Between the word and the flesh

This post is a little late, but as I may or may not have made clear the other night, my administrative day runs from about 8pm till sometime after sunrise, so to me it is still the third, and this post still counts. To demonstrate, I will most likely post my fourth post later on the fourth, local time, but to me it will be tomorrow, which is the fourth, as far as I am concerned.

If that makes sense.

Not that I am writing in order to make sense. At the moment, I am pondering three things: the US Presidential Election, the why of writing, and the state of the blogosphere as it appears to me. I do tend towards metacommentary, as you might infer from two of the three things preoccupying me. At any given time some portion of my brain is evaluating what language is doing. I mean, what it is doing in my head, what it is doing in the media, what it is doing online, what it is doing for lunch–you name it, I’m thinking about how it is talked about. This is my own fault for getting a degree in Rhetoric, but of course I chose Rhetoric because I’ve been in a death struggle with language my entire life. Ok maybe that’s not an “of course” statement: I could have chosen Rhetoric for any number of reasons. But the fact is I did choose it because language and I have been in a love/hate relationship since my first attempts to form words in my head.

But I think I’ll talk about that another day.

Right now, I cannot think of anything to add to the shitstorm of writing about the Election, not because I have had no thoughts on the subject that might be novel to someone, somewhere, but at the moment I am incapable of thinking any of them. This Election has me on pins and needles to an extent as yet unforeseen. I am not sure exactly why this is; the older I get, the worse politics seem to get, and the more important to try to influence what goes on around me. But I do not know if this is a function of age or a function of the particular–that is, wrong–direction the country has been headed over the last horrifyingly ill-advised eight years of neo-conservative rule behind our face puppet president. Whatever the cause, right this second I am unable to speak coherently on the topic.

Every act, though, is political, and every act of writing is a political act of writing. Perhaps it would be a good time to undichotomize speech and action, that dilemma of political life and the basis of much of the antipathy between intellectual circles and the American populace as a whole: the view that book-learnin’ isn’t worth the paper it is printed on but that decisive action is somehow always to be looked upon as honorable, if not downright heroic.

Why is this important now? Well, for one, I think that by this time tomorrow either the country will breathe a collective sigh of relief or people will start to pour into the streets and begin to act in ways that are unpredictable right now. And it will be time to write furiously, as we have never written before.

This is not because thought guides action, or because writing can be a prelude to deciding what to do, but rather because thought is already action, and that writing is already a choice as to what to do: both have real consequences for those who undertake them and for those with whom they might be shared. Theory is not something one consults in order to figure out how to behave: it is behavior’s primary gesture, determining not merely the “beliefs” behind what we do, but inhabiting the core of every movement.

Just as the empirical event is emergent from the encounter between perception and its environment, and is so to the extent that perception and environment turn out to be inseparable, constantly oscillating around one another and interpenetrating one another, one could say that action is the working out of physical theory, or that theory is the unconscious of every muscular movement.

Let me see if I can explain. We are–or, it seems, most people I meet are–used to dealing with concepts such as “frame of reference” to explain why a given situation (which is never given without the frames: hint.) will appear and/or be interpreted differently by the various individual points of consciousness that are involved with it (think of “individual points of consciousness” as a fancy term for “people,” but one that does not disallow the possibility of non-human frames of reference). The way that most Anglo-European-American minds are trained, this makes sense to us only insofar as we introduce frames of reference as an independent term from that which they frame: as though they were literally picture frames, except that they might contain something like inscriptions that a person will refer to to translate what is inside the frame in such a way that they, from outside the frame, can understand it. Put a frame of reference around a painting and embed within it the voices of art critics, and perhaps this model could be made concrete (No really. Do it and see if you can get a grant or something).

But the frame of reference model is too simplistic and too compartmentalized, when in fact the entities that meet at the frame, as a kind of boundary, actually communicate through it, to the degree that neither remains completely independent of the other, the frame itself starts to dissolve, and soon what one has is an encounter that sparks an event: an event that contains neither the painting nor the observer, but which confounds them at the place where they meet.

Think of it this way: when you encounter an object, it impinges upon you. Light hits your retinas, your hands are blocked at points where the object will not let them pass. You stub your toe on the base of the thing and the resultant boing-oing-oing assaults your eardrums. All these things happen in a region where the difference between your perception and the physical bluntness of the object is not easy to make out: if the object is blue, it is so only because your retina is sensitive to a certain wavelength of light striking a nerve, which sends a signal to your brain where, through processes I cannot pretend to understand fully, you “see” the color you have been trained to call “blue.” Without you, the object may or may not be blue. It may or may not be hot. It may or may not be soft, noisy etc.

So what has this to do with the difference between theory/words/speech and action? When you move, you theorize. You process information about your environment and you synthesize “hypotheses” about what you can and cannot do while enmeshed with that environment. Conversely, when you theorize, you move. You not only change the way in which neurons in your nervous system fire in concert with all the others, but you change your perceptions according to whatever modified frame of reference proceeds from your theory/thought/writing/speech. If you are speaking out loud or theorizing publicly, the same thing happens to those around you, whether or not they agree with you. We say we are “moved” by a speech, or that the play was flat and “unmoving,” as though we recognize intuitively that change actually results from the way in which language and other signs affect our perceptions, and thereby, our environment and the events which arise when all of these moments coincide.

Tomorrow then, or tonight–however you yourself experience the way in which hours pass in this world–when you decide what to do in response to whatever your environment presents you with, be aware that speech and action both have consequences in reality, that motion can be achieved in thought, and that the right word–Flaubert called it “le mot juste,” which we can understand as both “precise” and “just”–is perfectly capable of motion and carries with it a specific energy. I cannot say, myself, right now, exactly what you should do with this thought, or how it should move you, but I think that beginning to understand the way in which even language is tangled up with the world of phenomena might be of help in understanding how a butterfly moving its wings can cause a windstorm on the other side of the world.

To sum up: take care. It is both the easiest and hardest thing for those of us brought up in a post-platonic world to do.

I will explain more on that later, but by all means, give it a whirl yourself.

2 thoughts on “Between the word and the flesh”

respond to this

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s