Overweening Generalist

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Writing: Scattered Mind

Of the deep history of writing as a carefully guarded technique of magick: this is something you all know. But I often fall to wondering about some relatively short epoch when the entire system of writing became near-optimal, and it took off, with many writers using the implements, the total media - the bulk of it ephemeral, now long-lost, disintegrated, burnt in a raid from the hordes out of the north...there are many narratives about this, none totally persuasive. But the brain at some point met with an adequate system - whether alphabet or ideogram of hieroglyph - and found an optimal environment. It was a moment in our evolution. They probably had no idea they were Binding Time; they probably had no idea some of us in 2011 might still be reading and trying to understand them. I hope they enjoyed it. It seems certain they had, via practice, constructed neural circuitry that was novel.
It seems there's a long history of writers who reflect on what they wrote and assert that it felt like they were channeling their characters or their dialogue or their discursive take on some phenomena. It is only now that neuroscience is beginning to develop its own narrative about how this happens. And there will be writers who will cry foul and balk at this unraveling of the mysterium. But they needn't worry: no matter how robust the narrative from the brain sciences in, say, 15 years, the mystery will still be there for the writer.
The Freudian theory about the phenomenon of "transference" has always fascinated me. At first, much was theorized about the dangers of transference. Now, many theorists think it is the transference that makes any psychotherapy "work," if it works at all for you. (And I hope it does/did.) I also think this idea is easily applicable to writing: when we write about a person, it works both ways: we necessarily project ourselves "onto" them, for the most basic reason that we cannot escape our own subjectivity; we're writing from our own nervous systems (I will suspend the practice of "automatic writing" and those texts that were "dictated by the god(s)" for now). And the algebraic reciprocity holds as well: when we write about them, we appropriate something of their energies, and maybe a touch of "character" or "style." This may be a well-kept occult reason why some people write in the first place, but I will not dogmatize here...
When I was much younger I ran across Joan Didion's line about her writing to find out what she thinks; I thought it was witty. Then, when I started writing for my own purposes, I was astonished to find how relatively literal the idea was.
In the Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol II, I ran across this line:

"'Imaginative' writing is as it were a flank attack upon positions that are impregnable from the front. A writer attempting anything that is not coldly 'intellectual' can do very little with words in their primary meanings. He gets his effect, if at all, by using words in a tricky roundabout way."

If I have been tricky and roundabout, I make no apologies. (I said "if.")
Do you wish to write something very outrageous and heretical? Consider "translating" a non-existent book from an exotic language, and have at it! You must pile up layers of fictions, though. And remember the old saw about liars? - that they must have excellent memories? - you, the "translator" will have to implement memory. But you should undertake the operation with little or no ethical qualms, for you have Poetic License. And oh by the way: congratulations on entering the Realms of the Trickster.

Will someone do the research and call you on your fraud? Of course! But at least you tried. People admire that.
On writing when you have read enough to get in and out of Chapel Perilous at least once, having internalized some portion of the Nightmare of History? Listen to these lines from Peter Dale Scott, who seems like a cross between Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn and a zen poet:

                                       how do we live with evil
                                                    we can profit from it
                                            we can preach against it

                                       but if we write poetry
                                                    how not to misrepresent
                                             the great conspiracy

                                        of organized denial
                                                      we call civilization?
                                              From the protected mob

                                        around JFK airport
                                                      with ties to the Russian
                                              mafia at Brighton Beach

                                        and the plane which every day
                                                     flies a million dollars in cash
                                              to the drug banks of Russia

                                        at a time when Russia
                                                     owes $17 billion a year
                                           in interest to its creditors

                                         to the universities
                                                     continuously inventing new ways
                                              not to think of such things

-excerpt from Minding The Darkness (2000)
Clearly, writing itself can present some form of peril to at least one person, so let us be mindful.

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