“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
” ‘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.
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)
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.