Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Where "Cease to Exist" Means "Unable to Write"

But you see, the one who writes "All writing is effectively a search for the soul, which is our self-realized identity in God" does not yet fully understand why they write and so their writing - especially when it purports to be about writing - is shallow and ineffective.

[yet note the pleasure one can take in seeing through the author's claims to authority, and how this can beget empathy, and even longing]

The clue is in the phrase "all writing," which is unambiguously total and thus unsupportable. We can only ever speak with such certainty about our personal experience of writing. Everything else must be tentative, hypothetical, subject to confirmation after dialogue with others, et cetera. When I am in the mode of declaring X right beyond question, I am . . . not writing confidently. Or clearly.

This is what Jasper was getting at (who was nearly edited out of the previous piece and was effectively lectured for being confused in the part of his that remained): be careful of spiritualizing your pathology to a degree that reinforces in uncreative ways the pathology's capacity for ignorance, sacrifice, selfishness, et cetera.

I tried to avoid that mistake first by being blandly autobiographical (in 1983, in mid-October 2019 et cetera) and second by leaning hard into spiritual drama (e.g. visits from King David). But it didn't work.

I must have realized this failure at some point while sleeping, because I woke up at 5 a.m. with a pressing need to write this correction (and not a lot of doubt about what the correction was to say).


My writing is almost always an attempt to attract and then hold the gaze of a woman whose gaze is considered life-giving (that is, if she looks away too often or for too long I might cease to exist, where "cease to exist" means "be unable to write" but, of course, other forms of death are allowed, too).

On this view, the ideal reader has always been a particular woman who conforms to the image I make: highly sexualized, deeply religious, and obsessed with my writing.

As Jasper helpfully noted, the pathology as such involves a lot of alcohol, violence, implicit and explicit threats of abandonment, dead and dying animals . . . There is a reason Hansel and Gretel appeals the way it does!

So yes. The writing is an entry into the pathology and someone has to go with me (Hansel needs his Gretel). Yet consent is fundamental. The whole thing only works if the woman agrees to step into the role. For a long time I was puzzled by this condition, but I think it has to do with nontrivial recognition that we are equals, and so the woman is also working on her own pathology in an intentional way. Gretel needs her Hansel (as Frank O'Hara would say, "this is getting rich, isn't it?").

I think where my experience of the pathology becomes most creative (like the difference between clutching at someone and dancing with them) is when the relational aspect of writer/reader (sean/ideal reader) clarifies, and I actually become interested in the reader's - the woman's - experience of the relationship. In this way, mutuality is established, which allows for love in the broadest, most inclusive (least conditional) sense.

For example, there was a point when I realized that I was overlooking the technical proficiency of D's poems in favor of combing through her prose & paintings for clues about who or what was the object of her adoration. This was liberating because instantly the focus shifted from a single-dimensional view of her to something more prismatic, in which she was a creator among many creators with her own writerly concerns. I began to wonder: how has she lived the pathology? How has she made it holy?

In this way, it was seen that the gaze, as such, went both ways.

That is, when the other is freed from the colonial bounds of our projection - our insistence they conform to this or that image and symbolic ideal - then we are freed as well.

For me, in this way, writing has always been about healing. Sometimes it heals by actually making clear which was to go next (stop practicing EFT and start studying ACIM) and sometimes by allowing one's experience of writing and reading to actually modify itself so that the way one lives becomes gentler, kinder, and more loving.

This writing belongs in the latter category.

There is more to say obviously about the pathology. And Hansel and Gretel.

And there is potentially a lot to say here about Emily Dickinson (who was very close to the concern about what language to use in order to get as close to one's pathology as possible), Humberto Maturana (whose work on love has been clarifying at a late but hopefully not too late juncture, and whose feminism has stabilized a lot of my political wanderlust) and James Hillman (from whose conversations with Laura Pozzo my use of "pathology" is culled, ineptly for sure but not unhelpfully) but I let that "lot to say" stand with only this bare nod. Perhaps another day.

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