attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: emotion


This is the great lesson the depressive learns: Nothing in the world is inherently compelling. Whatever may be really “out there” cannot project itself as an affective experience. It is all a vacuous affair with only a chemical prestige. Nothing is either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, or anything else except that it is made so by laboratories inside us producing the emotions on which we live. And to live on our emotions is to live arbitrarily, inaccurately—imparting meaning to what has none of its own. Yet what other way is there to live? Without the everclanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to know. The alternatives are clear: to live falsely as pawns of affect, or to live factually as depressive, or as individuals who know what is known to be the depressive. How advantageous that we are not coerced into choosing one or the other, neither choice being excellent. One look at human existence is proof enough that are species will not be released from the stranglehold of emotionalism that anchors it to hallucinations. That may be no way to live, but to opt for depression would be to opt out of existence as we consciously know it.

― Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race


’emotion, it’s very simple, it’s a failure of conduct’

There is a curious text, of an author who, I don’t know why, isn’t read anymore. A psychiatrist, son of an abominable historian of philosophy of the 19th century. He was called Pierre Janet. He used to be very well-known. He was more or less contemporary to Freud, his career is quite parallel to Freud’s. And neither of them understood the other. It’s very curious, there were endeavors to get them in touch but they didn’t get along. Their starting points were the same, it was hysteria; Janet initiated a very important conception of hysteria and he did a quite curious psychology which he proposed to name “Psychology of the Conduct,” even before Americans propounded the “Behavior Psychology.”

Roughly the method was: a psychological determination given, look for the type of conduct it represents. It was very interesting; he said: memory. The memory. Well it bears no interest, it doesn’t mean anything to me. I ask myself: what is the type of conduct one can hold when one remembers? And his answer was: the narration.

Hence, the famous definition of Janet: the memory is a conduct of narration. The emotion, he said, the emotion, one can’t feel if one can’t set down. You see, he used the conduct as a system of coordinates for all things. Everything was conduct.

I have a childhood memory which has impressed me forever. We all have childhood memories like this. It was during the holidays, my father used to give me Mathematics lessons. I was panic-stricken and it was all settled. That is to say, up to a point, I suspect we both did it already resigned, since we knew what was going to happen. In any case, I knew, I knew what was going to happen beforehand, because it was all settled, regular as clockwork. My father for that matter knew not much of Mathematics but he thought he had, above all, a natural gift for enunciating clearly. So he started, he held the pedagogical conduct, the pedagogical conduct. I was doing it willingly because it was no kidding subject at all; and I held the taught conduct. I showed every signs of interest, of maximal understanding, but all very soberly, and very fast there came a derailment. This derailment consisted in this: five minutes later, my father was yelling, set to beat me and I found myself in tears, I have to say, I was really small, and weeping. What was it? It is clear, there were two emotions. My deep grief, his deep anger. What did they respond to? Two failures. He has failed in his pedagogical conduct, he didn’t manage to explain at all. Of course he didn’t, he wanted to explain it to me with algebra, as he always said, because it was simpler and clearer this way. Then if I protested… and there it derailed. I protested arguing the teacher would never let me do algebra because when a six-year-old is given a problem, he hasn’t got the right, he is not supposed to do algebra. So the other was maintaining that it was the only clear way. Well, therefore, we both got into a tizzy. Misfire in the pedagogical conduct: anger; misfire in the taught conduct: tears.

All right. It was a failure. Janet said: emotion, it’s very simple, it’s a failure of conduct. You are upset when there is, when you hold a conduct and this conduct fails; then there is emotion.

-Gilles Deleuze. Courses at Vincenne.

A death

I woke up today to a phone call. ‘Unknown’; my father. Calm, clear voice but tripping over on the introduction (“it’s G. here…I mean, it’s Dad”).

A story: an older man, 80-odd, is climbing a ladder to prune an apple tree. His wife and youngest daughter (late 30s?) are in the city shopping for nice things, and probably a champagne cocktail with hair and teeth and the obscenity of laughter. He is climbing a ladder in his garden, that substitute for a career that a man who has worked all his life is resigned to when he ceases to be productive. He probably doesn’t care about the ladder, pays no heed to the probably scratched paintwork, the mottled marks or indentations (is it wooden or metal?) as he climbs it. If you asked him he could tell you the colour but pruning sheers in hand the colour escapes his attention. He is immersed in this…or maybe not, maybe he’s thinking about opening a bottle of wine or the woman who smiled at him dismally in the shop earlier today. He notices a skew branch that both disavows and calls for his attentive ordering. What do the sheers feel like in his hands? Or is he using some kind of scissor? Hard to imagine.

He stretches out to make his cut. The ladder is uncertain beneath him. He leans out just a little further. The ladder buckles, falls away from him and he falls away from the tree, from the sky. Hitting ground. Everything goes dark. Later he will be found in a pool of blood. The postman will notice the blood is coming from his head. Soon the drama of an air ambulance. A helicopter will land in the adjacent field. Paramedics will rush to him. They will take no care for the careful effort of years; they will trample through the garden, feet probably landing in the flowered borders, tearing up the manicured lawn, the fabric of their uniforms catching a little on the apple tree. By this time the older man’s youngest son will be there; his heart strains a little in the stress of it, reminding him of the heart attack that followed his 48th birthday, but silently and without concern; his father is dying on in the damp soil before him.

A few hours later. Wires and IVs. Monitors and the quiet panic of professionals. In a bed that isn’t his, in a room he’s never been in before, in a city where he never lived, my grandfather will die. Has died. Is dead.

I hang up the phone. No emotions come. I regret their absence. I wish for a deep hurt to awaken but it doesn’t. A few hours later I will think of Emile Cioran’s mourning of the loss of a certain Gnostic joy to be taken from the death of a loved one; why don’t we celebrate their release from the burden of existence, the suffering that life in it’s precariousness necessarily invites. I don’t cry but I don’t rejoice either.

How can one react to the death of another? ‘Yes, it had to happen’.

After hanging up I wander through to the kitchen/living room (open plan design) and see my house-mates cooking, reading, the television on, a laptop flickering indifferently at someone I don’t know (he is reading something about biomarkers of disease). I light a cigarette and sit at the kitchen table. I open my mouth to contribute to the conversation that is already under way (they are talking about washing up). I say something funny. T. laughs. I go on. Among the others I go on. All I can think is ‘why was an 80something year old man up a tree in the first place?’ I realise it doesn’t matter.

Yes. It had to happen. Now it has. That’s all.

‘without words for emotions’

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

Representational relations

Listening to R. talk about her research. The narratives of psychiatric acute ward patients. The transcription process as interpretation, as translation. Nothing is stable here. The layers of distance accumulated. First the bioneurological representation of the world to a mind; the affective and cognitive schemas representing the ways of responding and conceptualising this; the representation of all this ‘experience’ into a narrative form, full of breaks and distortions, discontinuities and false ascriptions, occurences and agents.

We transmit ourselves through inherited words and ideas, attempting to assemble non-linear lives when “We live in quantified non-linear terms – we switch on television sets, switch them off half an hour later, speak on the telephone, read magazines, dream and so forth. We don’t live our lives in linear terms in the sense that the Victorians did”[1].

Finally we have the representation assmebled in the mind of the other to whom all this snatched sense is relayed, which carries with itself all these material-linguistic constraints. This node in the communicative whitenoise must also have within itself an adequate theory of mind, it must be convinced that the thing to which it listens is at least something like itself. Even then the thinking flesh has to represent itself to itself as something capable of listening actively, intentionally and with empathy; it must represent itself as a ‘Self’.

We are not scientists with one another, we don’t mine each other for the certainty of contact except (perhaps) in eliptical forms and we rightly prefer the aesthetic and emotional collisions for those of fact and measure. But still it remains evident, this distance between us that no number of interactions can exhaust, no matter how increasingly unavoidable and intimate, contingent and more impersonal they become. These processes that go unnoticed moment to moment. What do we touch of each other directly, what does anything touch of any other in a direct manner?

For all this, here we are together- in this form then that- but never finally alone except in dying. Even death offers us the negative image of a community, an inexistence-with. For all this we speak and assemble coherent messages from time to time. It’s a terrible miracle. From this, the indispensibility- against recent fashion- of representation, no matter how perturbed it can be.

[1]. JG Ballard

more of this, i beg

Torment, for some men, is a need, an appetite, and an accomplishment.
– Emile M. Cioran

speculating on other minds
i twist circumventing my own reasons,
that domain so well known
once the fire is stopped burning
and the murderer has fled the scene.
struggling with my own contorting
affectivity, magesterially presiding over
these aboriginal aliens with a police
order assembled out of half-illumined
monstrosities, i keep holding on
and asking the same questions
like an autistic child dumbly staring
into the gathered happy faces;
unable or unwilling to let go
even when there seems to be nothing there
to hold but holograms and memories,
corroding representations, ectopic
foetuses in full birthday regalia.
join the party with us. we’re smiling
and we’re laughing and our flesh is
melting in the heart of this interminable
fire, this existence. so much in love
with our little sufferings, we pour the
gasoline while dancing, strike the match
while singing sweetly to the charred
remains of our futures.


we walk out of the office
spent all day caring
for the ones with the devil inside them
or a darkness eating everything
they are
who can’t think or act
in the manner pre-programmed
and tacitly agreed

we’re talking
he’s going to leave her
even if it makes her worse
and i’m thinking
i’m going t stay
not knowing whether i’m wanted
beside her any more
whether this distance is a symptom
or a coping with it’s cause

and he knows he’s going to destroy her
and i know she is suffering
and as we get further away
from the clinics and the hospitals
caring for those we don’t care about
unable to help the ones
we love

impotent young men
marking their pointless anger on themselves
impossible to distinguish
nurse from patient

sunday morning (minus the Velvet Undergrou

i’m no good at this
this living
this telling what i feel
without serrated edges
cutting the flesh
of the one i love
and i’m no good at feeling
out of practice
every single sensation
is a darting thing
have patience
i’m re-learning


For anger is my dandruff and
my cerebro-spinal fluid is an urge.
Disappointment is the colour of my eyes.
The mucus in my nostrils is the accumulated debris of a rising sadness.
The doctor isn’t capable of a differential diagnosis

he’s drunk on my sense of distance,
while elsewhere someone keeps whispering to me about the unconscious
herd as if he isn’t one of them, as if i’m not one of them,
as if you’re not one of them;

trying to convince me of the superiority that awareness brings,
as if knowing how full of shit we all are makes us exemplary women and men

and mean while I’m left with fuck and the semen dripping from
the end of my penis, emitting the smell of never-mind, never-mind,
i suppose its not so important, and i feel like waving it
in everyone’s disgruntled faces.

soon i’ll go to sleep and wake up and go to work
and then i’ll undoubtedly do something else to fill in the gaps,
the interstice of a shambling construction,
packing it with offerings to Perses, to Shiva, and the lazy Horsemen
not knowing whether it’s in order to forestall them or to end their delay.
this is all too much, just the symptom of an excessive innervation,
best ignored or taken as an moron in play. you say
the words so well but you don’t feel the absences.

composed while listening to iron&wine, waiting to fall asleep

i could fall asleep deep inside this
the body is willing
but the mind is a machine
this is all extremely variable
some days I’m the monster
others the child afraid to be left in the dark

perhaps i could drown in this
it certainly feels that way
and the barriers are all too soft
to cope

the place i am right now
in little bits
and pieces
– a child’s forgotten toys

how can i be more transparent?
eradicate this. sometimes its all just too much
this fucking emotion, this fucking affectivity

negligence, dancing stars and opiates
they always knew i was the weak one
and plunged and soared