Monday, 30 March 2015

To be anxious about writing

Writing appears at the intersection between desire and anxiety. On the one hand there’s the desire to write; a desire to produce signs and, with signs, meanings. On the other hand, though, a strong trepidation accompanies the act of writing. While writing, the writer is aware that he/she is situated within an environment that preceded their coming into existence as writers, or their coming into existence full stop. 

Source: Fine Art America
Writing is possible, I would say, only in the stressful conditions of a precedent that owns the field and dictates the rules of engagement.


The production of signs does not happen in a vacuum. I can never honestly declare that what I have said or written is devoid of any collateral implications. What’s more, the thing that lies there, on a piece of paper or hanging in the air over the heads of my audience, cannot be said to be the result of an independent mind, or of a talent that stands on its own. Producing signs is, perhaps, a wrong phrase to use in relation to a creative undertaking. Re-producing is a much better way of putting the problem. When I write, I recycle modes of writing, techniques, genres, rhetorical imperatives, theoretical affordances, ways of putting the problem, ways of asking questions, ways of presenting an interiority that is otherwise invisible to the outside. All these things were already there, way before my decision to write. They were there, produced by others, many of whom will forever be anonymous to me, but who have contributed, through their concerted efforts, to the creation of an ecosystem of precedences which surfaces every now and then in the form of cliches, commonplaces, platitudes, apophtegms and aphorisms. Here, among the illustrious precedents (always illustrious, because always made to shine by those who take precedence as a matter of adoration), the writer is made to realize this unequivocal truth of re-production: their writing has already had a life in a past that informs the present. And so, no act of writing can escape the persecution of the precursor. The one who came before is a subject better situated in relation to the production of signs, and that is simply due to the chronological advantage of having been there before. 
Because of this persecution of precedence (or “anxiety of influence,” as Harold Bloom would have it), writing is often experienced as a form of self-mutilation. In order to produce the simplest text, one does violence to one’s self. One forces the self to take up roles that do not belong to the self but to external factors: cultural paradigms, ideological injunctions, rules of social circulation, in short: the semantics of everything. And in order for all this to happen, the self has to go through painful metamorphoses. From the mirror stage onward, the self is constantly subjected to cosmetic surgeries. These operations readjust the morphology of the self so as to make it match the external conditions. The truth of the matter is that, in order to be a self, one needs to be a multitude: the expression of everything already expressed, and which is being reproduces through the act of writing.  

The corralling of language 

But writing cannot go naked in the world. That would be a perversion. Free writing is perverse in the most etymological sense of the word; in the sense that it is inverted, that it goes against the grain. Free writing, the way the Surrealists, for instance, imagined it, upsets terribly the disciplines of writing. It does so because the text generated by these means is almost impossible to read. Now of course, what I mean here is that the structure of writing (which is an ordering of language) requires us to do things. This structure demands compliance with its pre-existent pattern. Writing is a series of patterns created so as to assure that all future forms of writing are recognizable. One might be able to detect an ideology of writing behind this statement. Ideologies are, at a fundamental level, systems of forced reconciliation between the strictures of a system and the natural propensity of the elements in that system to go about haphazardly, so to speak; to roam freely the green pastures of the pre-systematization. All elements in a system are, prior to their affiliation to that structure, well... unaffiliated. Their lack of affiliation would be, if we were to think in terms of freedom, the tendency of those elements to act outside the system. 
Unsystematized objects are objects without a class. But this classification made possible by expression (writing et al), this bringing of objects to a common denominator, can only take place through an act of violence. 

Source: Modern Notion
Systematization means taming. The animals roaming the green pastures are corralled into an enclosure where their access to their former freedom is no longer possible. That is what happens at the moment of writing as well. If we do understand writing as the taming of language. 
Writing is language written down, language forced into the strictures of inscriptions (representability, categorization, grammar, punctuation, etc. etc.) Language, in its non-written version, doesn’t consider grammatical appropriateness as significant. It doesn’t consider it at all. 
Imagine an animal which has never experienced the reality of an enclosure! 
To keep within the field of zoological illustrations, let’s say that taming by means of structure is not unlike the quasi-scientific anecdote of the golden fish that is released from its bowl. When allowed to swim freely in a pond (so the anecdote goes), the fish will keep swimming in tight circles, unaware of the vastness that’s surrounding it. This example stands to illustrate that habituation to the confinements of systems is quasi-permanent. Of course, it doesn’t mean that liberation is impossible. There will always be escapees, runaways, deserters. But awareness of the very possibility of freedom is limited by the habit of living inside a confinement. That’s why those jailbreakers and runaways are so few. 
Once corralled, I would say, one belongs in the corral. 


Now we need to agree that the corral is not perceived as a problem by just about anybody. On the contrary, most of the people who write (who use inscription in its pragmatic forms) will have no clue that writing can imprison. Form-filling, box-ticking, assignment-writing, do cause anxiety, but this anxiety is of a different type, of a different level of magnitude. One that leaves no scars. 
It these cases, it is not the inscription that causes the psychotic event but the consequences that derive from that inscription. In other words, the anxiety comes after writing, not before it. Have I done the right thing? Have I ticked the right boxes? These are customary questions experienced by writers of this kind. 

Source: National Geographic
But the other type of anxiety I have in mind, the one I’ve been talking about here, is the anxiety that comes with creative writing. When writing happens under the auspices of a creative imperative, the writer becomes aware of the environment of their own inscription, and they become aware of it before the inscription has materialized. A creative writer writes knowing that they are operating in a field where things have been done before, things that are now limiting the range of possibilities. Once Anna Karenina was written, it cannot be written again. Not in the same way, not by using the same succession of words. By contrast, the filling of forms and the writing of assignments depend precisely on repeatability. Writing the same words does not constitute a problem. Producing the same signs is the rule. It does not hurt at all to walk in the footsteps of a predecessor.