascinating to contemplate. And always the conspicuous absence of women from history’s making, which frustrates and alienates. (“[W]e must burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex”, she insists, defiant as she continues to wander the grounds alone.) No matter what is being discussed, the past fascinates, seduces and obfuscates in equal measure, but always tethered to violent hierarchies. “One might be talking of Spain or Portugal, of book or racehorse, but the real interest of whatever was said was none of those things, but a scene of masons on a high roof some five centuries ago.” It is men who laid the foundation, and men who still control access to the rooms that now populate the grounds.

Money leaves its sickly residue over everything — everything that is and everything that is to come. Woolf imagines what life might be like if women had had the same opportunity to learn “the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriate to the use of their own sex.” Perhaps we know something more of that imagined world now, and yet we must still recognise how insufficient it is. In this sense, it is easy to judge Woolf’s text as lacking today, incapable of thinking beyond the grasp of capital. Compared to novels like The Waves or To the Lighthouse, though no less enchanting in its comparable stream-of-consciousness style, A Room of One’s Own almost feels conservative from the perspective of the present. But still, the other works she produced imagine so much more — a world not just beyond sexual difference but the self as such. This is the attraction of Oxbridge’s history, no doubt, to a few. Many go to make their name; for others its grandeur is fertile ground for eluding the present and its selves altogether. This feels like the lure of postgraduate study in these hallowed halls that similarly captured my attention, dreaming of and desiring the enclosure of upper-class protectionism.

But that may be because we live in even stranger times now. I am reminded, as ever, of Mark Fisher’s remark: “Only prisoners have time to read, and if you want to engage in a twenty-year long research project funded by the state, you will have to kill someone.” This is undoubtedly the new world that Deleuze and Donzelot saw puncturing Woolf’s adage. A room of one’s own might just as easily be a cell — monastic and scholarly, at its most ascetic and romantic; or the very antithesis of freedom in a more carceral sense. This contradiction now defines us — all of us. Today we seek to enhance the capture of social beings, if only on the promise of “other” freedoms. Woolf herself articulates the paradox well, with a sorry sense of resignation: how it is so “unpleasant… to be locked out… how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”

Mind and Matter:
A Note on Acid Communism

I confess my time in Laingian psychoanalysis to the doctor from the crisis team. He feels like a sergeant, deployed from a psychiatric armoury. Unlike everyone I have so far seen — a succession of well-meaning strangers armed only with strategies and platitudes for distraction and weathering, often contradictory — he can write scripts. He spends a quarter of an hour doing so whilst I make myself busy, hanging out my washing on the line in the garden, a ritual of banal domesticity that fills in the time it takes for him to write out his orders.

For one brief moment in our conversation, he mutters: “Laing, anti-psychiatry”, a dismissive thought half-formed and interrupted. I think he hopes to avoid some sort of conflict or disagreement, and leaves his disparagement hanging unactualized in the air. But Laing did not help me. My psychoanalyst only retraumatised me. I have an intellectual interest in that world, but interest is not the same as fidelity.

“I’m a doctor. Excuse my reductivism, but I believe our brains are just bundles of cells, chemicals. We can change those chemicals, through medication but also through changing our thought patterns.” He is describing the infernal feedback loop of cognitive behavioural therapy. We can change our brain chemistry by changing our thoughts, which are in turn shaped by our brain chemistry. Medication is a foundation, upon which therapy becomes more effective. All treatment of mental illness requires a two-pronged attack.

I think about Tariq Goddard’s comments on Mark Fisher, who did indeed turn to drugs in his final years. Mushrooms. Weed. Acid. Still, the mistake often made among fans of his later unfinished work that this was some turn to the most cliched and mystical form of psychedelia. Not so. After all, what is “acid communism” if not a psychedelia that further affirms the Spinozist turn, the inclusion of Marxist materialism in our current thinking around neurochemistry. Bataille berates Marx for his “idealist materialism”, which does not go far enough, resting on a philosophical contradiction of terms, but what does an acid communism make possible if not a newly rigorous materialism of the mind? But not the mind singular; the mind in general. Mental health is a political issue. It is not an individual quandary but a collective one.