Wanting In Truth
February 4, 2018
I am entering yet again a phase in which I can only survey all my previous philosophical sympathies as “wrong, wrong, wrong,” with a rather ponderous shake of the head. This has happened enough by now that at least I’m not surprised. But I do recognize in these moments the drawbacks and even the fallacy of my general approach, about which I offer here a few meditations, with a silent note of thanks to colleagues and friends who’ve helped bring all this into greater focus for me.
The tension lies between my practical need to believe in the truth, goodness, or beauty of the form of thought I am currently ‘following’; and the inadequacies and shortcomings that always show through, once followed far. It is not enough for me to give disinterested surveys or discover basic problems to study. I enjoy too much the specificity and singularity of a given model, which, if I’m following it, I want to honor and replicate. I feel inside I must become an advocate, tell a persuasive story, and show the appeal of this particular way of looking at things, of thought and expression. Formerly, I might have said I cannot understand something without writing about it, but this isn’t exactly true. Rather, I write about it to clarify to myself why it is relevant to consider at all. Indeed, to make clear why it could seduce me, and in the process of that clarification perhaps seduce others.
Without meaning to cast my procedure in an entirely negative light, my efforts in retrospect are predominately ‘rhetorical’, borrowing the style of the thinking at hand and making it my own in the process of rearticulating or reactivating it. The result is that my treatments very often lack criticality. Instead, I dwell inside the model, run with it positively as far as I can go, not looking back lest my writing arm freeze into a pillar of salt. I play within the model and its terms, mix it in with other resources, infuse it with my own explicit or secret intentions, knowing that nothing I say aims to the absolute but only the exploratory and experimental.
Evidently, the belief never holds for long, and perhaps my trusting sojourn in its territory provokes the growing disillusionment. Sooner or later, a point comes when the limitations and biases of the model show themselves wanting in truth. This leads to outward disagreements and inner disavowals, a disappointment or even an embarrassment with the work I’ve done and the recklessness with which I’ve undertaken it. It is a point of doubt and then abandonment, like waking from a powerful spell and then fleeing the chamber where the magic happened. Then, I am so impatient to find something new to follow that the desire to return critically to old material does not occur to me. Or perhaps it is a matter of boredom creeping in to render the former love and fidelity stale. At any rate, the practical demand of work demands impetus and horizon, so if one well has gone dry, another must be sought out. It is not a matter of fetishizing variety, but of craving the absolute, though I know there is none—lest it be fabricated momentarily by this hand whose own belief in it it thwarts.
The consolation, less and less satisfying, is then to be found only in the ‘way’, the long-term trajectory I can only hope is leading somewhere despite all the detours and turns. I am not in the habit of rejecting anything I’ve written, but I also end up lacking perspective on the value of any of it, just as if I didn’t care or it didn’t exist for me. To put an affirmative spin on it, concrete products are merely “the ashes of a vital praxis,” as Agamben puts it; as good as nonentity, if not evil encumbrance. At the same time, because ‘following’ applies to my life as much as to my work―I shall not divide love from knowledge―, a feeling of having gotten nowhere, of having solidified nothing, is regular. Indeed, that I lack my own convictions; that I’m opportunistically building on things without enough reflection and distance; that I’m not situating anything properly in known contexts; that I’m not strong enough to follow something through to the end. The inquiry then appears to turn entirely upon passions and flights of imagination. I am aware of how all this could then appear, and perhaps could be: little more than a hobby, a series of personal projects almost not intended for anybody, save for me, in whom the entire endeavor is consumed or, as I fancy it, ruined.
My point here is not to earn encouragements, but to frame a problem I have a hard time even calling a problem. This is more a confession of floating in an empty space of emotion and mentality in which nothing I’ve said up to now seems to hold or needs to. Most of it I do not remember, nor feel obligated to stick to, unless it supplements a new excursion. Where is it anyhow, if not vanished in the virtual? At the same time, I cherish jealously the whole process, as if it were inseparable from myself. I take every discussion of approach and fundamental stands personally and fight for them as for my form-of-life. For I believe above all—and perhaps here I betray my core ‘following’—in the fluidity of writing itself, in the surprise of the unexpected voice that rises from the unfinished lines I crave. In poetry, if that is what is. For better or worse, I’m describing a ‘desiring-machine’ in my life whose fuel and engine sustain themselves quite on their own, somewhat impervious to suggestion and feedback, including my own, without any exclusive priority on content, though obviously I am far from indifferent to what I say. It is a compulsion to enter a creative space where I might be graced an utterance I never planned and which, departing from whatever I think I know, nonetheless embraces all the loose ends of my thought in a credible construction whose ultimate lesson, despite its shortcomings, is love. The prospect that I am deluded about all of this is insuperable.
Where truth is always wanting, always begging the sentence to differ, the scene is one of fickle beliefs and touchy directions threatened by imminent abandon or an immediate about-face. In the past, I might have fancied this a virtue, but sometimes now it strikes me as vice, excuse, or evasion. And yet, barring the appearance of something that could be followed and lived out without reservations, I don’t see this how this could change. I imagine in the end ‘being a writer’ means just this for me: with blindness and naivety to strike out with hope into language a few sketches of existence that may be believed, but never demand a following, not even on my part. There is freedom in that, but also dissatisfaction. And although I am far from illogical or random in my understanding and organizing of things, whether my inquiries adhere to any standard of philosophical or academic proof, rigor, balance, objectivity, or fairness, I highly doubt. Does it matter? So nags conscience: creation is good, but all hitherto held views are “wrong, wrong, wrong.” Engage overwrite protocol…