A Mind in Relief

Writing is perhaps the last best way to give broad thought form, for the mind itself can hardly extend its grasp beyond the singular detail drawing its attention just right now, though it sense at the periphery the many nebulous associations it provokes. Limited by its own power of mobile concentration, the mind does not, cannot stablize what it grasps; it can only dance around rippling circles of sense, meeting the tiny waves gingerly and purposefully, smoothing some and roughing up others, while the liquid itself is wicked away by time, lost between the fleeting fathom of the dance. By contrast, a written text, by dint of its basic inertia, can hold frozen an almost endless number of instances at attention, ideally in their most becoming flourishes and postures, approximating a photo album of the mind’s best takes. It lets stills lie flat together as on a contact sheet, concealing the chaos of the mind’s frenetic snap, the wild dilations of its aperture. Then, in the darkroom of editing, where zooming reigns, the developed captures can be enlarged, cropped, stitched, collaged, colored, rearranged, etc. Thus is the influence between each element made continuous, text-flow matched to thought-flow, though they be incompatible. An illusion as regards the mind’s process, it nonetheless renders the truth of its labor concrete in the lasting, legible form of a writing, accessible to any mind that can read and think.

Because the mind’s activity is necessarily in rapid dispersal, darting at slants and diffracting its energy around myriad thought-bulbs, it is essential that it leave footprints everywhere, shades of its arrows. It must pour out inscriptions at a breakneck pace, lest it lose heart in the endless race, or persuade itself it is winning. Without these pathmarks, these “facts” of thinking–detailed attention distilled into attentive details that can be grasped–the mind has only its own useless pride, built upon a heritage of errors. Pride deludes the mind into thinking it could stand up on its own, without the thousandfold externalized supplement; that it has a substance of its own to call home or defend, an inside or a depth dignified in itself; that it could retain something apart from its own refinement process, its labor on the details, which has only an outward face. Those who esteem their mind with pride accomplish little, believing there is something essential to it “behind” the accidents it handles. But the mind is not found in the abstract dimension of Self, where every shoot is stunted by an identity poisoning the roots; it abhors ambitions that only claw at importance and recognition, that fantasize about grand ideas too good for spadework. No, it is only between the lines–in the lining of a sequence that is yet to be sequenced through–that mind occurs. Outside of its work on the materials, its pursuit of breakthroughs and follow-ups, there is only a delusion of intelligence and its dead letter–half-hearted efforts and half-assed conclusions. Anyone satisfied thus, with verdicts and vindications, is doomed to a lifeless winter, however much fame they might accrue; while others, scared off by the bombast and conceit, default into an anxiety that paralyzes and postpones even further the fresh, inaugural gesture of writing proper, where the mind is activated by what could be, not what is. Faith must back this invisible wager, must testify to the truth the process engages, lest the mind seek itself in products and freeze.

And so, when seeking new details in uncharted territories, the mind can only really trust its orienteering gear, its nose and charting skill, its compass of intuition and will. From  maps of adventures it has already plotted, it reads off the mystery of its own search and desire, the unfinished history that makes possible its future. Relying on its native audacity, using references like walking sticks collected along the way–or whittled into masterpieces when fatigue made new hikes impossible–, the mind grows page by page in curiosity and skill, extending its exploration confidently, free from the past steps it loves to leave behind thankfully. Its gratitude for its “text”–rethought here as the tactile texture of the spirit in which it moves and lives–is an appreciation of its “death”–rethought here as the line of departure, infinite and without closure, that the mind’s massive journey represents to the world. Nothing static, no established sense, ever comes out of this; only the spark to venture farther into the distance that its love opens up to the incommensurable, which the mind only ever comprehends by overflowing itself. Though these concrete traces make up the framework of every move, the mind forgets them effortlessly, glued to the detail it can only just now pursue, and to the rhythm its pursuit composes–the new trail.

The work of the mind is entirely in these steps, in the quiet crunch of the traveler’s evanescence. In the physical effort each step takes and in the physical mark each step makes, we find the only manifestation of the mind’s roving span. Should we then think that broadness in thought is measured by the volume of traces? Or by the weight of their imprint, the stack of the maps? These would be superficial indicators. Mass is more an effect of time’s stretch than of mental sharpness, which on the contrary knows precisely how to strip time’s mass away, or to approach every volume through the weightless; this is in order to do justice to thought’s inherent liquidity, which is also its innocence. In any given moment, there is but a taste of the mind’s future consummation, when the climax of epiphany will pervade the whole human fabric. Besides, no mind has ever comprehended the “scope” of a thought at once, or ever. Such all-encompassing views are the province of illusory sovereigns who dread losing control over their domain; whereas the mind remains a wanderer in both foreign and familiar territory, content to bring to each encounter a humble tone, a word of insight, a knowing smile or a bit of laughter. The grace of its minor gestures relieves it of the pressure to own, impose, prove, or attain. Lightness is its only moniker, for it reports on time’s forgiveness, the mind’s ability to regain innocence after so many enslavements, and to let things be other than they have been.

Upon closer inspection, then, nearly everything but the presently swimming memory is lost to oblivion, and it is only with the support of a technical apparatus that all the lost pieces gather together. But through its patient work on the paper trail, the mind can make a force of this oblivion–not to master it, but to liberate it from the despair of its limitation, its inevitable incompleteness. In this act, memory embraces oblivion as essential to its own chance, since without it it would be stuck in what was, in a chain of consequences. If the mind could not let go of its mappings, it would be a trap, a prison. It would be confused with the object, monument or shelter that lends it concrete manifestation, which it needs but which never equals it. The mind’s act–equaling, essentially, zero, the void without which no inspired construction is possible–has to be in excess of the memorable, since otherwise memory would be no more than an account of facts, an adherence to the state of the situation. It would lose its redemptive impulse: to ensure that the memory in creation is not just welcoming of past traces, but generative of future ones that will soon come to reerase and reframe those past. Despite the finite evidence that the mind leaves in its wake, with each stroke it affirms this actual infinity, the passion of its escape velocity, which is its gift to humanity. Broadness of thought can only be gauged by reengaging the mind’s own broadening effort to think, and that takes all of us, our ardor and our patience. Only by binding and releasing detail after detail does the mind prepare its resting place, wherein its absurd destiny is perceived: to dwell in the majestic present of thinking.

The above presents one impression of the crucial link between thinking and writing. Specifically, it explicates imagistically the following belief: that the process of composing a text is inseparable from the idea that later turns out to be contained within it, when for example someone else reads it in search of its meaning or message. The latter can never be known beforehand by the writer, nor the idea had outside its active pursuit in novel expressions. It is my belief that this discovery opens thought not only to a new dimension of productivity, but confers upon its products the one factor that justifies them, outside of the aesthetic satisfactions they may provide, namely, their claim to participate in Truth.

Writing is too often seen as no more than an instrument, a sort of raw material to be refined in a production process. This “commercial” view of language is hard to combat (it amounts to the extraction of surplus value from silence). But if one sets out to do more than just communicate ideas, it becomes immediately clear that writing is a constant give and take. Far more often than not it is language which guides, even dictates the train of thought. Granted, this insight itself can be abused and exploited (for it is dreadfully hard work to resist commercialization, even the best succumb to it), but nonetheless it holds: if language is not encountered–wrestled, fought, disputed, charmed, embraced, all the violence and tenderness of love–, thought loses the verve of its thread.

When it comes to the broadness of a thought, then, there is a necessary extension of “textual work” that corresponds to it, both in the page and in the head, but better both at once inseparably. This doesn’t mean you start writing long essays (volume is irrelevant except that one needs it to see how the mind pierces it), but that the experiment enters fully into contact with the materiality of language (including, encompassing, and exceeding that of concepts). If words don’t surprise us in this process, little comes out that is invigorating and new, even if many great points are made. Whereas there is a natural spreading out of the point that reveals its hidden features, and this constitutes the expanse of writing, which thus equals the discovery of the actual point.

The paradox is that the mind, stricken to its intemporal and aspatial instanteity, remains point-like in its essence. It cannot help but turn the expanse of writing into a point to be grasped and penetrated. It sees in each phrase, punctuation, word, a choice to be made: leave it or change it, consent to what’s been said or listen for it again. Despite what the final product suggests in terms of its stability (it is static, written down, no one sees the thousand maneuvers behind it, and so on), the mind’s intuition is nearly always to come at each point with any eye to change: to render more elegant, authentic, truthful. Otherwise, the “voice” of the piece, abandoned mid-expression, never attains the response destined for it, and thought comes to rest prematurely before it even knows what is at stake. Of course, it is right that thought rest, but only when its work is done—when language itself has come to rest such that it transports us, at each point, us to the “majestic present of thinking,” or of knowing-in-action: not the possession of a subject who knows, but as the status of the artefact as such when it is capable of encoding the inexhaustible potency of the generic intellect and a latent awakening of thought in common.

Relief is thus to be taken in two senses, which language suggests make one: writing as thought’s landing pad, its deep breath after a turbulent journey, its coming home safe, its “resting place”; and writing as the lay of the very land thought lands on, not just the map or record of the journey, but even more the topology of mind itself, of its vision stretched out, where it touches down and its touching down, kneaded together in a landscape others can travel, experience, explore. A text is the dynamic “echocardiogram” of a mind, a rechord that, attesting for all to the good fight it fought, relieves its life of its fear of loss, while putting that loss fully in relief–a relief that death could never take away.

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6 Responses to A Mind in Relief

  1. N Filbert says:

    Tremendous. Thank you

  2. N Filbert says:

    Reblogged this on Aporias and commented:
    I bow, assenting and supporting…

  3. Rex Styzens says:

    I especially enjoyed the surprise at the end. While you make us, readers, work, it is well worth it.

    • tmlavenz says:

      Thanks Rex. I added an Addendum to the text, which I actually wrote afterwards as an introduction to the post. Mostly a recapitulation, but I thought I would let you know. Hope your studies are going well. I am on my first read-through of Augustine’s Confessions, and I’m reading a book by Jean-Louis Chretien, whose books are translated into English and who I would really recommend to you. Aside from that, still reading up on Paul, while the work of Alain Badiou remains my current extended-term reading (his book on Paul, by the way, is fantastic, and not only because it is a great intro to his own work).
      Take care,

  4. Rex Styzens says:

    Thanks for the background. I recall a reference to Chretien in Derrida’s book on Nancy that, as I remember, was both admiring and critical. I have read two of Badiou’s books (not on Paul) and was turned off by his quanitification claims, but that’s just not my thing. I have read two of Judith Butler’s books recently. I read them quickly and intend to keep going back to them. She writes with the same kind of carefulness that you do.

  5. Pingback: Musings on Writing | fragilekeys

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