Anguish and Boredom:
The Brutal Push and Pull of Something and Nothing
What anguish could be so spectacular? What flight from boredom, from emptiness, could be so profound as that of the creative mind? It has, in fact, killed greater minds than mine. And it has been a source of vexation since the genesis of my becoming, that vague point at which I decided to be more like them. It's a fight I cannot win. The blank page, like a schoolyard bully, glares me down, mocks me, and provokes me into something I can’t back down from. Why? Ego, perhaps. A sense of self. The guilt of having ran my mouth, of having thought of and called myself a writer. A promise I made to Pav. And why is proving it so important? On top of that, I have turned to Aum’s essays, to take me from an empty state, to fill my mind with brain chatter, only to exorcize it by discarding the brain chatter onto the page. Why go through this only to return to where I started? What kind of push and pull could cause that? Jouissance? My intent in the following, then, is to expand on Aum’s point in the above essay, Sartre’s Anguish, then, through its foundation in the nothing, connect it to his other essay, Boredom is the Root of all Evil1., and conclude by utilizing my understanding of Lacanian Jouissance to assess the push and pull at the heart of existence and establish it as the source of what makes life such a gift, what justifies our point A to point B, while also revealing the true brutality of it all.
(On the other hand, writers are notorious for their laziness, and the many rituals they tend to engage in just to get themselves to sit down and write. Maybe I should make my flavor of Bad Faith a quick peek at what’s on T.V.. And while laziness seems a reasonable explanation, isn’t there something more at work? A sense of dread, perhaps? A fear of failure?)
What anguish could be so spectacular? What flight from boredom, from emptiness, could be so profound as that of the creative mind? It has, in fact, killed greater minds than mine. And it has been a source of vexation since the genesis of my becoming, the vague point at which I decided to be more like them.
Why the aphorism? Because it is that poetic expression of nothing becoming something1..
1.Why the footnote? Because it points out that a work of writing is a thing: a 3 dimensional object in a 2 dimensional space that can be approached from any direction, a form of being that must, consequently, contain its own nothingness and occupy a space.
Writers are notorious for their laziness, and the many rituals they tend to engage in just to get themselves to sit down and write. Maybe I should make my flavor of Bad Faith a quick peek at what’s on T.V.. And while laziness seems a reasonable explanation, isn’t there something more at work? A sense of dread, perhaps? A fear of failure?
It starts as always,
With the tyranny of the blank page.
I could, of course, and should walk away,
Could it be because the blank page could only stand as testament to my own emptiness
-a kind of mirror?
And why does that present a problem?
Yet, there it is
Mocking me with a challenging glare.
Like a schoolyard bully.
It provokes me into a fight it wants me to know I cannot win.
Yet, I stay.
I could take some comfort from the well known adage
That writers are, by nature, lazy,
That they tend to go through all kinds of weird rituals to get themselves
To just sit down and write.
Yet, they must love it.
Why else would they do it?
Could it be a flight from the emptiness of the blank page,
The possibility of a flight from the emptiness within themselves?
Therefore, we can accept the possibility that the writer’s laziness
Comes from basic human laziness.
But it seems to me that there is something more at work.
Could it be the dread of not knowing what will happen
As the page is filled?
I mean what if I do something stupid
And prove to everyone that I am as empty
As I feel at the beginning of this project?
What if I’m truly burnt out?
Or if my brain is finally pickled from too much alcohol?
As an elder character in the movie
I hate sleep;
It’s too much like death.
Maybe I’m getting too old for this.
Maybe the possibility of my own emptiness is
“too much like death.”
On the other hand,
I’ve always found the writing process,
Once it is finished,
To be one of the relief of having emptied all my brain chatter
On to the blank page,
Allowing myself to be empty.
I mean what would be the point
Of looking at a blank page,
Feeling the anxiety of it,
Then pouring all your brain chatter onto it
Just so you can feel empty?
It makes no sense.
On top of that,
I have to deal with the anxiety of knowing that
Had Aum not posted their attempts at what the forum warranted,
I would have had absolutely nothing.
I would have stared at it blankly
Thereby failing the promise I made to Pav.
Yet, post Aum did.
And I must be thankful for it,
Not only because they gave me something to respond to,
But because the 2 essays they presented
Says a great deal about the crisis I face
At the beginning of any project I take on like this.
It seems to me that the crisis any writer faces, when faced with the blank page,
Is the very crisis described by Aum in his two essays, Boredom as the Root of all Evil and Sarte’s Anguish:
The push and pull between nothingness and something.
Therefore, the intent of the following is to expand on the point of the above essay, connect it to Aum’s other essay on boredom through their common foundation in the underlying nothingness, then bring in Lacan’s concept of jouissance to assess the push and pull relationship that lies at the foundation of our existence, that which reflects the very brutality at the heart of it while also supplying a justification for it.
First of all, what it all comes down to is Leibniz’s question of why all this rather than nothing. On top of that, any one of us have to deal with the question of why we exist when we could of as easily not, and that out of the million forms we could have taken, we managed to be the very form of existence we are.
Secondly, we have to remember that when we talk about things like emptiness, space, absence, and silence, what we are basically talking about are metaphors for nothingness, segways to the nothingness that may or may not actually exist, that is since the very existence of a thing implies that it may not exist. Take, for instance, Sartre’s description of going to a bar to meet Pierre. Sartre goes to a bar seeking Pierre. However, Pierre doesn’t show up, thereby, becoming a kind of absence, a nothingness, a rip in the fabric of being that is soon filled in by the presence of the bar and the other people in it. Pierre’s absence, in a sense, becomes a signifier for the signified of nothingness: a metaphor. In other words, there is no need for nothingness to actually exist. All that is actually needed is the possibility of it.
Lastly, we need to recognize that a lot of what Aum is talking about is the “Vertigo of the Possible”, a concept introduced in Sartre’s Transcendence of the Ego : that which comes from the mind’s natural tendency to consider its options, and that it has some important implications:
I can speak from experience: there can be no anguish so spectacular, no flight from boredom, from emptiness, so intense as that of the creative mind. It has, in fact, killed greater minds than mine. And it has been a source of vexation since I first began to define myself as such. However, having read Aum’s two essays, Sartre’s Anguish and Boredom is the Root of All Evil, several times, and having put a lot of thought into these issues myself, I’ve come to a new clarity on how relevant these issues are to the creative mind: my situation. It now strikes me, as I set down to respond, how much they reflect on the microcosm of my grand project and the many small creative acts that constitute it. I mean what could produce more angst for the artist or writer than a blank space to be filled? I certainly feel it at the beginning of this. I could, of course, walk away. I’m perfectly free to do so. It’s not like I’m getting paid. And there are other I things I could be doing of presumably higher and more immediate value. (Or do they just seem higher because they are immediate?) Yet, I stay, slump before the blank page, and imagine it glaring me down, mocking me, like a schoolyard bully provoking me into a fight that it has instilled in my mind that I cannot win. Why? Ego, perhaps? A sense of self? The guilt of having ran my mouth, of having thought and called myself a writer? And why is proving it so important?
Now I have choices to make –many choices –perhaps too many. Will I make the wrong ones and reaffirm the emptiness I started with? Even worse for the generalist who bounces around the different disciplines, who can never be sure what to do when, or how to go about it. Trust me, after years of trying, there is no system that will make it flow like a well oiled machine. The bad faith of it has proven silly. Still, when things feel wrong, I go back to scheming.
Maybe I’m just too old, or burnt out, or my mind is pickled from too much 70’s, beer, and Jager. On top of that, several days ago, I finally resolved to set aside my books and focus on creative output only to draw a blank. (I can never make up my mind: take in or put out? Take in or put out?) I had to drop my system and did some reading. And now I have the unease of knowing that, had Aum not wrote his essays, I might still be empty and would have had to break my promise to Pav. Can I truly take credit? But how could I not when I would have take responsibility for my failure? whatever takes part, whatever contingencies or variables, I still have to choose how to respond. But there’s still the deeper absurdity of it. My experience of a successful writing venture has been of a joyful emptiness, of having discarded all my brain chatter on to the page. So what is the point of starting with this emptiness, turning to Aum to fill my mind with chatter, only to discard it and return to the same vacant state. What is this push and pull? This strange tension? Jouissance?
It makes no sense. Yet, we have to act as if it does.
(Christ! My room’s a mess. Is it time to get serious? To put it all in order?)
My intent in the following, then, is to expand on Aum’s point in the above essay, Sartre’s Anguish, then, through its foundation in the nothingness, connect it to his other essay, Boredom is the Root of all Evil1., and conclude by utilizing my understanding of Lacanian Jouissance to assess the push and pull at the heart of existence that is the source of what makes it such a gift, what justifies our point A to point B, while also revealing the true brutality of it all.
At this point, I feel like I’m in a common state with an Alzheimer’s patient as their neurological infrastructure decays, only like two trains passing in two different directions.
I lay the chaos of my mind on the table and seek order in it.
In the beta dream, the thoughts become like loose vectors until one of them darts towards you (you the perceiving thing) and you jolt awake.
Having read Aum’s essays, Sartre's Anguish and Boredom is the Root of all Evil, and having thought about similar subjects for a large part of my intellectual life, I now realize the extent to which anguish and the underlying nothing define the creative mind. This project, for instance, starts like most: with a blank page and a profound sense of terror. I have ideas -or a kind of vague ethereal flux in my head. I have a reason to write. But without a guarantee of success or a clear guide of how to get there, the choices to be made can be daunting. Still, I persist. Why? I slump before the page, the reflection of my possible emptiness, and ask the questions. How will I fill it? How will it all turn out? Will I go through all this only to prove I have nothing? That I’m too old, or too burned out? Or, even worse, that my brain is pickled from too much 70’s, beer, and Jager? Were it not for Aum, I’d probably still be drawing blanks and never would have fulfilled my promise to Pav. But this only presents another problem: a kind of absurdity. My experience tells me that the pleasure in writing comes after the work is done and one’s brain chatter has been emptied onto the page in an orderly fashion. It’s a birthing process. And the pleasure that brings me back is the elation and joy of having expelled my creation: that feeling of purity. But why go through the effort of creating something so that one can engage in the catharsis of spilling it back out so that they can, in effect, return to the previous state? Wouldn’t staying that way in the first place do as much? Clearly, there’s a kind of tension at work, a push and pull of the something and the nothing that may well lie, in some fundamental way, at the bottom of Lacian jouissance.
Therefore, the intent of the following is to expand on points made by Aum in his essay on Anguish, find connections (through to underlying nothing) to points made in his essay on boredom, then tie it all together into the push and pull tension, the jouissance, the mixed blessing that justifies our point A to point B while also making it brutal.
Humble yourself or the world will do it for you -it was either Russell or Whitehead. I can't remember which.
When I was young, I use to think the world was a messed up place so i was pissed off a lot. But now that I'm older, I know it is. So I just don't worry about it. -John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten).
Anarchy through Capitalism -on a flyer thrown out during a Kottonmouth Kings concert.
First we read, then we write. -Emerson.
All poets are damned. But they are not blind. They see with the eyes of angels. -William Carlos Williams: in the introduction to Ginsberg's Howl.