Month: January 2014

Unconscious Reading

It is worth noting that the books do not close after dark: not when the sun goes down, nor when the lights go out. My Kindle gives off a sallow, uneven glow that only serves to cut out its unnerving “stable text,” even after the rest of the apartment is shut down. I can read wrapped in the approximate gloom of the urban night. And even after I’ve deactivated my 21st century reader and put it aside, sometimes, I still go at it. There are periods of sleep where words will scribe themselves through the pages of my dreams. There are times when I read my unconscious.

I suppose this is the result of being so absorbed by the act. Reading is the constituent, cerebral material that composes the greater share of my commitments, my ambitions, and my pleasures. Yet I always feel behind. It doesn’t happen fast enough. The list is too long. My eyes, my brain, are too slow. These past four years I have been trying to catch up, to inscribe a state of knowing on a space of acute ignorance, but there abound more and more possible texts to assess and consume. Beyond reading lists, beyond recommended articles and current distractions, there is a paralytic superabundance of things written down that it would be useful to encounter; and there is only so much time.

This is a situation that I must make peace with. Reading and dreaming share a coterminous relationship for the academic in training: sleeping or waking they are activities that superimpose upon one another and share the same boundaries of experience. They expand as a fused, organic unit. I need both to continue forward; I am bound up by both as I plan and galvanize the trajectory of my future; and the spectre of improbability haunts both their enactments.

“Have you heard the speech?” asked a professor last fall after I had asked him for a letter of reference.

“Which speech?” I responded warily.

“The one where I tell you that there are no jobs, that the whole institution is in flux, that tenure may be a thing of the past—”

“Oh, that speech!” I said. “Yes, yes—I heard it when I first decided to come back to school.”

“Alright then. I just feel I have a moral obligation to warn you off.”

“And I respect that.”

Which is true. What I told him then, and what I’m affirming now, is that there is little else that I can envision myself doing besides this. It is not apathy that has driven me to this point—it is genuine ambition. I have tried other avenues, other prospects, and the result was not only underwhelming, but also depressing, and somewhat claustrophobic. The dream has always involved many books, and disseminating the texture and tenor of thought. Contributing to the sum total of human knowledge. There is no other professional arena for a humanities major. My only option is to think and write my way forward, and heed my unconscious as it discloses itself in phrases: words scribbling their way out in the dark.


Fragmentary, No. 2

“One of the mysteries in the history of chemistry is how seldom chemists blew themselves up while investigating novel substances and reactions. Hydrogen and oxygen . . . can burn smoothly together, but they can also react explosively. Priestley used to carry small bottles of these two airs, and he entertained visitors by exploding the gases.”

♦ Trevor H. Levere, Transforming Matter: A History of Chemistry from Alchemy to the Buckyball

Notational, No. 1

” ‘Sublimation’ occurs when an object, part of everyday reality, finds itself at the place of the impossible Thing. Herein resides the function of those artificial obstacles that suddenly hinder our access to some ordinary object: they elevate the object into a stand-in for the Thing. This is how the impossible changes into the prohibited: by way of the short circuit between the Thing and some positive object rendered inaccessible through artificial obstacles.”

♦ Slavoj Žižek, “Courtly Love, or, Woman as Thing”

Not necessarily even a visible obstacle, but perhaps sometimes an irresolvable and continuously reversed telescoping away of the object; a gradual but unmistakable receding of the possibility. Interposition can be this kind of relative positioning: additional space that we have provided, or invoked, between ourself and the goal, the illusive desire that is out of our reach before we even attempt to achieve it. Inasmuch as this is a reiteration of the same dilemma differently visualized, it can still afford to be said that “artificial obstacles” at times resist articulate signification: the distance between here to there can simply become impossible to traverse; and what time and effort can be expended trying, or trying to avoid trying, in spite of that. Historically the prohibited can be innately unexplainable, and the sensible obstacle conjured as a retroactive justification.

Fragmentary, No. 1

The phenomenologist from Paris hates mosquitoes
and carries a small electronic device
that lures the female mosquito to her death
by simulating the amorous cry of the male. Then,
to block the whining sound, he has pink earplugs.
As he sits in conversation
with the phenomenologist from Sussex
a mosquito is observed to enter.
The Englishman leaps to his feet,
calling, “Let us use the mosquito machine!”
and smashes the insect to the wall
with the device. It is the first sign
of wide ontological differences
that will open in the Anglo-French dialectic

♦ Anne Carson, from “What Do We Have Here?”
in Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, (1995)


Negative Forms

A neologism born out of agitation, a discomfort in the abstract body, and a drive to direct turbulent formulations of ephemera out: outward; outside, into the open. Its root, my well-worn friend pensive, traces a spectrum of inversion, beginning with “sorrowfully thoughtful; gloomy, sad, melancholy” (OED); a condition familiar, but unwelcome save for the rainiest of days; days when the water mark inches above safety; days when little else gets done—just a kind of condensing within your own borders. We also read “more generally: full of thought; meditative, reflective,” and this takes up so much time in the business of my world that it best go unquantified. Yet I maintain that there is a time to take off the thinking cap and transform passive activity into something a little more aggressive and concrete. And then there is the notion that thought belies action, that meditation dives towards a void. This counters my ambition. I am trying to surface with an array entities detailed, not effaced, even if it is impossible not to lose something essential in articulation. This is not where I am going to strive for oneness; it is where I am going to attempt to splinter into multiplicity.

So the prefix im- comes in to counter what might be considered the pitfalls of the “thoughtful,” but also to drive in the opposite direction from being “anxious as to plans and future events,” to rail against being “apprehensive.” There is an impatience in the result, a restless energy, an impetus to jettison thought from the lugubrious internal grottos and relieve the pressure: a commitment to the future rather than an apprehension; a cultivated excitement rather than dread.

This is the quality of writing things down.