In George Orwell’s essay “Why I Write” (1946), he describes four “great motives” for writing, other than the desire to make money. He says that they occur in every writer in various proportions and change depending on the writer’s environment. They are:
(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death […]
(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement […]
(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
(iv) Political purpose. — Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. […]
I am going to consider these reasons and others within a certain context. The context I want to consider is fairly solipsistic. I will try to only consider the concrete reality that is experienced by the writer. Anything that does not concretely affect the writer’s reality/experience will be considered “abstract” and “immaterial” and will be disregarded in the consideration of the reasons why a writer will write, or why a writer should write if goal(s) are sufficiently defined.
Tao Lin wrote an essay on The Nervous Breakdown called “How Will I Relieve Boredom?” “Killing a homeless person to relieve boredom, that is a game, it is the game of the context of your own body, of your brain wanting to relieve boredom, which is a goal, which is not arbitrary, it is based on brain chemicals.”
One assumption that Tao Lin often makes in his essays is “pain and suffering are bad.” It is a kind of Utilitarianism, I think. He often tries to include the widest context possible for “pain and suffering.” “I play the game of wanting to have a more comprehensive context than most people, one that includes animals, people I can’t see, and future people not yet born.”
Tao Lin wrote an essay on his blog called “interview with elizabeth spiers and the unphilosophizability (undefinibility?) of ‘existing morally,’ the word ‘morally,’ and the word ‘harmful’.” In it, he describes two kinds of pleasure. He describes “normal, ‘progress’ pleasure” in which one feels good after “fulfilling one’s desires.” He says it is similar to a drug, the effect is brief and each time you need to do more the feel the same about of pleasure. He describes a second kind of pleasure. He describes it as the pleasure of knowing that the fulfillment of your desires will occur in the future. It is the delayed form of the first kind of pleasure. The “trick” is that you purposely delay the fulfillment of your desires indefinitely, until death. This will allow you to enjoy any present wretchedness or pain because you know it increases your future reward. You don’t ever let yourself experience this reward because then it will turn into the first kind of pleasure, which is unsustainable and doesn’t help you endure pain and suffering. Tao Lin writes:
and this second pleasure is the less harmful of the two; in this second pleasure you are apathetic, you do not believe in ‘progress,’ you do not scheme or hurt other people or animals (you do not need to, because you do not believe in ‘progress,’ you do not put ‘value’ in ‘getting ahead’); you are considerate and in control; you are not a drug fiend of drugs produced by your own body
In the same essay, Tao Lin also writes:
i realize that i am harming both myself (and the world) by aligning myself with the first ‘drug-fiend’ kind of pleasure, the kind in which you seek a stronger, more comprehensive connection with the world, in which you make ‘progress’ by exposing the information of your ‘identity’ to as many people as possible in order to gain the means with which to expose the information associated with or of your identity to even more people in order to gain the means with which… etc.
Tao Lin wrote another essay on his blog called “this is an 11,000 word post with tao lin and kevin sampsell emails and some things i typed about editing.” In it, Tao Lin describes three modes of editing. They are:
1. you allow select people to edit your work and accept only select edits
2. you allow anyone to edit your work and you accept all edits
3. you allow no one to edit your work
He says that 99% of writers, editors, and publishers use the first way. This is the conventional/traditional mode, I think. He says that most copywriters and journalists use the second way. He also says that the second way is used by “buddhists who write (doesn’t really make sense) or by people who believe that one can reduce pain and suffering by making less salient identity (that one doesn’t need to destroy identity to destroy desire, but that it is on a spectrum; you can destroy a little identity to destroy a little desire).” I think Tao Lin thinks the third way is ideal. In this essay, he says that one’s art is one’s personality (one’s identity?). Although, even Tao Lin sometimes uses the first way, I think.
I am interested in the second way as used by the “Buddhist writer” (if such a writer is possible). What would be the Buddhist mode of writing and publishing? What would be the Buddhist’s context and goal(s)? Tao Lin writes that the Buddhist writer “believes identity cannot be destroyed completely but only in degrees, and that pain and suffering would be reduced as identity is.” Tao Lin tries to show the futility of this mode of writing, I think. If the Buddhist wishes to “destroy” the identity of the reader to some degree, allowing anybody to edit the Buddhist’s writing will lessen it’s ability to do so. However, by using methods one or three, the Buddhist is reinforcing the importance of the Buddhist’s identity. At the end of the dialogue imagined by Tao Lin, the Buddhist decides to not write at all.
I think to write at all, to produce a cultural object/artifact with your name on it, is to make an investment in your identity. You are forcing yourself to value it, which will cause pain and suffering. You are exposing or exploiting the “information associated with or of your identity” in order to achieve some goal(s). Perhaps these goals include the four described by Orwell.
Here, I will consider what my own reasons for writing are. First of all, I wrote this essay in order to better understand the problems that a writer (or any productive artist) or people in general must deal with. I want to understand these things better so that I might be able to live in such a way that will make me experience less pain and suffering and maybe to live in a such a way that my goal(s) are somehow less contradictory with the nature of universe. (If this is a game we are playing and we desire to win, we should consider the rules and develop a good strategy.) However, why did I publish this essay? I suppose the reason could be didactic, that this essay might help other people understand these problems and adjust their strategies and goals in such a way that they can experience less pain and suffering, and, if their goals include reducing pain and suffering of others, they might reduce the pain and suffering of others more effectively.
By publishing this under my own name, I am investing in my identity, in this appellation and the corresponding “internet presence” that is a synecdoche of my body (and its effects) in concrete reality. I hope to increase my social capital so that I might be given future opportunities to further increase my social capital. I will use this social capital to increase my self-esteem, to acquire relationships with other people with high social capital, to get groupies who will satisfy my emotional and sexual needs, etc. To do this seems to be “inauthentic” or to be “giving in” to some baser urge that is destructive to myself and others. (There seems to be an unacknowledged assumption made here.) It seems to be indulging in the first kind of pleasure. Instead, maybe, I should not publish at all. If I publish, maybe I should publish under a pseudonym. Maybe I should try to be published in the venue with the largest readership. Maybe, like the Buddhist, I should not write at all.
I suppose my context and goals are not well-defined.
If I am a solipsist and I recognize that there is no a priori “correct” way to live, I suppose I should choose to “relieve boredom” and to “reduce the pain and suffering” I experience. To do the later, I might use the technique described by Tao Lin. I might choose to blog or only publish in free online venues in order to have access to more people. I might deliberately avoid status. I don’t know.
I’ve discovered while writing this essay that it is about justifying a reason to publish this essay. It should be called “Why Should I Publish This Essay.” Maybe that’s what I will call it. Why should I publish this essay? If you are reading this essay, then I must have found a satisfying argument to do so, or I did not and chose to act “incorrectly.” If you are not reading this essay, then I did not find such an argument, or I did and chose to act “incorrectly.” Why should I publish this essay? (I guess this has gone “meta.” I’m not sure if I will be able to recover, to escape. This will be the first thing I ever write or I will never be able to write at all. I will rewrite this essay other and other again. I am doomed.)
I think I’ve noticed one major difference between the axioms of Tao Lin’s philosophy of publishing and my own. When Tao Lin has completed a book, he wants to publish it on a independent press. This will make more money for the independent press, taking money away from publicly traded companies which do things in the world that increase pain and suffering. By publishing a book, he also makes money for himself. He is taking money away from people who buy things from publicly traded companies and eat meat. He will spend it in ways that will reduce pain and suffering in the world. To further this goal, he will try to produce publicity for his books so he can sell more copies. (We must observe that Tao Lin’s actions involve consideration of multiple goals. They sometimes support each other and sometimes they are at “cross-purposes.”)
I’d like to introduce the idea of determinism, which Tao Lin acknowledges this. He wrote an essay on his blog called “noah cicero (interview).” In it, he writes:
Here’s what I think about free will. Cause-and-effect is a real thing. Anything that happens in the universe is the effect of the thing before it. Therefore we don’t have free will. This is obvious in a way. There was only the first choice, of whether or not the universe should happen. And it did. (And even that doesn’t make sense.) But going by the laws of the universe (cause and effect), I do not have free will right now, even as I type these words. (But how is that even possible? I have no idea. Can a conscious thing not have free will? It’s really strange.)
If there is no free will, if the universe is deterministic, what is the purpose of activism, specifically the activism employed/prescribed by Tao Lin as evidenced here? One may think of everything in the world other than oneself is an automaton. This is easy. The hard part is thinking of oneself as an automaton. This is the central controversy of determinism (fatalism?). One may be reassured that the subjective experience of free will is an illusion and that scientific facts are often counter-intuitive, but it seems impossible to fully accept the “hard” problem. So, many of us are left as solipsists, unable to make the final step. As Tao Lin has noted, people often assume that the life of an America is worth more than the life of an Afghani, or that the life of a white person is worth more than the life of a non-white person. More fundamentally, maybe people often assume that their own life is worth more than the life of another person. This cognitive fallacy is probably the source of much pain and suffering in the world throughout history and into the future.
This essay makes the assumption of materialist atheism, which implies that the only teleological tendency of the universe is towards maximum entropy and of systems towards the minimum of potential energy. (By materialism, I mean that “all that is, is” or “all that is, is made of matter [in the broad sense].” This is an axiomatic belief since anything that is not “made of matter” is not observable, by definition, so no counter-example could be could, even if such an example “exists.” Materialism is a tautology.) If you do not hold this belief, this essay made be less useful to you or even useless.
You sit on a chair in a room. You type sentences into a computer. You email these sentences to someone who publishes books. They read your sentences. They email you saying they will publish your book. You email saying okay. They print your sentences on pieces of paper and sew them together. They sell these books to people. These people read the sentences. The publisher gives some of the money to you, keeps some of it, and gives the rest to the government.
Reasons to write:
1. The act of writing feels good.
2a. Being published feels good.
2b. Knowing that people read your writing feels good.
2c. Having someone tell you “I like your writing” feels good.
There are different modes of writing, however. It is a bit more complex than this. Consider Tao Lin’s idea of “exposing the information of one’s ‘identity.’” This is only applicable to writing that is based on the “identity,” the “personality,” of the writer (the writer qua person). Consider confessional poetry, memoir, novels/stories written in first-person perspective, pop songs where the singer is ostensibly singing about their own life, about themself. (The “Romantic mode” of art.)
The pernicious behavior that I’m trying to understand has to do with desiring “fame,” attention, respect, “success,” social/economic capital. To write in order to make people like you and to make you like yourself seems misguided. It seems that writing cannot achieve this. How can one publish writing without acting in the interest of reinforcing your identity? How can one publish “selflessly”? If one thought that one’s writing might “relieve boredom” or “console” people similar to oneself, then one could justify publishing, maybe.
This isn’t a “universal” thing that I’m struggling with. This is a personal thing. It’s about my old insecurity and low self-esteem and feelings of “unwantedness.” It is part of the reason I thought it was a good idea to publish under a pseudonym before. I don’t know. I just feel embarrassed all of the time. I don’t want people to look at me, but I want people to look at me. What is the way out of this? I could try to efface myself from my writing. I could try to write like a computer, like a robot.
Maybe an absolutist, “all or nothing” credo is not possible. Maybe one must compromise. I dunno. Maybe it’s good to struggle with this shit. Maybe I’ll be able to “harden” myself or form some “avant-garde” belief system that I can adhere to absolutely. I dunno. I feel like “the more you put in, the more you get out” or something. I feel like this sort of endless (interminable), pointless struggling with “paper tigers” or, like, metaphysical problems that aren’t actually problems is worthwhile, maybe, but only if I “go to the end,” only if I exhaust every corner of the room, exorcise every ghost in my brain. I dunno. This “struggling” is good for me, I think. I think if I keep at it I will make some “breakthrough.” If I don’t, I guess I’ll just keep at it, anyway.
Why publish in established venues instead of self-publishing?
1. Larger audience.
2. More effectively at advancing a “career” towards financial self-sufficiency.
3. Gives the author more “credibility” and “legitimacy.”
4. Gives the author more cultural/social/economic capital than self-publishing. (Cultural capital is also social capital and economic capital. Cultural capital can be “monetized” literally and metaphorically.)
Why would an artist want to reject or undermine their own authority? Aesthetic/artistic asceticism? What would this look like, anyway? (Punk rock…?)
Maybe to speak to is demand/acquire authority. Maybe to exist is to employ rhetoric, to displace other living things.
Why would a writer want readers? (Maybe this is the more fundamental question. Or, maybe it’s “Why write?” then “Why want readers?”, the question of publishing following from the second question.) Why would a writer want readers?
1. If one is a solipsist, there are no readers other than oneself. So, there would be no reason to publish, unless one wanted the esteem of automatons or something. I don’t know if this makes sense. What is a solipsist.
2. If the writer doesn’t want readers in order to make the readers like the writer, what other reason would the reader have? To educate? To console? To engage dialogue? To communicate? To entertain?
1. relieve boredom, entertain oneself, pass the time, think through things
2. to achieve these same effects in the minds of others
3. to communicate something to others
What kind of things do I write?
Sometimes I write essays where I discuss a topic logically and try to understand it better and maybe try to answer some question, or at least clarify the question. When I write things like this, I think I want clarity. I want someone to be able to read it and understand and maybe write a response that points out something that I missed. I want to understand the topic better and I want others to help me understand it better, and it doing so they can also understand it better. I am very concerned with epistemology.
Sometimes I write things that are more about feelings, usually feelings of “fucked.” Maybe even these contain some rhetoric, like “Everything is fucked; the previous is a true statement.”
When I write things, I partly just want to write them, to think things through. With some things, I want a response. I want to talk about the thing, or something. Maybe that’s not always the case.
Anyway… Suppose I wrote something. What do I do with it? If I was proud of it, I would probably want it published in some capacity. I would be proud of it if I like it and find it conceptually/formally/aesthetically satisfying.
Why try to publish a book rather than individual pieces? This depends on the intention and nature of the pieces. If I wrote “think-pieces,” essays on a topics I want to talk about, maybe a collection makes sense only retroactively. Would reading the essays online on different pages be any different than reading them all on the same page in some e-book? I don’t think so.
Where am I going with this. I don’t know what my question is.
If I had a piece that seemed to “stand-alone” and also seemed “publishable,” I might try to do that. If only the first requirement is satisfied, maybe I should self-publish on a blog.
I dunno. I dunno. I’m not thinking clearly right now.
Thoughts while reading Believer article by Benjamin Kunkel on Pessoa, linked to by earlier Tao Lin blog post re himself, Nick Antosca, Yale, etc:
Maybe a way for me to write, a way to guide myself, is to constantly deny myself things, to sabotage myself, to make a “career qua career” impossible. How would this be achieved? I could blog instead of getting a book published or even publishing on another site. I would deny any authority or importance; these are abstractions; these are the desires and delusions of a sick mind. I could deny myself the fantasy of “perfection” or the Romantic ideal of the “perfect art object.” I could do this by forcing myself to publish at some arbitrary interval, say weekly. This would render my oeuvre fragmentary, provisional, epistolary, unfinished. This is a way to attack myself, to attack my own writing. I should not act as though I am exceptional or privileged; I should not treat my writing in this way. I should undermine it, subvert it, destroy it, tamper with it, render it crippled and useless. This would be more in accordance with the Buddhist dogma. Everything is transient, incomplete, ultimately unsatisfying. I will not allow hold anything “precious.” I will let my work be vandalized. I will vandalize it, disfigure it, ruin it.
I have certain delusions, fantasies, misconceptions. I dream of success and authority and power and wealth (in the broad sense). I should deny these things. I should hobble myself. I want to publish still, yes. Maybe I can justify this within this framework. I don’t want to publish, yes?, unless the thing is “perfect.” Isn’t this what I believe? As long as I don’t publish, I allow this delusion to live on. By forcing myself to publish “imperfect” works, I can work against it. I should not allow myself to seem “important.”
Part of the reason, here, that I want to blog rather than submit to publications is fear of rejection, maybe. This is an irrational fear. I feel like my writing is unpublishable, though. I dunno. I suppose I could submit, but what’s the point? This aspect doesn’t seem consistent with the spirit of denying oneself comfort and safety. I dunno. We’ll see.
I confine myself to a coffin-sized room, a ghetto of one, a crew called self…
The Buddhist writer wants to not desire social status (fame, respect, esteem, praise) or money (social/cultural/economic capital; maybe this is all reducible to “power” or “influence” or “authority” or “control”). The Buddhist writer thinks that these things are “abstractions” or “distortions” and desiring them will cause pain and suffering, in the Buddhist writer and others. Additionally, the Buddhist writer qua writer thinks that writing with the primary goal of acquiring these things is the “wrong intention” for writing and will produce “bad writing.” The Buddhist writer desires a corporeal asceticism as well as an aesthetic asceticism. (We may find that the idea of “Buddhist writing” is self-contradiction/an oxymoron, or that to participate in “Buddhist writing” is to not write at all.) [Note: My conception of Buddhism here is probably very unsophisticated, maybe even a “caricature” or “parody” of Buddhism.]
What does the Buddhist want? To accept death and impermanence, to accept failure and the impossibility of fulfillment (fulfilling desires), to relinquish control, to stop resisting the natural “flow of the universe.” The idea is that this will reduce pain, suffering, fear, unhappiness, etc. (Happiness and unhappiness are linked, maybe. Equanimity is the way to avoid unhappiness, maybe: to become a robot, a computer, a zombie.) What does the Buddhist qua writer want? What is the goal of writing? Let’s consider Orwell’s reasons. “Sheer egotism” is not one; this is to be avoided. “Aesthetic enthusiasm” seems possible; this just pursues “beauty,” or treats art as an arbitrary, meaningless game, which seems to be the nature of the universe. “Historical impulse” is predicated on the existence of “facts” and “truths”; it is rhetorical, persuasive. Is there such a thing as a Buddhist evangelist? It seems that number three is a species of number four, “political purpose.” The “truth” is not neutral. Saying “this is true” contains a desire to convince others of it and “push the world” in a certain direction (maybe towards a world where people base their decisions of “facts,” if any can be ascertained?).
[Note: maybe I should have a better “references section” for this essay. There’s probably a lot of stuff I don’t know on this topic. Whatever. It’s like a philosopher sitting in a room, trying to discern the nature of the universe via induction and deduction and intuition, or whatever.]
I think I would like to create something that I think is “beautiful” and “true.” I would like the things I make to be “aesthetically pure” somehow. I do want some kind of “perfection,” but I don’t know how this can be achieved. Is perfection desirable?
Language is irregular. The English language is like a bush that has been hacked away in some parts, burnt in others, but continues to grow, taking more ground.
I don’t know what to do. Since I can remember thinking about things, I feel like I’ve just been falling. “All that is solid melts into air…” There is nothing solid. Every method of epistemology has been questioned; every code of ethics has been tarnished. I don’t know what to do. This is coupled with my personal disposition, which is maybe lack of motivation or trepidation or reticence or paralytic caution or apathy—I don’t know what.
I feel like I should be “doing” something, “accomplishing” something, “publishing” something, accumulating credits, building a resume and a career. I feel like I’m wasting time, wasting my youth, dooming myself. I don’t know what to do, though. The exhortation is to “do something,” but what? Suppose I wrote a book and it was published and it was received well. Suppose I even felt good about having written that book. What then? I’m not sure what is accomplished here. (Nothing??? Surely we should be able to devise some context where “accomplishment” and “progress” are meaningful.) What does someone read a book? Why does someone write a book?
Tao Lin writes to think through things and to console himself. He also writes things for his friends. Beyond that, he sells the things he writes to achieve “political” goals that are extra-aesthetic, and maybe even extra-existential.
Maybe I don’t have the disposition that compels someone to write for publication. Maybe I am lazy or discouraged or something. I’m afraid of this possibility, though. I feel like if I’m not “successful” at art I will be unhappy and feel like I’m wasting my life, or have wasted my life. I’m afraid of Buddhism because it tells you to not publish, to not invest in ones body and identity and skills. It seems like Buddhism tells you to do nothing, or to die. I’m afraid of this. I don’t think I can give up these things. I don’t know. Why do these things make me unhappy? Why do I want to be good at something? Why does inaction seem to bring you closer to death, which must be avoided? Do we avoid inaction because we fear death, we fear loss, we fear losing all of these things that we have? I have lots of things. The person with the most has the most to lose. I don’t know.
Some thoughts on “Buddhism”:
My understanding is unnuanced. I’m actually pretty uninterested in learning what it “actually is.” I understand it simply as the assumption/axiom that “desire causes suffering” and to “decrease desire” is to “decrease suffering.” I accept the charge to “not desire” as a kind of virtue, as an end in and of itself, whether it actually “decreases suffering” or not. It seems you shouldn’t desire to not suffer. It seems like you shouldn’t desire to feel good. I can accept “desire should be avoided” with no reason given. You shouldn’t desire a reason. You shouldn’t desire a “correct” philosophy of life. This Buddhism is the Buddhism of “good enough” and “make do with what you have.” It is a kind of baseless asceticism. Failure is better than success. By failing, we become familiar with it, and we realize that there’s nothing wrong with it. We learn that we’ve been lied to. Want nothing… desire nothing…
I was thinking earlier about some vague Buddhist thing regarding “investment in identity” or “attachment to identity”—I called it “vanity,” though. I was thinking about how this relates to the desire to be “respectable” as an artist, or to make art that is perceived as “good.” I was thinking that by somehow getting “beyond” the desire to make “good art” and to be a “good artist,” you’d might be able to be a more “ruthless” artist, or something. You’d be able to focus on achieving your goal, without being distracting by things like, “Is this good for my career?” or “Do I even want to achieve this goal?” Might that be the highest level of being a “Buddhist artist”: not even making the art you want to make? Shit.
Tao Lin publishes books. Why? To make money, I guess. But that first short story collection. He specifically copied Loorie Moore’s “Like Life” or something. He made the stories 20 pages long. (Is that a “standard” length?) He hired an agent and tried to sell his book. This doesn’t seem that “existential.” It seems like he was deliberately trying to land a good book deal with a good publisher. Maybe his careerism is “sarcastic,” though. Maybe even at this early stage he was sarcastic. I dunno. Art isn’t a competition, though. I shouldn’t want anything. I should deny myself the things I want because I shouldn’t want them. I want a book deal. It would make me more “legitimate.” I won’t let myself have that. I won’t let myself “wait” to publish until I write something that is impervious to shit-talking. I’ll self-publish shitty “juvenalia.” I don’t need to protect my art or myself from shit-talking. I just need to defeat shit-talking in my head. I just need to not care if I’m shit-talked. I need to learn to like it, even. To find it funny and desireable. Yes. Failure is beautiful. It’s better to fail than to success. It’s funnier and sadder and healthier. It brings you closer to some kind of nirvana, some kind of “break-through” or “break-down,” either one of which would be good. Yes. Fuck shit up… Make a mess…
Steve Roggenbuck said:
i think different buddhists write/don’t write for different reasons. writing could be an activity driven by attachment to the ego, identity, or achievement, but it could also be driven by compassion (/ wanting to help others) or just wanting to express what you feel (or possibly ‘your true nature’), both of which seem consistent with buddhist ideals i’ve read about.
You make art. You are an artist. Why do you make art? Why not do nothing? Making art is fun. Making art makes you feel good. You make art for no reason.
You are a Buddhist of some sort. You want to don’t want to be invested in your identity, in your ego. Maybe you make art anonymously. Maybe you make art and hide it, or destroy it. (Destroying something is really just hiding it from the world.) Why show someone your art? You don’t really need a reason. It’s whatever. Why seek a “larger audience”? I don’t think this can be justified. I dunno.
(I sat down today to work on this essay and now I feel like there’s nothing to write. I dunno. I guess I could just describe what my “plan” is, and not try to make the essay a “third person” thing. I dunno. It seems weird. I’ve written many words here and I’ve talked at length with people about these things, but I can’t seem to cull any “truths” out it. Maybe all of this talk has just revealed to be that there is no problem, there are no questions. I dunno. Shit. I guess I’ll have to spend some more time to think things through. All of this seems confusing.)
One major point is “interest.” Nothing is of interest to anyone. No one gives a fuck/shit about anything. There is a certain amount of resistance that must be overcome to care about anything and it is a significant amount.
Reread this, maybe.
Another important thing to remember is that there is no such as thing as “completion,” as “progress,” as “improvement,” as “quality,” as “good/bad,” as “success,” as “failure,” as “skill” (unless rigorously defined). There is no point in doing anything. Nothing matters, in a strong sense (?). I assume a kind of metaphysical pessimism: nothing is more important than anything else; everything is equally unimportant.
You work on a piece. You are never “done.” You never “make it better” than it was before. You are not “improving” it or “ruining” it, though it seems this way. If it seems either way to you, maybe it is better to “ruin” it, to do the opposite of what you “want” to do, because this very want should be avoided and nullified. You can’t make a piece any “better.” You can never “finish” it; this concept is nonsensical. It is already complete—it is already perfect—in a sense—in the sense that everything is unique, so everything is completely itself and perfect in and of itself. (Or, is everything the same? I suppose if there was only one thing, it would be “perfect” and “complete,” too.)
I don’t know. You can’t get “better.” You can’t make something you’re working on “better.” It just is. What would a “radical” mode of art production in this spirit look like? What would it produce?
The goal is to avoid vanity, to avoid investment in you immaterial and itenerant and contingent identity, to deny the desire to live forever, to deny desire, to not let yourself ignore faces, to ignore the “marks of existence,” to act in accordance with these truths, to not desire to “escape” the depravity/privation/paucity/poverty of existence, to not desire the transcendence that is goal of Romantic art.
(Address the possibility that this mode of art production might produce “bad art.” Is this even a legitimate concern? If it is, is it enough to just not care about it? What happens when “bad art” comes into the world? I guess also address that possibility that this way of making art isn’t “fun.” Is it not fun? Is fun important? Address these things concerning “relieving boredom” as well. Does this mode relieve boredom? Does it help to pass the time? Does it sooth the dis-ease of existence?)
The point of making art in a way that is harmonious with the “nature of the universe” is maybe to avoid alienation, to console oneself against death, to achieve equanimity…
One way of making art within this Buddhist mode would be to make art that is temporary, that degrades and breaks down and disappears, that has “built-in obsolescence.” Think about improvisational art… Jazz, freestyle rap… Improvisations exist briefly, in the experience of the audience, and are preserved for a short time in the memory of the audience. That is all. It is as mutable and temporary as memory. It is here and it lingers, then is it gone. Graffiti might fit this well. It is anonymous. It is temporary. It is confined to a physical, geographical region. It fades away within the lifespan of the author. Huh…
“Career, career, career…” [Pavement - “Cut Your Hair.”]
Everyone is always alone. Do not desire to be unalone.
Everyone dies. Do not desire to live forever.
No one is important. Do not desire to be important.
Do not desire to understand. Do not desire to be understood.
[Note re “built-in obsolescence”: everything (including all art) already has built-in obsolescence. You don’t need to exert any additional effort to achieve this. It will happen soon enough on its own. Entropy…]
Maybe some central idea of all of this is that one should try to view one’s life “objectively”: “as a book read, not as a book written” [Tao Lin?], as historically contingent and not an exception to the chain of causality, a biography written by someone else. You should try to think of yourself as someone who is not yourself. When you think “Should I do X?” consider what you would advice someone else to do. One central fallacy of existing is that you privilege your own experience/perspective over others; you should try to avoid this. Another is that you are constantly the “you” that exists right now; you are not the many “you”s that will exist in the future. You have to take them into consideration. You have to try not to ignore them, though it is easy to. You have to keep in mind that you will die someday. You have to keep in mind that you will someday be a reduced to an oeuvre and a biography that other people may or may not read. Try to “live your life in light of God’s memory” or something. [Blackstar – “Thieves in the Night.”]
Maybe one assumption is that “you are always alone; don’t try to be unalone.” This seems like it will be true for much of a person’s life. You have to be happy “within yourself, within your own means” or something if you want to be happy in the long term. (Is happiness the goal? No. Equanimity is. With equanimity comes indifference to/acceptance of death, which is the ultimate, the terminus that renders life teleological. (David Foster Wallace said something like this.) Life is teleological/eschatological. It is subject to the “arrow of time.” This gives it some sort of “meaning.” You live, then you live no longer. That’s the “meaning” of life. “Meaning” is a way of talking about “causes” and “effects” maybe. (Hence, Tao Lin’s “having asked many times and reached the last why.”)
Maybe you have to trick yourself into living in the way that is “best” in the long term. This is “planning,” which is something that humans are better at than other animals. We can accumulate information over lifetimes and use this to make decisions. “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” We stand on piles of dead bodies. We need to “force” ourselves to live in the way that will achieve our goals. The things we must do might not seem “natural,” but we will have to force ourselves to do them. This is good because it takes away the agency/control of your present self and gives it to a past self—actually, a series of past selves who thought over a period of time about the plan you are following. You should trust them because this aggregation of past selves is more objective and prescient than your single present self is.
This is a way to live. It’s a way to achieve your goals, whatever they are. You have to plan and try to avoid the cognitive blind spots that are inherent in the human animal. You need to use your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses.
I was watching a TV show (Californication) about a writer (novelist). When I think about writers and writing, what metaphors do I use? I think of a writer sitting down and “powering through” a book through “sheer effort” and stamina. It’s like moving a physical object, like pushing a boulder across a field. There is a clear goal and a clear way of moving towards it. This is probably the wrong way of thinking about it. The material of a book isn’t “distance” or “weight.” It’s “ideas” and “emotional response.” Writing is looking at words on a page and trying to arrange them in such a way that you get an emotional response from them. (Is “intellectual awe” an emotion?) Does one need to have “stored up” emotions and experiences in order to write? I don’t know. Maybe all art is the act of feeling, or something. What do I feel? It seems recently I feel fairly zen; I feel zen sometimes and anxious/distraught others. I could write something that makes me feel “good” and “emotional” maybe. Is that the goal? Maybe. I don’t know. The goal of writing has to have something to do with the relationship between the writer and the act of writing and/or the written object. Anything else seems unsustainable. The process of writing is sort of calming, I guess. I don’t feel like I notice how I feel when I’m writing very consciously. Having written something, how do you feel? I don’t know. I don’t know. Shit.
Right now, I’m just writing thing after thing for publication on my blog. Many of the things have fairly concrete and specific goals; they have specific topics. This makes them easier to write, I guess, and easier to know when they are “completed.” Many different artist have different processes, think about art differently, make different kinds of art. Maybe I have the kind of brain that wants to make “perfect machines” with the goal of “self-containment”/”self-sufficiency” and “self-generation” or something. I dunno. I don’t go into writing with a mess of emotional that I have to delve through, I don’t think. I don’t know. Maybe that’s only my writing recently. In the past, my writing has been quite emotional. Shit. Should I try to write long(er) works? Is that a good goal? I guess it’s an okay goal. It’s an arbitrary end like any other. Maybe it is “challenging” and will help expand my “writerly skills.”
Again, what’s the point… Is a big work more satisfying than a small one? Hmm. I don’t know. Probably just writing and producing things is fine for now. Maybe along the way I’ll figure more things out. Hmm.
Maybe I should just spend more time writing. That’s where the secret lies. The more time I spend writing (reading is probably good, too), the closer I’ll get to some sort of “answer” or “understanding.” Yeah. The answer lies on the page, here in Microsoft Word. Yeah. Keep writing things, finishing things. Remember that “you determine your own level of involvement.” The more time you spend in here, the more rewarding it will be. This is a game that isn’t very fun at first, but holds the promise of getting more and more fun as you play, without limit. Ha. That may or may not be true. I can’t know at this point.
If there is an American soldier shooting Afghanis, it might as well be me, yeah? Like, what is the difference between John X from Kentucky doing it and me doing it? If it’s going to be done anyway, I should be willing to do it myself, or something, and not feel any more guilty than I do now.
Like, suppose I was offered a job at an “evil corporation.” If I turned down, should I feel “good,” like I did the “right thing”? If I don’t work there, someone else will. Just because it’s not me, I shouldn’t feel good about it. I shouldn’t disavow myself of guilt because some other white American man is doing it instead of me. It is still being done. Whichever one of us does it is arbitrary. It is only trivially different.
With charity… I heard on NPR someone said “give until it feels good.” What the fuck? Is the point of charity (or other activism) to “feel good about yourself,” to someone convince yourself that you are absolved of guilt, have fulfilled your responsibility? If we truly care about other people, our concern should not be feeling good, but for helping other people. We should not be looking for ways be more comfortable. We do not deserve comfort. We should not be trying to avoid thinking about what is done in this world. Some may do activism only so they don’t feel ashamed to be around other “activists.” This is narcissism. We should be strong. We shouldn’t care about seeming monstrous or uncompassionate. Each individual needs to realize that they don’t matter, that they don’t really exist, that they are not themself. People should learn to not side with themself, to not be their own ally. People need to learn to act against their own interest. This is the final step. We must learn to break solidarity with our own bodies. If you are a white American man, to be fully divorced from whiteness, American-ness, patriarchy, you must be traitor against yourself.
I’m not sure how to say this clearly… But this is an important thing. I don’t think I’ve thought this before. The goal is to see everything as contingent, as accidental, as arbitrary, as external, or something. We are anti-racists because we see race as incoherent, of course, but furthermore as arbitrary. We dismantle hierarchies are realize that everything is deserving to exist as everything else. We realize that an American life is not worth more than an Iraqi life, or a human life than an insect’s life. We must further see that simply being oneself, and not someone else, is arbitrary. We should strive to act as though we were not ourself, but external to ourself and giving us orders, tell us what we should do. We should not consider ourselves as an exception, as different than any other person, as external to the world.
One should treat oneself with no more respect or deference than one treats anyone.
Also, maybe asceticism doesn’t make sense somehow… If we don’t care about ourselves, why should it matter if we do the “correct” thing within asceticism or the “wrong” thing. If doing the “wrong” thing hurts us, we don’t care, yeah? If we are nihilists, or something, it doesn’t matter if we do something that betrays non-nihilist beliefs?
But what is “responsibility”? What is “guilt”? What does it mean to “deserve” something?
Panhandlers… Should you give them all of your money, none of your money? Who “deserves” it? Does giving them money “help” them? Should you even be concerned with “helping” them?
There’s one point in Tao’s essay on “self-promotion” that seems like something I need to incorporate into my “worldview” or whatever. Simply not killing yourself is a kind of self-promotion. To feel embarrassed to promote your own shit, if you like it, is irrational. It’s no different than promote someone else’s shit that you like, fundamentally. (I guess it’s not irrational if you have a problem with promote other people. I dunno.) You shouldn’t treat yourself any different than you treat people who aren’t you. You should regard yourself with detachment, as though you were not yourself. You shouldn’t treat yourself differently, with exception. By not promoting yourself, you are “withholding” shit that someone might like, in a way, because you are being “precious” and placing too much importance on your art and your career. I dunno.
Every poem is a merely a fragment of a greater poem, a half-remembered song. If a single moment was depicted in art as it is actually experienced (in all of its subtlety and complexity), the extant corpus of art would be rendered useless, a shadow.
I just had an “epiphany.” I was watching my parents sit in my apartment and listening to my mom talk. I thought that if I could remember everything in order transcribe it, it could be a “masterpiece” of a play, or at least fully aesthetically satisfying to me. Instead, it will be lost, forgotten.
Everything is incomplete. The soul evacuated, like water evaporating from wood. Part of the thing is lost, forgotten. Everything is a fragment, a draft. You collect things until you have everything you need, but then something breaks or is stolen or lost. You resist, but entropy is inexhaustibly strong; it has the wind at its back. The worms of time eat away at our detritus, our ruins, our jetsam and our flotsam. The machinery of the universe is made of innumerable invisible gears of no weight or size.
Try to not react to anything. Have infinite patience. Do nothing. Make no decisions. “Wait and see.” Try to be indifferent to all things. Treat yourself as a stranger. Treat everyone as you would a tree or rock. Lie on the ground until you die of dehydration.
why do [something] instead of [something else]
why should i “protect my personal brand”
why should i “build my career”
i want to be indifferent towards myself
i want to be indifferent towards my own career
my own life
i want to look at my own blog as idly as i would some internet bro’s
i am some internet bro
i thought “i shouldn’t post that on my blog”
then i thought “why shouldn’t post that on my blog”
i thought about my “career” and my “personal brand”
then i thought “i shouldn’t care about those things; they aren’t real”
being “good” won’t make me happier
it won’t make my life more meaningful
it won’t let me escape being myself
i thought “i should do whatever i don’t want to do”
if i could “force” myself to do those things
maybe i could be happier
i’m assuming that avoiding “delusions” and “irrationality” will make you happier
because the “real world” does not contain those things
i want to not care about anything
i want to be indifferent to the world and myself
i want to be a stranger to myself
i want to die without dying
“aesthetics of indifference”
in the translation of pessoa’s “book of disquiet” that i read
there was a thing called “the aesthetics of indifference”
i was going to quote it in an essay, but it doesn’t matter
that’s the only rule of the aesthetics of indifference
“it doesn’t matter”
in some translation of the bible
ecclesiastes 1:2 says “everything is meaningless”
i like that because the bible is one of those books
that people who think things are meaningful like
Maybe I should publish all these attempts at writing an essay. Maybe I should give up trying to consolidate them into a “unified, unwavering message.” Maybe publishing this is a way to hurt myself, a way to give up a little, to relinquish to myself control over myself. Pessoa wrote somewhere in his book “to write is to despise myself.”
Why “edit.” How can anything be improved. What is “discipline.” If I do things “correctly,” what will be accomplished. What will be gained. What do I want that I don’t already have. What am I trying to protect myself from. Is “not caring” a good thing. “I don’t know.” “It doesn’t matter.” I guess so. “it’s whatevs / re everything in the world it’s really just whatevs” (Zachary German). Yeah.
The desire to “make good art” comes from vanity, the desire to be liked, the fear of death. You shouldn’t want or fear things, maybe. I guess it’s okay to want or fear things. Maybe I want to not want things because of something else. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you do. Nothing is accomplished. Nothing is broken. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is lost. Nothing can be wrong. You can’t do anything wrong.