When one finds himself unable to think of anything to write about; or rather when all thoughts worth writing about seem to slip away, perhaps all that’s left is to think about writing itself. The greatness of writing is that it allows us to think things that would be impossible for the meat of our brains and the sonic vibrations of our respiratory system (speech) to think. One really must be a student of Ong, McLuhan, Kittler, Derrida, and Andy Clark to understand this point. Writing in its sheer materiality, as an inscription on paper or in zeros and ones is not simply a representation of inner thought in the meat of our nervous system, it is not simply the externalization of something that has already been thought; it contributes to thought. Like any processor, our meat-minds can only process and operate on so many bits of information at any given moment. Worse yet, thoughts slip away as we think them, lost forever in the stream of consciousness. Writing preserves that which is thought, allowing us to both to return to that which we had earlier thought and expand upon it, but also freeing us from continuing to think this so that we can now think of something else. For example, the paper remembers the earlier steps of a complex mathematical derivation, allowing me to focus on the step that I’m now engaged with.
Moreover, is there anything more posthuman for the human than writing? Embodied cognition focuses on rhyme, plot, and personification as mnemonic devices. If it rhymes I can recite it because the rhythm of language draws me to the next moment in the sequence. If it has a plot involving personified entities, I can remember it because it is interpersonal relations that define me most fundamentally in my day to day thought. Yet with writing, abstraction becomes possible. I can think of simple marks like “1” or “**” and the relations that obtain between them. I depart from narrative, plot, personification, rhyme to enter the realm of abstractions, of that which is beyond the human. It is impossible to conceive of philosophy, of science, of law, of mathematics without writing. These things simply aren’t possible for flesh memory. Inscription is required so that we might surmount the limitations of our flesh. And who knows, perhaps even the fantasy of the soul as that which survives death is something that arises specifically from writing, from that which preserves in the inscription and that reifies a thought allowing us to say something like “being” where everywhere there is really only becoming.
In this regard, it could be said that writing is a perfect example of what Bergson calls “extension” or “spatialization”. Writing is the spatialization of thought. Bergson is hard on spatialization, seeing it as a betrayal of being’s true nature as duration or becoming, as flow. For Bergson, spatialization is death for it is that which halts and fixes the flow of becoming. Perhaps there’s a death in the tattoo, for the tattoo is certainly a monument. Perhaps every writing is a bit of a corpse. Yet as the above attests, there is a poet and productivity in the corpse that isn’t to be found in flow. Or rather there’s a specific flow that takes place in extensity, in spatialization, that isn’t otherwise possible. It’s impossible to imagine Newton’s Principia, Hegel’s Logic, Spinoza’s Ethics, or, ironically, Bergson’s Matter and Memory, without spatialization. The flesh alone simply isn’t capable of such thought and as a consequence writing, inscription, is central to the ecology of all contemporary thought.
There is thus a positive power of death, a power that enables life and a life beyond the organism, beyond the flesh; yet there is also another, darker death that lies within the flesh– now a new flesh beyond brain –of the inscription. Every author knows of this death. Writing becomes a crypt in which living thought becomes trapped. Writing trails out behind the author like a trail of slime behind a snail and becomes a tomb for the author. It must not be forgotten that while there’s a spatialization, a halting of the duration of thought, that amplifies the power of thought to think, thought is also a duration, a flow, a becoming in the flesh. Yet this duration of thought in the flesh finds itself locked in struggle with the spatialization of thought in inscription.
The author bends under the burden of the inscription of her thought, trapped within the tomb that she has built. First, she must be equal to what she has thought. When author becomes reader of her own thought, there is always a sense of loss and decline. “I will never think that well, brilliantly, and rigorously again! I have lost ‘it'”. Every author– and every artist; which is another form of authorship –lives in the shadow of her own writing. Will she ever be able to spatialize in the way she once did? And this is doubly traumatic, for the inscription is that double of the author, her other flesh, then it means that life, her state now, is a corpse of a corpse; that she is undead in relation to the corpse that is living: her past inscriptions. Her continued life is almost experienced as an obscenity, for the corpse that she produced is experienced as what is real; a twilight past that remains in the trace, that is inscribed in a monument of paper, but that is lost.
A hatred of the written emerges. “Whatever you do, don’t make me look at it!”, he exclaims in the quiet of his fleshy mind. For thought is, after all, a duration, a becoming, a flow; even if it does corpify itself to enhance its power through the inscription. It is acutely painful to edit, to return to what one has written, for these inscriptions are excrements or traces in a vector of becoming that has moved on. To return to the text or the trace of thought is not merely to face the possibility that one might not ever think so well again, is not merely to encounter oneself as a stranger by shifting from writer to reader, but is also to halt the becoming of thought by returning to that which has already been thought and which is now done and past.
Matters are worse with the relation between the author and the reading public. One is honored by readers, for they burn the tallow of their lives by devoting time– which is all we have for a time –by reading the traces one has inscribed. We joke when we say “that’s two hours of my life that I’ll never get back” after seeing a bad movie, but it’s true: readers are giving life, spending life, in spending time with inscriptions. We’ll never get it back. This is the horror of scholarly life. We’re literally burning our life in the corpse-texts of others. What a gift. It’s a good thing no one thinks about it too much.
Yet readers not only burn their lives reading, they demand that authors be corpses. It can be no other way. “Come, tell us of what you have written! Repeat for us what you have thought, yet with a slight variation! Deny the duration of your thought, its becoming and flow; mortify yourself in your inscriptions and present them.” In the talk and article the reading public demands a dancing corpse, an animated yet mortified flesh that repeats what it has already thought and said elsewhere. “Change, but do not change too much. Let us witness a bit of living eternity or spatialized being here in an animated corpse!”
In the end, the duration of thought finds itself trapped in a prison that it itself has built. The inscription leaves a trace that functions as iron bars, mortar, bricks, cells, and hallways. The reading public classifies the author in terms of the trace that has been left and in all subsequent enunciations one must contend with what has been sedimented by her hand in the public sphere. “But you said this before!” “This is what you are.” Now one must contend with what they have written in all subsequent inscription. Perhaps writers block is not the result of an anxiety of influence as Bloom suggested, but is rather the result of an anxiety of ones corpse; those past inscriptions that one has left. Yet both are necessary: the duration of thought in its becoming and the spatialization of thought that renders so much possible. How to navigate this space and time of thought?