All too often I find myself thinking of language, of my reading of a text, as, in itself, a “nothing”. One says that he can adopt a position for or against a text they read, as if the text can simply be thrown to the side and forgotten after being read. Or one says that he can adopt a position of liking or disliking, appreciating or not appreciating, valuing or not valuing, what has been read. In all these cases, the text is treated as an immaterial thing… As a thing without effects, as a thing that is just a “wisp”– A quasi-thing.
But I wonder, how does a physicalist think about the act of reading? What might a neurologist say about reading? If the mind is, as the neurologist contends, the brain then acts of reading and writing are not simply acts of a disembodied spirit that judges, selects, rejects, dismisses, but rather they are irreversible, physical events that transform ones neurology. To read is to create a physical trace that will irreversibly be there. Discourse with another is here no longer an innocent way of passing the time like Socrates beneath the tree with the young, charming and handsome Phaedrus, but is to transform, if only in a small way, both of those involved in a way that is irresolvable and that even has its own chemistry. Somewhere in the film Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg’s character speaks of wanting to pull his brain from his head so that he might scrub it clean of the things he’s seen. Isn’t that what it’s like? After we’ve read Marquis de Sade’s Justine or Levinas or Marx or Levi Strauss or Lacan or Plato or Kino Fist or Spurious an irreversible event has taken place, a material transformation has occurred. I choose such a disparate collection intentionally. I am not the same after these things, but rather the trace now clouds those information events taking place in the present, filling the present with echoes of these traces, crowding the present with these echoes, rendering the present always an absence.
In the end it is amazing that we take the act of reading and discoursing so lightly. I would like to think the texts I read are something external to me, something I can cast aside when I grow bored or horrified, thereby being done, but really if I’m a physical system this cannot be done. I am inter-penetrated by the texts I allow to enter me and I cannot be done with them even when I think that I’ve forgotten or finished with them. Perhaps this lends credence to Deleuze’s eternal return in a way that is not simply arrogance or pretension: I shall have been all the names of history in the precise sense that I shall have been the discourses that flow through me, as trace, as an anonymous murmur, where I am naught but the eccentric subject striving to grasp myself in this field of endless traces.