Gauging Traction

There was no life you could live out to its end
No attitude which, in the end, could save you.
—John Ashbery

People are or act. From these primary modalities of being and action “outflow” certain words, ideas, images, diagrams, and so on. Being in action is a passion. What a person “distributes” into the world through their being and action: these are the marks of a passion – or a lack of it.

Prior to being and action, however, perhaps, there is “response.” In some sense, even prior to being, before we “are”, we are called out, called up. Set on fire like a candle before it gives any light. We are in an event of address. Our lives are in large part a response to what has occurred to us, what has befallen us – what inflated us with oxygen, made as float, as well as what has burned us and left our wings singed. The actions and words that accumulate to make us who we “are,” but these are the outflow of a responsiveness. Response to the rumblings of our bodies, its contact and distance with others. Response to gazes, voices, gestures. Response to events inside and outside. Response to what we have learned. Response to what is cruel and unjust. Response to dreams that conflict with life and life that conflicts with dreams. Response to illness and death. Response – need it be said – to everything. Whether or not it enters our conscious register, what the body calls the world is an accumulations of touches – soft touches, uncomfortable touches, spiritual touches, sexual touches, indifferent touches, empty touches. A circuit of being touched by the other and responding to the other constitutes our being, drives our acts. Our response to all this is our passion – our “suffering” of what touches us, our pathos and pathology, our emotion.

This touch comes “before” subjectivity builds an idea about it; before it represents an “outside” that touches an “inside,” or another touching it. Subjectivity helps stabilize a certain relation to the chaos of touches. But the subject, the sub-jectum, is not what underlies all the touches. It is what undergoes it. It lies beneath, not as foundation or substrate, but as that which is bowled over by what comes.

The subject is passion itself insofar as it manifests in a communicable way. It is not what says “I”, not the ego or its ego, not a representation of who one is. The subject is what slips underneath. It is the impasse in being that never ceases to be touched – some would say divided and cut – by the Real, where the Real is the disruptive and incomplete “totality” of touches, the Texture as such. The subject never comes to “be,” and yet it is never exempt from the metaphorical movement of coming-to-be. And so it desires and speaks…

Words are a primary element of our response. There is a reason antique humanity came up with the combination: “thought, word, and deed.” Everything in a life is inextricable.
And yet, for the most part, no one pays attention to our words except for those who “love” us in some way. Those who have some interest in responding and continuing to respond. Those whom, for whatever reason, our words touch.
If a word does not touch, it is nothing.

That words and ideas and images feed back upon being and action is obvious.

Witness only how ideology moves people to political and religious fervor; how value systems determine peoples morals and goals; how just a word can trigger our sensitivities and upset our course; how a conversation can change our mind; how we mind our secrets and silence; how we censor our dreams and shield deep regions of our psyche from everyone; how we find ourselves aggravated without cause; how new conceptions of things inaugurate new fields of creativity; how an invention changes the world; how we find in ourselves vows and aspirations that haunt us; how one profound meeting can overturn a whole life; how we carry with us all the traces of our response, of the love and lack of love we have lived.

We are fully in the ruptures and rivets of the symbolic. To try to escape it would just mean tearing a hole through it, which would leave a mark just the same.

Escape and the impossibility of escape: we can never, must never choose between these two.

Neither gnostic nor worldling, neither withdrawn nor immersed, neither rejection nor acquiescence, neither to condemn nor condone.

Our attitude to our time not only oscillates but straddles two worlds: the primordial one marked by a fundamental freedom-from, a time of birth without past; and the extant world with its laws, rules, grammar, structures, our ties and memories.

The fact of suffocating and the resurgent gasp for breath: these coincide in the metaphor of coming-to-be.

To treat words as fixed referents is the obsession of the imaginary, the fixation on meaning or withdrawn meanings, that leads to submission, fear, clogged arteries, linguistic habit, reliance on presupposition, and so on: everything that jams the contact, reduces the touch to a data point, turns the passion of the subject into a management of objects whatever they may be.

I have deep reference for words. I believe they have an intelligence all their own. But it is an intelligence of a movement of writing, not that of reference and imposition.

In prose like this, one always has the feeling a corner is being cut. A reference is too much assumed; a position too much taken; a viewpoint too much asserted. Writing – rooting itself in the passion of being – is interminable because of the feeling that one must wipe that excess certainty out, efface those traces with new ones, modify without trajectory, reject every appearance of belief. Obliterate whatever one could hold on to. Smash the entire conception to pieces.

Put otherwise, the “signified” must enter back into play at each fold. More strongly, the signified cannot even be treated like one, as if it were autonomous out there, distinct from writing – as if the system of textuality had a clear “outside” no matter the name we might give it. Whereas the silent universe, the non-human, even matter: none of these are outside like we might dream. “Textuality” means the texture of touches.

The “signified” is not what the signifier points to. The word does not represent or communicated. It is an indirect manifestation of a touching. In the “movement of writing,” the signified is just another differential trace.

No one is absolutely independent of the language we have acquired – from imposed references, discourse as a means of discipline, training, subjugation, and punishment – and it would be foolish to assert otherwise.

At the same time, there is undeniably a freedom of response rooted itself in the often-foreclosed, -repressed, -forgotten freedom of be-ing vis-a-vis “what is.” That is the ground of action not tied up in the self-conscious mind or dependent on the sedimented meanings of inherited language. This does not negate the inheritance but renders all inheritance critical. The critical question, at every step, becomes: How to inherit it well?

To use words to deconstruct and reroute the world-chains, the crudities of unquestioned ideas, the impositions of power – these are ways to inherit well the language we did not choose. They proceed from that point – natural as animal nudity as well as the spiritual-speculative “cancellation” of the socialized individual – where existence is birth.

There, action is the upsurge of the Unattributable. There, ideas set in action by a touched subjectivity can become the means of transfiguration. There, a passion expresses itself and, in the process of its disappearance, makes a transference possible – enigmatic as it is alive.

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