In reality writing does not have its end in itself, precisely because life is not something personal. Or rather, the aim of writing is to carry life to the state of a non-personal power. In doing this it renounces claim to any territory, any end which would reside in itself. Why does one write? Because it is not a case of writing. It may be that the writer has delicate health, a weak constitution. He is none the less the opposite of the neurotic: a sort of Alive (in the manner of Spinoza, Nietzsche or Lawrence) in so far as he is only too weak for the life which runs through him or the affects which pass in him. To write has no other function: to be a flux which combines with other fluxes — all the minority-becomings of the world.
— Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues II
I have effectively taken my first day off in two weeks today. I have been working intensely, although I know I’ve spent more money doing so than I’ll make from the effort.
Back in mid-February, I asked ChatGPT who I am and I found the answer it gave oddly inspiring. It attributed a book to me that I had not written, but I took this to be an eerie encounter, and have since planned to pervert the error into a hyperstition. The book, as described, is something I could have written, and in some ways already have written. It felt like a summary of this blog, and so inadvertently provided a scaffolding around which I hope to build a new book. I’m already some 40k words in and very happy with what I have so far.
But then I felt weird about not writing on the blog too much of late. Between Narcissus in Bloom (now properly finished, heading off to print in a month’s time for an August 8th release date), my PhD and now this new procrastination project, I have had no reason to.
Once upon a time, I used to get very neurotic about posting regularly on the blog, and did so with such intensity that I gather no one could keep up and eventually stopped trying to. I stopped caring about that at some point. At first I thought I was neurotically preoccupied with generating content. Then I realised I would write so much just to feel alive. Or not alive, but to demonstrate to myself, more than anyone, that I was surviving. Those months during which I wrote the most were the months when I felt most scared and insecure.
Writing gets me through the day.
When I do write, I write in public — outside pubs or coffee shops or on the blog. Better the street than the corner of the cafe or the library, back turned on the world. It is all the more grounding to write in the midst of things, chatting to people who come and go, never minding the interruption, becoming known locally, not so much as a name but as a constant presence, my drink orders recognised. There are probably five or six different places in this city where I could get away with just saying, “The usual, please!” It lets me know where all my money is going, that I’m probably drinking too much since I moved out, but the cost of feeling seen is worth it, rather than becoming invisible, or worse still, relying on an irreal social-media presence. That’s a surefire way to catch brainworms.
All of this gives the impression that I’m active, sociable, a part of the world around me. But there’s no ignoring the fact that I still spend the vast majority of my time alone.
I had a conversation with two friends in the pub a few weeks back. We were exchanging notes on how we feel about our own productivity, our own potentials. A story is shared about writing so furiously, in the midst of a relationship, such that the relationship itself suffers. It felt all too familiar. But rather than take this as a failure of character, it feels better right now — for me at least — to write as much as possible and affirm the drive, to give myself over to the compulsion and get to work, to get it out of my system maybe, so that one day, when I can’t comprehend the idea of writing any more, I might finally be able to give myself over to a life shared with someone else
But at the moment, I’m not sure how I’ll ever give it up. Not having the words to describe experiences is a horror I daren’t think about.
It was as if I had lost language / been forced / to the outer edge of words
Left with a body that even Antigone
would refuse to hold in her arms
I am reading Aftermath by Preti Taneja at the moment and the opening chapter resonates but lightly, a reflection on trauma that has all the weight of experience but the lightness of words.
I stick a bright orange post-it tab against the lines above, leaving too long a tail for my liking. I moved it, but the ink hardly sits on the page. The word “had” if left faint, the post-it taking a layer of signification off with it, now floating in the space between paragraphs.
In moments of deep loss we become as children, trained to seek comfort in the old fairy tales: the fundamental good versus the fundamental evil. We crave the redemptive hope of the hero’s journey in the old tradition of linear story from when we are born we are immersed in this the dominant mythic; we wait for someone to deliver us
An epigraph for my PhD if ever there was one. An epitaph for life more generally.
I moved out of a shared flat at the end of February and am now occupying a friend’s spare room. I am living out of bags, with the rest of my stuff in storage. “Functionally homeless.”
I am glad to have a roof over my head but it is only temporary. I have three bags with me — one for a few books (mostly Deleuze) and my laptop; two for clothes and daily ephemera. I feel constantly unmoored and struggle to relax into things. It’s partly why I no longer live where I used to. I think it is difficult to live with someone so constantly if quietly on edge. I don’t know how to feel safe anywhere. It’s exhausting.
Since moving out, nothing has worked out as I hoped it would. I apply for flats but get rejected from each one. It is like applying for a job, playing a numbers game of persistent applications for various houses, some wanted and some not, in the blind hope that one will pay off. The pressure of unemployment rubs up against the general cost of living, as does the pressure of homelessness, even as a technicality. I have the money (just) to live somewhere, if “somewhere” should become available. But even without rent and bills to pay, limbo is expensive. I’m worried I won’t be able to afford my storage lot long-term.
The stress is constant, like a low hum, but it is manageable. I keep myself busy with work in between crises.
I go for lunch with a new friend on campus and leave feeling like they already had an innate sense of how much we had in common. Our experiences are so similar, but they have clearly put more time into coming to terms with their own. We talk about queerness, negotiating non-binary identities and transitioning, as well as displaced children — my PhD topic — and how we find the right language to talk about certain experiences that feel ever-present but under-represented (or otherwise represented poorly).
I’m struck, at first, by how eloquent they are. They describe their own feelings and experiences in ways that resonate deeply with mine, but which I’ve never known how to put into words. It’s a problem that I feel on so many levels. Whereas I jot down thousands of words on this blog, each sketching a broad and general outline of a feeling, they condense things down into a few conversational sentences. And they are a scientist, not a writer. I am left wondering if writing is such a compulsion precisely because I don’t have the words. I simply try them all.
“You’re just a canny lad who finds life hard.” An observation that has haunted me for nine months now, back when it all started to go wrong.
I think back to last year’s intense period of blogging all the time, when it was uncertain to friends and readers — as well as to myself — whether this flare-up of intensity was a product of an unwell mind or a life raft amidst the turmoil.
I think it was both. Friends, who I was living with, were torn. They didn’t know whether to let me read certain books or have open access to my laptop. A couple of things were confiscated, if memory serves. But over time, as they realised they could not keep me from reading and writing, there was a begrudging acceptance to see where things would lead.
I remember Tariq especially, over email, at first being worried by the excessively public self-exposure of my own struggles, but later found a sensitivity on display that he believed was healing — and so did I.
Was I digging down deeper into some sort of morbid self-pity or excavating the crash site? Without intending to, I think I provided some anecdotal evidence for the thesis of my next book.
A depressively narcissistic tendency digs deep down into the ego — which is unable to think and talk and complain about anything other than itself — before smashing through to the other side, creating some kind of wormhole out the back way.
I remember Tariq suggesting that this is an unfortunate tendency at work in so many writers, who needn’t be figures as grand as those Deleuze admires. We talked about Mark a lot. A sensitivity to the world can be precisely what leads one to a cloistered world of words. But this is not to escape reality; rather, it is to let it permeate in a way that lightens the weight of the Ego.
In much the same way, for Deleuze, “the aim of writing is to carry life to the stage of a non-personal power.” No one who truly writes, writes in order to be known. You write to alleviate the pressure of a self. To impersonalise what is felt so personally. It is a hard task to accomplish, requiring a constant shifting of that same weight. It is a profound discomfort. But writing allows you to set the weight down, objectify it, other it, allow yourself to sketch it as something that does not smother you. Not to pursue the Sisyphean labour of rolling it around but letting it settle in its place and find a beauty in its contours.
This is not the same as a narcissistic preoccupation, though it can often look similar. The writer is instead, Deleuze continues, “the opposite of the neurotic: a sort of great Alive … in so far as he is only too weak for the life which runs through him or for the affects which pass in him.” At my most narcissistic (at least in a negative sense), I give up on writing and berate myself for a sensitivity that makes the daily drudgery of life such a hard and exhausting thing to manage and content with. I don’t know how other people do it.
At least I can write though, I tell myself. At least I have that. When all else is lost, stored away, sold off, without a home or the first idea of how to make a new one, I’ll always have paper and a pen (I hope).