why write?

I’m supposed to be doing readings right now, but I’ve been so distracted by my emotions and my thoughts (on topics I won’t discuss here) and have started writing to distract myself, hopefully with the intention of clearing my mind. Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to keep a diary, but was never able to write in one consistently. At the same time, being a 10 year old, I didn’t have much to say, since my day consisted mostly of going to school, seeing my friends, learning things, seeing my parents, etc, all of which were so quotidian they didn’t, in my mind, warrant being written down. They were as monotonous as breathing, or waking up, or blinking; activities which provided the background for my everyday life, the details which were often omitted from the manuscript because they added nothing of substance, because human beings themselves have come to take them for granted. When I got to college, I started journaling as a way of addressing a mounting issue in my life; my anxiety disorder. Unable to speak to anyone, feeling stupid for feeling so uncomfortable in public space, I turned inward, went inside, through writing in order to get to the central question: “Why are you anxious?”

“Why?” A question which has no true answer, which proves the existence of the small, interior realities in which we all live, isolated, distanced yet nevertheless influenced by the world around us. The “rooms” of headspace, unpopulated countries comprised of regions and provinces which are often frequented and avoided. Perhaps not unpopulated; peopled with memories, shades of loved and hated ones, shadows of ourselves. “Why?” A verbal question whose answer is never satisfactory, for we can never adequately fit ourselves into another person’s headspace and therefore understand the context or lack thereof which feeds its dissatisfying response. A question which when spoken aloud only furthers the rift between interlocutors in its affirmation of the notion that one’s thoughts are distinct, are unintelligible, are irrational, that one’s mind operates differently, that one’s reality functions differently than another’s. “Why?” A command of a question; it demands an answer, is imperative in its unanswered disbelief and distrust. A question which forces the mind to translate rabid thoughts, mental gibberish into language which cannot and never has been able to support it. Meaning is lost, details fall by the wayside, for language is not enough. A question whose answer is never enough.

Why do I write? What is the purpose of writing, and who am I writing for? I have three journals, I suppose. This blog, which is the main journal, comprised of content which I think is universally applicable enough to be shared with others, despite it nevertheless reflected the utmost interiority of my dimly-lit mind. Another notebook I keep in my backpack in which I scribble down thoughts in a language I fashioned to secure that interiority. A gift from Michelle which I haven’t used until recently for a reason I still don’t know, a reason I’ve never interrogated, and likely never will. A Word document I started writing when things were not going well with someone I cared about quite fondly. Comprised of letters to myself and to others, the document looks inward at my lie, undoing the facades of confidence and centeredness I build in order to function, not yet destabilizing my inner self, but trying to better understand why I continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations, why I continue to pursue people who don’t want me, why I continue to read friendliness and pity as “yet a chance.” The Word document, titled à détruire (to be destroyed), does not rip open scabs in order to force wounds to heal, an act which only prolong recovery, which feels cathartic in the moment of the snatching back of the keloid, only to leave in its wake a scar which will never fade, but acknowledges the presences of a wound the mind would much rather ignore, leave untreated despite the beginning tenderness and redness of serious infection. It is perhaps the most inward I can go without doing serious damage to myself, and I am grateful for the space it provides me, although I rarely use it for this very purpose.

But why write? I used to think that writing provided me some form of catharsis or absolution. “Speaking into existence” the turbulent thoughts of my inner mind so that I acknowledge them and are freed from them. Yet, in the past, writing has done the exact opposite. The writing venture would begin at the first sight of anxiety as a gathering of clouds on the horizon, and I would continue to tease out my thoughts until I was unaware that the storm had crested and was no upon me. Writing did not will the clouds apart, rend the storm, but caused it to draw closer, to gather new dimensions. My writings would cause the anxiety to thicken, and therefore it did not bring my catharsis, but forced me to deal with anxiety as text and not as critique. With time, as I learned new techniques for managing my anxiety, and as my writing has changed in both its substance and its purpose, this is no longer the case, but I still don’t often feel catharsis as much as I feel centered in my awareness of the issue at stack. This is likely due to getting better at self-interrogation and asking the right questions, a development my writing has only reflected and not necessarily influenced.  Writing has never untied the knot growing in my chest, the fluid sloshing about in my lungs; it has only forced me to acknowledge that such a knot, that the pneumonic pus, is there and that it afflicts me.

I also write to better understand the craft and expanse of human language. The voice is perhaps the most versatile form of expression, yet its masterful deployment requires a deftness I do not possess. People who can speak eloquently about their feelings will always garner my admiration, for while I can feign eloquence by dissecting an argument in an academic treatise, I struggle to read the urtext of my own emotions, let alone the subtexts which liaise emotion to lived experience, which ground sturm und drang in their environment. I cannot answer the question of “where is this coming from?” if I cannot even know the answer to the question “what does this mean?” Writing in a way forces me to use language to better approximate the root of my anxieties, even if human language has its limitations, its fickleness. It was not made to carry the weight of our minds as emotional landscapes, as three-dimensions worlds in and of themselves. Language serves only the purpose of communicating the two-dimensional simulacra of lived experiences, of transforming sound, touch, emotion, taste, feeling, time, anxiety, suspicion, faith, superstition into signs and symbols of these things. Language cannot deconstruct the symbol, nor can it create the essential bridge through which symbolized idea is transmitted. In the translation process, something essential is lost and cannot be redeemed. Language is but the mean by which we are relativized to another, but it cannot fully surmount the rifts which our individual experiences (and through them, our identities) build between us. It very well cannot even cross the rifts we struggle to address in ourselves.

Sometimes I get afraid that I am being too abstract in my writing, or that I am not being as accessible I should be, but then I begin to question the means by which I establish what accessibility looks like, or the ways that that notion could be loaded with classist ideas of what people are and are not capable of understanding. This week’s reading was Adorno and Horkheimer’s “The Concept of Enlightenment,” a text I found difficult to understand and whose prose seemed to represent a specific period in time (the post-war era, roughly from 1945 – 1990) when it seemed that academics prided themselves on the density and unintelligibility of their work. Adorno & Horkheimer, Deleuze & Guattari, Lefebvre, de Certeau, Glissant, Bhabha, Spivak; all writers who engaged with ideas and concepts which language could not seem to adequately contain, whose texts don’t seem to ooze information, but ambiguity. As someone who wishes to engage with their work, to advance or qualify or reject their claims, am I bound to their language of obscurity, of liminality? Is writing without ambiguity worth reading, worth considering?

Is writing a form of expression worth saving? The history of the written tongue, of its literary formulation and its critical analysis, of the artificial fission between “literature” and “orature” as two seemingly distinct, differently weighted categories of storytelling and expression; the written, the yin, always lauded in the West over the darker twin of the oral, the banal, the quotidian, the unreflective, the irreflexive. Does writing truly crystallize language in ways which memory and its physical artificers cannot? Is the written truly richer than the oral? Beyond this, is communication sufficient? Have we evolved as a civilization or a species beyond the limitations of the language which has brought us to this point, to the mountaintop of evolutionary ambition, still wondering “what more is there to overcome?” Are we lost to the symbols and signs of human language, an Narcissean pool in which we see not an image of the truth, but a reflection of what we want to see in the world, of what we see in ourselves? Is all writing just a chalkboard onto which we project our emotions and our feelings and our fears and our fetishes, and if it is, does writing even matter? If we cannot communicate adequately, if something still is lost and never to be regained, if we still putz around in the dark in spite of ourselves and one another, is it worth it to write at all? Is it worth it to speak at all?

The reason I enjoy having a journal is because it is a form of writing that exists only within the narrow dimension of my own interiority, bound to my psyche in a way which is inseparable from its physical and psychological context. My journals don’t exist for anyone else, are purposefully opaque (because of the language I use to write my entries), and offer me a space in which the question of writing becomes something unrelated to the writerly act itself. I used to believe in “writing the self into existence” (writing seems always to deal in some form with the existential question of being in our literarily-inundated and death-fearing civilization) as a form of resistance to imperialist ideas of personhood and subjectivity, but beyond the world of perpetual protest and existential skepticism which academics love to augur as “the way things are,” the writerly act – or to be more specific, the act of journaling, of diarying, of finstaing, of confessional blogging – nevertheless speaks less to a perpetual desire to proclaim one’s existence (an idea of an anterior era from which I believe it is now necessary to retreat) as much as it does to a desire to acknowledge the means by which existence is troubling and troubled by the world, that it seems the world is too fragile to contain us and society to austere to understand us. Writing as an act may not necessarily defy a politics of being, but nevertheless understands that being is in its very nature political. To write is to live beyond the world of flesh and bone, a world whose ephemerality seems horrifying albeit necessary, yet to nevertheless surrender to the reality of one’s evanescence as the structure which both chokes us to death and influences us to act.

One thought on “why write?

  1. In these journals you sow the seeds of your own enlightenment. I recall those early aspiring days as a novice initiate in the academic guild. Keep writing, strive for clarity, rather than ambiguity, and some of us will continue to read. Best wishes

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