Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Medium Constrains the Message

Might it be stipulated from the beginning that no strong spirit is ever comfortably or "naturally" a writer? That for him whose very essence is summed up in the gesture, whose whole course of life is, as it were, one deed sweeping towards its conclusion, the idea of pausing to write something down seems irritating, interruptive, unprofitable, and in a word, unclean? "This is not for me," the strong spirit seems to say to himself. When faced with the challenge of an empty page, his first impulse is to take up the pen, not to fill the page with words, but as a convenient stiletto wherewith to scratch a hole in it. Even the handwriting, the penstrokes of the spirited man, are sword slashes, Zorro's Zs. He seeks not to answer the emptiness but to kill it.

The written text evinces settledness, doneness. It assumes the air of the completed thought. The spirited man's thoughts, however, are never "complete." He would not have the living waters of his mind boiled off so as to leave behind these bitter crystals. He wants to be free to flow towards his goal. Like a ballplayer in the midst of a game, he neither thinks about nor answers for his momentary actions, so long as they advance the cause of winning. Any break in the motion, any occasion to stop and think about what's happening, is a great annoyance to everyone, players and spectators alike, and usually indicates that something has gone unexpectedly wrong. There is in that pause, even if just for a fleeting instant, pain, and the beginnings of that boredom, ennui, meaninglessness, and darkness which spirit must instinctively avoid like the plague.

What then becomes of the written text, which has hitherto sought to justify itself with its pretensions to carefulness, studiousness, and objectivity? Perhaps we should at once have it out that those pretensions were never entirely true, that in retrospect they seem more like the propaganda of trade unions of scribes and academics, who sought to exaggerate their value to society so as to demand more than their due from it. There is much to be said in favor of objectivity after all, but was it ever really attained by the timid advances of disinterested studiousness? One begins to wonder why this ruse was ever necessary in the first place, why the passionate insistence that "I'm right about this!" (with the implication being that such knowledge was procured by struggling against resistances, by fighting them) at last had to cloak itself behind the elaborate histrionics of careful measurement and long, esoteric theorizing. Could it be that the scribes did not want the responsibility of being right? That therewith the incumbent imperative to take charge of the situation was altogether too much for them? Or maybe there was a stronger, more animated and ferocious person, or at least a heavy-handed bureaucracy, arrayed on the other side of the issue, who would not give place to the truth without a long and pointless battle. Or maybe they feared the ignorance of the masses. All of this amounts to much the same thing, viz. that after a hard-fought battle with nature to win a few crusts of truth, they had not the strength left in reserve to do battle with society for its acceptance. Thus it became necessary to abstract themselves personally from the conflict, and instead make sheepish averrals to the irreproachable legitimacy of their method, so as to gain by patient wheedling that position which they couldn't take by conquest. It was an act of self-preservation on the scribes' part, and who can blame them? But for centuries the understanding of the very nature of truth was injured thereby. It eventually came to pass that the ruse adopted by fuller-blooded scribes to get their truths accepted, came to be taken, by subsequent generations, as the method by which it was obtained in the first place. Thus the cliche of the spiritless academic -- a type with which we are all familiar.

Even this development, however, now lies several generations behind us. Today's academics are by no means shy; they are rather unscrupulous abusers of whatever claims to authority the ideal of objectivity still holds over the hearts of the populace. In this they resemble the race-baiters, who exploit what remains of Christian charity and goodwill among whites to advance the crudely mercenary objectives of non-whites; and to whom, as a rule, they usually belong, at least by way of ideological affinity. Their use of the written word transcends mere propaganda. Not content to persuade or deceive, they ridicule, cajole, slander, and finally destroy their opponents with all the unthinking insouciance of the petty despot. Under the terrible abuses of this movement (which, too, has almost exhausted itself) the written word has nearly taken on the character of an executioner's ax.

In any event, the written text now stands before us as a problem in itself. The spirited man has little use for writing in the best of times, and even less desire to be associated with the ignoble piracy which writing has become in our own time. We must take it for granted, though, that writing is still indispensable. There is virtually no chance of influencing anybody without it, nor of setting forth high-minded notions in something like a permanent form that can be handed on to posterity. Some strange alchemy we have need of here, in order to transmute the act of writing into the sort of "game" that the spirited man can play with profit. For he alone can lead us out of this morass, but the only available means by which to do so are the very ones which he is most ill-configured to make use of.

The answer, it seems, is polemical writing, the thought which is also deed. While not eschewing factual accuracy, and certainly not eschewing artistry, the writings of the spirited man must always be an attack, a gauntlet thrown down, a threat he intends to make good. In other words, we must reverse the ancient error of the scribes, who hid themselves within the folds of "mere writing." We, on the other hand, seek to reveal ourselves with what we write. In every word our spirit must breathe forth, "Ah, but this is not mere writing..."

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