attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: relationships


I read the book she has lent to me; Conditions of Love: the philosophy of intimacy. Violin and acoustic guitar slowly rise from the damp earth of silence. I am thinking of today and of tomorrow. My mind wants me to think about the months to come and to the time provisionally scheduled for her taking leave of this small, modest city. I don’t want to think about these things. I find myself for the first time in a long time unwilling to confront the impermanence of things. Everything is temporary, for how long have I been fond of saying this? And now it isn’t that I want our time in that same damp earth, broken only by the sounds of flesh and minds extending out to one another and by the immediate laughter and demands of her child, to be eternal or endless. Simply, I can’t conceive of such an ending. I find myself refusing to believe in such an ending.

I remember crouching in her garden alone in the night, composing a poem to the stars about their distance and their destiny, speculating on how many might already be dead. I remember telling myself to keep hold of the line: we’d be miracles were we not accidents. I betray these thoughts when, inevitably, images of her are aroused in my imagination; when suddenly everything appears right and just and full with necessity. What new illusions am I happily cultivating? What new joys might they pierce through the arid parts of this indifferent earth?

Here I am. This vanishing singularity. A precarious and fragile system. The meaning of intimacy: showing to the other one’s fragility, one’s catastrophe, the wounds of one’s tiny history and the offering of these wounds as the wellspring from which some beautiful music might emerge. To be a passionate but unhurried duet in a world of mournful solos and the terrifying grandiosity of symphonies. The music of the two instruments submerged in each other, trying to find a rhythm and a pitch. And I imagine her dancing to that melody, any dissonance offering the chance for an innovation in how we might move together.

I don’t love this woman, let’s not get carried away. Our duet is young in its composition. But what dance might it generate? We met one night by accident, under conditions dictated by separate (if not finally separable) trajectories. The conditions of love? I don’t know… but the conditions of its possibility?

Finished typing, I return to the book. It’s covers are smooth and cold in my hands. I will read for a few more hours. I will sleep and dream and rise and go to university where I will talk and learn and teach and…I will be waiting for the hour when she sends me that text: F. is asleep, you can come to my place whenever you want.

And she will show me her fragility.We will show

one another.

Candle glow.

Cold of night.


All music.

Abject audiences; who are you?

True contact between beings is established only by mute presence, by apparent non-communication, by that mysterious and wordless exchange which resembles inward prayer. – E. M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born

If I give form to a life through narrative it can only be one which is given to an audience. When I narrate, when anyone narrates, it is always in relation to someone. In general, we narrate ourselves to friends, to lovers, to policemen, judges, employers, colleagues, teachers and students, to parents. A striking lack of the plural in this; I never narrate myself to a mass or collective. I always narrate to someone in particular. Except here; on the internet I address myself to no one. Much could be made of the narcissism of this except that the writer always imagines his audience, even if his actual audience is not many people at all. The no one in particular is any one at all, an equality of responding to an unheard call. Yet who is it I imagine reading this? You could say I imagine a multitude but I can never imagine that (what would it mean to imagine a faceless plurality?)

No; I imagine you are reading this, and I know that you are reading this. I don’t have the actual details and what I imagine of you may be widely off the mark; but it is a you which I think of reading this. ‘You’ lack concreteness but remain a ‘you’.

What is curious is that I can write about an unheard call. You haven’t asked me to narrate, to try and give form to a life; you haven’t accused me of a crime or prompted me with curious questions. So why narrate in this way? In part, I suspect, it is in order to assemble the you to which I respond. That is, it is in order to pre-empt the demand that I give myself a structure to an other, to crystallise and reduce the complexity of this psychic system into the stereotypic image of a person, an individual human being.

In assembling the you to which I respond, in order to assemble the ‘I’ which I am now elaborating, enacting, performing through writing, I reveal to myself something fundamental: the demand to narrate is autonomous of the narrating agent and the audience.

The story I tell you and the one who tells it never coincide; the one who is addressed and the one I imagine I am addressing never coincide, for all I can have access to is a story about you assembled from the concrete interactions I might have in the visceral domain and the imagined ones in this virtual domain.

The I and the you, behind the various permutations of narrative construction that you and I both design of our other (the process occurring in you as much as in me), never come finally in to contact. I remain withdrawn somewhere, if I exist at all, behind my story of myself and you behind my story of yours, a visa versa. What we have in common is this simultaneous withdrawal and exposure. I can’t help but think once more of the metaxu; that which connects as it separates (Simone Weil gives the example of a prison cell wall that although separating two prisoners from one another nonetheless allows them to communicate in Morse code by tapping on its surface).

What is more, although there is certainly some ontological system that remains in place, the narrative ‘I’ obliterates its previous incarnations again and again but in doing so it also obliterates the previous relation, the previous way of accessing the withdrawing exposure, between itself and ‘you’. Each self-narrative is a mixture of fact and fabulation, a marginally to absolutely imperfect representation, that cannot help but contain within itself the representation of the ‘you’ which it addresses, even where that ‘I’ knows very well the ontological autonomy of the system it is representing.

This is especially visible in the case of disruptions in, I suppose, the I-Thou relationship, such as in relationship phase transitions. The friend becomes the lover and so the I and Thou must be reformulated in light of this new fact, while a new independent system is produced in which the actual subsystems of the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ (as lovers) are nested. I have to tell a new story about myself and about you; the story of two friends becomes the story of coming into being of the newly produced system. ‘There was always a chemistry between us’; ‘you always looked at me in a certain way’; new and mystical knowledge may even appear in the form of the ‘I always knew…’.

A constant flux of revisions then. A ceaseless epistemology of becoming layered thick upon our ontological being. The neurophilosophy of Thomas Metzinger [1] has a language for this: the self, which does not exist, is transparent to itself. Transparency here fundamentally means that it cannot appear to itself so that what it is is necessarily mistaken. It is this transparency that always haunts the ‘I’ and the ‘you’, and so which haunts their relation, that produces the possibility of ethics.

For Judith Butler [2] this ethics arises from the failure to know oneself and the failure to know the other; ethics arising from a failure in the ethical relation. In a minimal sense, although Butler goes on to say much more, one of her contentions is simply that this failure in knowledge in regards to the self and other is what sustains ethical engagement. After all, every time we address one another in a manner approaching ethics, every time I judge you for instance, there is a gap in what I am judging, what you actually are and how I understand these things as well as a gap in and from myself; there is a splitting, the opening up of something aporetic.

Although she does not say it, I suspect that Butler is talking about something akin to the undecidable- that condition of the decision that confronts the decision with its own impossibility [3]. How can I judge you when I know you only partially, and via that same mixture of fact and fabulation? A judgement can only be one that is aware of it’s own partiality and the relationship between judged and judge must be one that knows the arbitrary and inauthentic nature of this division. Similarly, it has to take account of what lies in common with ‘us’; that we both are simply making ourselves up, within the bounds of the limits set upon narration (biology, history, social relations, neurology, the laws of phsyics and all the rest of what constitutes our facticity).

Of particular interest to me is the implication these reflections might have in therapeutic contexts such as counselling and psychotherapy. In Butler’s text she responds to the common idea that the goal of psychoanalytic interventions is to provide the analysand with the opportunity to produce for themselves a coherent story of who they are and how they came to be here (even acknowledging the necessary exclusion of facticity which, having occurred prior to the emergence of the subject in question, can never be accounted for in narrative). Butler refutes this by drawing attention to the relational dyad of analyst and analysand where the analyst, via transference, is a kind of holding place of the analysand; where his ego should be we find the other. As such the other, the analysand’s ‘you’, interrupts his ‘narrative reconstruction’ or the attempt to construct a coherent form of a life. The life and the narrating of the life become contingent upon this interruption. Interestingly this places the idea of ‘biographical interruption’ at the very heart of biographisation rather than leaving it as an intruding and traumatic effect of some break in the story (such as is affected by major phase transitions such as the death of a lover). All this is a long-winded way of reaffirming the ‘cut-up’ nature of the stories we tell ourselves which can only be assembled from the fragmented, directionless day-to-day of living (now we turn on the TV, now I am on the phone, now I have several internet browser tabs open which I skip between, now music plays, now I am eating).

Butler tells us that the narrating ‘I’ does not, first of all, narrate but prior to this has to be brought into and assent to the norms of narrativisation; to learn to speak in this way rather than that. Butler goes on to construct a developmental history that begins with my being brought into the fold of language by the other through mimesis (the infant learns to speak by copying the parent’s speech) and thereby being brought into the scene of the address. I can be addressed and I can address others (and myself?) only by and through language. This all happens because I am addressed by another and as such my being brought into the fold of language is always done in response to that address, in an attempted response to an address made to me in a language that is the language of that other. For Butler this address also occurs in nonlinguistic forms: injury and trauma demand that we respond to them.

Via a meditation on the psychoanalytic concept of the unconscious (which it now occurs to me might be reformulated simply as ‘that which cannot be narrated/that which grammar has no access to’) Butler locates the analysand’s speech as an attempt to bring possess what it can never posses. For Butler the unconscious is formed as a kind of faulty protective mechanism that is required ‘as a way of managing- and failing to manage- that excess [of the other]’ (p.54). As such the role transference plays is the reconstruction of the original excessiveness of the other; to activate what cannot be narrated because it is not mine, the unconscious.

Drawing on other psychoanalytic thinkers Butler formulates this in a manner that explicitly formulates the analyst as being ‘recruited’ by the analysand who, although she cannot own her unconscious, can nonetheless incorporate the analyst into her schema- she can use the analyst, who must let herself be used, in order to have them stand-in for the primordial excessive other. It is worth noting that in this Butler’s concept of psychoanalysis takes on the inauthentic air of the simulation, the distorted repetition of some original event. Particularly drawing on an analytic theorist called Bollas, Butler cites the role of the analyst as having to allow herself to become ‘situationally ill’ and ‘to become lost in the patient’s world’. The analyst then is to become an object of abjection-for the analysand.

In my understanding of this, the analyst’s role is to enact an abjection-for the analysand. In one example provided Bollas reveals how a patient of his who had been abandoned by his father and left feeling deeply alone had recreated this feeling in Bollas himself by becoming wilfully silent during analytic sessions. I get the sense that this expressive idea of therapeutic work, which demands a willingness to self-dispossession on the therapists side of things, is more dramatological and simulation based than Butler suggests. I could easily see in this a model to understand the notoriously difficult to treat patient who has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that more or less names this resistance to be treated. Therapists, nurses and counsellors who work in close contact with those who have BPD frequently suffer burn-out and disillusionment, becoming depressed, frustrated, angry and sensing that the other just doesn’t care, is a lying, manipulative attention seeker. Disregarding the attention-seeker accusation (who in therapy isn’t therapeutic seeking attention?) the Butler-Bollas notion of psychoanalytic work is one that might understand the BDP client as attempting to re-enact in the mental health worker his own experience of the world, or at least some primal, formative experience. The BPD client is manipulative in the sense that he is attempting to , the sense in which all of us manipulate others, reproduce in us his own condition. When the worker turns from compassion to loathing of someone with an illness like BPD might it not be because we are experiencing the excess of that other that they cannot otherwise express? (An obvious limit to this would be the case of the psychoses).

Butler states that Bollas calls this kind of working one that aims at ‘articulation’, and she reminds us that not all articulations are narrative or even linguistic. Butler’s intentions exceed my own and it is here that I part with her. At root I must agree with what she has been saying which amounts to this:

within the narrative there is always something resistant to narrativisation.

the narrating ‘I’ can never speak about its facticity in anything like an authoritative manner; it is always groundless.

there always remain those things that might be articulated but cannot be spoken.

For Butler, and I am powerless to disagree, this means that a self-narrative, the narrativised form of a life, is always from the outset, maybe even at the moment of that initial mimesis of the infant, a failure. The narrative ‘I’ obliterates not only its forerunners, those ‘I’s I once was, but also itself at the moment it leaves my mouth. The narrative ‘I’ is itself a necessary breakdown. As such, such procedures as narrative therapy, whilst useful and successful with some clients (let’s not forget the Dodo effect), meets its immanent limit. The narrative does not necessarily give a form to a life but it is always a dramatically failed attempt at doing so, no matter how ‘thick’ or ‘thin’ those narrative might be. It is also congruent with the seductive provocation written by Nikolas Luhrmann that ‘Humans cannot communicate; not even their brains can communicate; not even their conscious minds can communicate. Only communication can communicate’ [4].

In the end the ‘I’ speaks and nothing much is said but this shouldn’t tempt us into abandoning narrative, merely a recognition of its necessary limits. Likewise this doesn’t imply that other forms of ‘articulation’ are more authentic.

What does this means for my ‘you’ in these narrations, these attempts at living? In effect it doesn’t much matter who my imagined audience is and what your actual singularity is or is not. In reading you are an abjection-for me. I make you into this abject just as the client makes the therapist abject. I suppose a consequence of this is also that any listener can also made into an abjection-for, perhaps hence why it is that in everyday conversation we so rarely truly listen. Therapeutic work, and let’s not pretend that writing is usually a kind of therapeutic practice, is thus not simply the co-production of a narrative between, by and for, the one who addresses and the one who is addressed, which are constantly shifting positions in the back and forth of visceral conversation but become hypostatised in writing, is a system in which a simulated abjection might remain as the fundamental side-effect. I am thinking of the side-effect not as merely an undesired consequence like the drowsiness that comes with antidepressants or the risk of agranulocytosis that comes with the antipsychotic drug clozapine.

Instead this side-effect is closer to a Virilian ‘accident’ [5]; it is the accident that is produced coextensively with the product- the possibility of a car crash that comes into being the moment the first car was assembled. Even stronger though is the sense in which abjection-for is the disavowed goal of both therapeutic work, writing and, to go too far, an ethics built on the neurobiology of empathy. In producing a broken performance of selfhood I also inflict that broken performance of selfhood on ‘you’. Maybe this is also the reason why I have previous spoken of how we inflict ourselves on others, in a reversal of Sartre’s ‘hell is other people’ slogan; and likewise, perhaps this explains why it is that today, in a society of exponentially intimate connections that lack all intimacy, brought about by the abolition of privacy through everyone’s ability to be telepresent to anyone, we withdraw from one another more and more. No one wants to talk intimately any longer because no one wants to risk following into this state of abjection; no one wants to carry the burden of the excess that the other cannot quite cope with or express.

If life today makes us all into addicts, if it is only though the metaphors of addiction and resilience that I can conceive of having a reason to live at all in this world now, then this labour of abjection is not so surprising. What is surprising is that it is still possible to make affective attachments at all; to develop mutually enriching friendships and love relationships. There again this is only surprising from within the overriding affirmationist ethos wherein any negativity, any pessimism, any abjection cannot be admitted to occur, let alone be desirable. First, ‘I’ reduce myself. Then ‘I’ reduce you so ‘I’ may produce myself in my address to you. Finally, as I come undone before you, I have brought you into my interiority as witness and as tool while you remain forever outside me. I have lost the ability to tell you who I am, what this life is, which previously I had been so sure of. In our interaction neither of us is who we are. We are ourselves undecidable, aporetic, abject together, equal to one another in our dissolution as soon as we open our mouths to speak. This explains why I chose to use Cioran’s quote at the opening of this post; if there is something like genuinely authentic relating between us they are only those of silence…and anyone who has been with others in silence for any period of time will know just how unbearable that is.

Thank you for letting me fall apart, I hope you fell apart too. Of course, there is always the temptation, the invitation, and the expectation of reply. You are on the internet; comment, cross-blog, link, ‘follow’, ‘like’, and so on: accuse me of something, accelerate decomposition.

‘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

A Sophistry of desire (a series of groundless assertions)

All of our attachments are haunted. There is no new leaf, no fresh page. She is not merely she, he is not merely he; they are not merely our fantasies and representations. They also occupy the affective place of attachments since dissolved; the figures that we carry with us whose absence is acute even after the years of time’s opioid erasure or those nested even deeper, invisibly wearing thin the tissue of our hearts.

There is no archetype for these apparitions, these inexhaustible exhaustions; The archetype is and always was missing. Perhaps this lies at the heart of the why of our attachment-objects that we choose or that unconsciously compel us to select. This might be the absent core of desire otherwise named object petite a; the object lost and never possessed. To gamble on such a claim would mean acknowledging the possibility that all of our attachments are impossible, mere stand-ins for something impossible, that love is pure nostalgia.

If love is nostalgia in general then its specific experience in our contemporaneity, which for convenience I will call Exhaustion, can only be that nostalgia beyond nostalgias we name atavism. Love is an affective inheritance that neither makes sense in a society of virtuality, of connectivity, of a crowding alienation, of an accelerative temporality that disassembles and manipulates the coordinates of once considered ‘primordial’ domains, nor is quite able to disappear. Resurrected and reassembled it is even possible to find (construct?) an Electric Love in the prosthetic imagination of cyberspaces. That Exhausted humanity can still love is a constant source of both hope and of horror, tonalities of the same bivalent

All of this amounts to speculation, a record of my own sense of the matter embroidered with words I’ve inherited from others. Disregard whatever is objectionable to you.

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

attempts at dying (binge-purge)

How to live? This is the ethicists question and the aesthetes. Religion asks after how we wish to go on living after we die. Me? In attempting to live, I am learning how best to die. And the impossible answer is always the same, obvious, retarded and so well worn as to have disappeared from popular places of view: alone. One must die, and so live, alone. To do otherwise is to inflict on others. The idea that hell consists of other people, of crowds or individuals, of lovers or enemies, that is a supreme cowardice.

Knowing how these embroiling webs of relation destroy again and again their relata, isn’t it best that each of us holds ourselves away from the others? Yes, we must walk in the world and interact in our economy, our labouring, our pleasures but for god sake it’s hysteria! Some would say there are novels about the impossibility of love (Houellebecq), about the death of love. What if, far from this, there is being expressed in a distant and convoluted, which is to say literary, form a demand; no, a commandment, the only commandment left to a world so ridden with suffering and consciousness of Death as ours. It speaks itself: do not love.

And yet which of us could follow this commandment? Atheists to the last, we prefer to cling to our sufferings and assert with pale vigour our right to hurt others. Who defends love more than the liberal who wishes only to hug the world? The ecologist who makes his obsession the earth’s dying? The parent who would send another life out into the world to be cut down and die. Love makes the human world go round. The human world is the earth made dark, corrupt, evil.

The thirst you feel at the back of your throat is the unquenchable thirst for an absolute Separation. We do not drink or cannot drink, and embed ourselves more closely into each other’s flesh, minds, and lives. We proliferate new ways to be too-close at a distance. Tele-present to one another so intimately, we are ghosts inhabiting each other’s empty centres.

It becomes axiomatic in that most vital human occupation that the only honest sex is violent and without language. We tear into one another and, adopting a system of bestial gestures, we spurn each other away. Let the old dialectic crumble and be forgotten and renewed. A kiss is a confession, a dagger and an opiate. We wish to be remembered while trying to forget. We hold one another tighter, hoping to disappear finally.

All the while we are still no closer to knowing how to live and even the question becomes murky to the one who asks it.
We are addicts of life. Sick from life. Caught in the disordered cycle: binge-purge.