‘without words for emotions’

by Arran James

Numbed to our viscerality except in its failing, even our emotions are becoming conceptual. We are living in the time after the century that witnessed the ‘death of affect’ [1]. Man is the plastic animal.

‘You’ve let other people tell you who you are and now you have no idea who you really are’, the words on the white screen small and blue and fragile, tracing some feint towards a truth.

If I could reply, if there was any point in all this staid interaction that only drags out the wasting possibility of intimacy and conjunction I would tell her that there is only what other’s tell you.

In one way or another we are decentred even from our own narrativity. Strange how ‘narrativity’ contains ‘nativity’.

Go to a counsellor, she urges, failing to understand that even there the work is a coauthoring…the production of a form to an existence, a Life, carried out in dialogue. Even there it’s a fabrication with and for some other.

Confess, she wants to say, go naked before me in your emptiness. I understand, I’ve been there too. We want to burn away the layers of the lovers we have lost and show them their putridness.

We aren’t like autistics you know. That’s something. We’re much more like the anorexic, or at least what the anorexic believes. Alexithymic through and through…we have no idea what we feel or who we are until we sit with another or pick up a book.

Knowledge and truth always lie outside us, like our true love who has forgotten our face and walks past us in the street. We clutch the shopping bag full of shower gels and diced chicken breasts and the bottles of beer we pretended to the cashier were for a party (all done through the gentle manipulation of our face and the attempt to transmit a certain happy disposition). We go home and forget to lock the door. Turn on the computer or the TV and stare blankly, exuberant as an army of dementia patients occupying their nursing homes.

Imagine that. It’s quite funny really. And remember that through careful prompting from our assessment tools and skill set we help them to assemble a life. So what if their memory is contained within the text of a document called ‘This is me’.

They are unable to represent themselves any more and are given over to having other’s represent them. How far are we from them? These impoverished pieces of writing, collected within(?) the a new social media- infinitely plastic, hypertextual and amenable to editing- are just the same as the booklet that contains the dementia patient’s frozen life story. Here I type my impressions, my sensations, my ‘reflections’- having shunned any idea of philosophising- and transform them into externalisations. ‘I have externalised so much of my inner life that even inside I now exist only externally’ [2]. We cut ourselves off from ourselves, we amputate our sensations…or at least that is how I conceive of it. Thus all writing, all externalisations of our narrativity which form our attempts at giving form to a life, our like limbs or organs that we distance ourselves from. We observe them, analyse them, edit them, model them into prostheses. Since the development of narrative, from the moment the distributed neural black box permitted narrative to spark across the synapses, we have been Electrical. Its another way to say we have always been after ourselves, posthuman, intimately inauthentic. To mutilate another’s words, we are the generation of humankind entering the next phase of its cyborg existence [3].

But being unable to explain all this to her, or even to my notional readers, I simply put my phone back in my pocket and go outside to smoke with N., weighing up her features, the tonality of her person…ready to tell her who she is. The moon is high and a single star- the evening star?- shines powerfully over it’s Earth. It is cold. I have work to do, papers that need to be read. I have to set out the data and the facts of some pathology to tell my patients who they are. They will read the others, more established and knowledgeable, and in combinations agree or disagree. They will tell themselves who they are based on this. The whole thing stretches back to the first mystery that extends further back than the brutality of mammalian birth; the initial accident that we can never bring inside the folds of our language.

Tonight I will read the new novel I have started and I will masturbate, possibly over N. I pick at my the plaque accumulated on my teeth. I am sure I have gum disease.I scratch the scars on my arm, the inscription of a certain narrative onto my flesh. I feel a pulsing against my leg as the phone vibrates in my pocket. This fucking conversation just won’t end.

[1] J Ballard, Crash.
[2] Fernando Pessoa, The book of disquiet
[3] Andy Clark, Natural born cyborgs