Sunday, 24 August 2014

To express is to say too much

There’s a question that we need to ask: why do we write? Not why do we produce marks on paper, but more deeply, why do we give form to that which preceded writing? What makes it so important to give up subjectivity in the name of the objective?

“I need to tell a story. It’s an obsession. Each story is a seed inside me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumor, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.” (Isabel Allende)

There’s a sore in us

Writing is a form of expression. And expression is a pressing-out, a putting-into-words. Expression is the manifestation of something that started as entirely interior, unknown to the outside: the privacy of thought. Expression, therefore, means putting an end to the life of that purely internal state. There has to be pain involved in this, because ‘inner life’ is us. Breaking up with us must by necessity produce some kind of wound; a wound which is, therefore, the direct consequence of expression.
Speaking of this conjures up the work of Emil Cioran – his philosophy of intense subjectivity and of the despair that comes with having reached the limits of life. Cioran doesn’t find much excitement in the manifested soul. Display, to him, is an infertile exercise, aimed not towards the self but towards the social world.
“Wouldn’t it be more creative simply to surrender to our inner fluidity without any intention of objectifying it, intimately and voluptuously soaking in our own inner turmoil and struggle?”
It’s hard to give an answer to this question, because the truly subjective are silent, while those who have surrendered to the argument of expression have done so without knowing what lies beyond the point of their yielding.


Being lyrical

But we can read ahead. For Cioran, the expressive drive is one that animates the weak soul (“To be lyrical means you cannot stay closed inside yourself”), as well as the practical soul, which finds in objectivity salvation:
“There are experiences and obsessions one cannot live with. Salvation lies in confessing them. The terrifying experience of death, when preserved in consciousness, becomes ruinous. If you talk about death, you save part of your self. But at the same time, something of your real self dies, because objectified meanings lose the actuality they have in consciousness.”
Not only does the writer (any writer, all writers) give in to the pressure of the internal excess, he also gives in to the even more demeaning force of social distinction. We write because there’s a need for an audience in us.

The I-write-for-myself argument doesn't stand. It has never, it will never. Because writing is not an internal action; not like thinking. Writing is external, exhibitionist, boastful. We cry from not being able to write; we feel sick. If we want humbleness and humility (and a certain health of the soul) we take to the desert; we become anchorites; we reject writing, we embrace the chaos of subjectivity, and sanctify our lives through illiteracy. Here, Cioran is right. To write means to transform an ideatic mal-formation into a material orderliness: the hidden thought made to shine on the stage of the white page.

The jungle of our thoughts

The thoughts that inhabit us are never symmetrical, never beautiful in the sense of the classical orders, never polished or chiseled or rounded at the corners, never ready-to-eat. In thinking, we know no straight lines. Trajectories are impossible to trace, not least because it would be impractical to attempt such an exercise. Where there are only thoughts, there’s only chaos. That’s why we find it difficult to stop them from progressing haphazardly.
What’s equally significant is that our thoughts are never visible to others. We can be exceptional jungles of ideas and that wouldn't show on our faces. We need to cut a highway through this jungle in order to license the access of others to the tremendous storehouses of wisdom and beauty growing inside us. It is the cutting of this highway (the necessity we feel to do so) that makes apparent our need for a lyrical manifestation. Lyricism is ex-pression. It brings out a tension built within our souls.
Cioran would have opted for a life of perpetual intensity. “I am: therefore the world is meaningless,” he shouts. That, of course, is a life of madness – in the sense in which all madness is the refusal to become social, public, visible, consumable, objectified, depersonalised, conventionalized, expressed, written. Refuse all this, Cioran suggests, and you will experience an incredible inner growth, where every new event is an addition, and every progression is progression towards death. But, he concludes, there are very few humans capable to survive this intensity.
“If you go on living, you do so only through your capacity for objectification, your ability to free yourself, in writing, from the infinite strain. Creativity is a temporary salvation from the claws of death.”
So, to answer the question asked in the beginning, we write, according to Cioran, because we must save our souls from the pain of pure subjectivity. We do so by ushering our ideas into the world. But, unfortunately, the (social) world is where diamonds are turned into mere pebbles. In the words of Nietzsche:
“Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it even becometh populace.”

Relieving the burden

From the above, I draw the conclusion that one’s affair with writing is also one of self-betrayal. Cioran would probably find cowardice in the decision to write.
We write because we can’t resist the pressure.
We write because we are afraid we might explode.
We write because we think others will fail to see the writer in us; so we give them the heads up.
We write because there’s a worm in us gnawing at our intestines, demanding that we brag about the knowledge we possess.
There’s a joke about all this:
A man shipwrecked on a desert island, in the sole company of Claudia Schiffer [the name can be replaced with the name of any other belle-de-jour – it doesn’t really matter]. They live together on this island, un-rescued, undisturbed, for a long time. Gradually, things start developing between them, and they get to physical intimacies. They become lovers. They lead a life of sexual bliss, and the man is beside himself with joy: he’s managed to do what other men wouldn’t even dare to dream. Then, one day, he catches the proverbial gold fish, and he gets to express his more ardent desire. Without blinking, he asks the fish to produce a man. And when the man is brought about, the protagonist goes straight to him and bursts out: “Hey, you know what I’m doing? I’m fucking Claudia Schiffer.”
This is a very Cioranian joke. The need to tell the other about one’s singular experience causes output and, at the same time, triviality. Every output is triviality, to be honest. Every time something’s written down, something goes missing in the paradise of ideas. To be expressive one needs to sign a Mephistophelian pact. One needs to lose one’s soul in order to slip into the world of letters, and then to inhabit it wholeheartedly.
“And to subscribe thy name thou’lt take a drop of blood,” Goethe’s Faust is informed moments before he gives himself away.

Nietzsche again:
“Who among you can at the same time laugh and be exalted?”
This is the tragic condition of the man shipwrecked in the company of Claudia Schiffer. In order to enjoy that sexual nirvana he needs to remain incapable of laughter; to experience the miracle as ache. His singular enjoyment is painful because it knows no output. But once there’s light, once the pact has been signed (isn’t the gold fish just another Mephistophelian creature that promises in order to take the bliss away?) laughter is possible.
But alas, with it the exaltation is gone.