Writing & Allegiances

The question of genre and the question of style are inseparable from the question of particular allegiances and commitments. Writing has multiple meanings and purposes--what part and accent to play and not to play have a great deal to do with the individual's needs in the context of historical movements. Thus, no point denying that therapy and art are necessarily entwined. If a particular passage, in composing it, in reading it over, cannot incite more multiple and intensified lives within the writer or the reader, then writing loses its point.

Hence the necessity of combating generalities and marking the concrete with autobiographical vehemence. The self is an excess demanding perpetual release, and the release only comes with lackadaisical trial and error.

I'm trying to write this book (I mean, these books) which I'm not even sure how to catalogue and arrange in a way that would reveal their relationship to each other in a single glance. Once the storm passes, the deliriums of creativity and passion plays of systematic all-nighters, then a breath, a shadow, a pause, might come to pass, a moment of quick retreat before the next shot and spring and flame. Because it's crucial to dance beyond the margin, to take a flight into a kind of suspension, and then come back dazed, not knowing, not giving a damn for a while. The next cup of bleached coffee signals the readiness for the next desperate act. But I don't even know how to initiate the first act, that conflagration that swallows whole a harsh song shivering with quickening blue inside of me, to let the motherfucker blow for once and for never, a treacherous angle cut into the skin of my wretched gaze, a furious smash into sun, despair, and nothing, raised to the fever of never-redeeming finality.

System is impossible. The list of what you want to write about means nothing except as accumulation, and the personal capital of my psyche "is not laughing", as Lautreamont said. But the method matters and the method is to give glances here and there, shadowing the sparks shuddering into view and receding into empty stares. How do I move across the line? How are projects to be constituted like orgies, intermingling ideas and limbs of doubt, testing the limit of pleasure, frenzy, and beyond?

And, Christ, as always, the question is, what am I doing here? I seemed to have fallen far short of my boyhood ambitions, which amounted to excess of seduction, adventure, and escape from the prison of my own ego. The abiding solidarity that I sought and wistfully evinced in my days in Kobe, the comradely sense of being, active energy of impossible friendships under duress, none of them has seen realization either. Instead, these continuous tortuous monologues! First, a posturing for an insufferable, non-existing dignity. Second, a turgid line of lamentation over lack of inspiration and vitality. Third, exhausted from not being able to find a secret passageway out of the cul-de-sac, a sudden, abrupt halt, a choking pall of silence. Such fragments I have penned habitually, coming back to them from time to time, prompted by guilt at having not written anything incidental or substantive, finding creativity a sterile flower for too long a duration.

Here's a perfect piece of reification, but it must be stated to reveal what it conceals, the original faces of true desire behind the fetishism. A man says—let us say he is you or I—I want several things to make my life bearable and purposeful and those things are as follows: 1) a set of activities to keep me creatively preoccupied and develop different parts of myself, something I can consistently do and sustain over the span of a lifetime; 2) friends and collaborators to wreck havoc in dangerous conspiracy upon the conspiracy of collective insanity and alienation that signifies contemporary life; 3) multiple lovers whose beauty—never reducible to the physical—appeals to me and fructifies my sense of where I stand in relation to others and to myself; and 4) capacity to confront my own death, the dissolution of one's consciousness into nothingness that dares the birth of nihilism. And the deus ex machina that connects all of these demands together is an attitude of detachment, coolly phrased silence and eloquence, an eye for direct and appropriate intervention, knowing precisely when to explode or disappear; this man thinks that there is a method to call this attitude, this fundamental way of seeing and being, to the fore. Once he thought that the method was the structured discipline of self-directed apprenticeship and teleology but such thinking only yielded him affectation, arrogance, and rapid disillusionment. Of course, attitudes are not manufactured, especially attitudes that necessitate spontaneity and natural mobility and speech; they demand organic development. The question, of course, is methodological and appears only genuine—that is, its asking has an authenticity that cannot be recuperated into, say, monologues which function as compensation for some perceived blow to the ego—-when reification is cut open and desires congealed therein break free.

Since adolescence I put writing at the center of activities referred to in #1, but hiking or getting lost in the labyrinth of the city, to say nothing of jogging, swimming, or working out, just as easily can qualify. Any of these activities easily becomes a drag, a routinized act of self-alienation, in another word, work, when they are forced to fulfill some ideal, some reified image of manhood or genius or sainthood. As for # 2, knowing people--even if they approximate comrades in the best sense of that word--is simply not enough; the stakes are immeasurably high in the urgency of the relationship conceived here. I have always envisioned it as a band of outlaws who fight against all kingdoms and aristocracies, a radical democratic and libertarian communist version of loyal and fierce warriors in the ethos, if not political self-constitution, of The Water Margin Records. No doubt, a boyish predilection for heroic mythopoesis is present here, but it cannot be dismissed for all that. And it is arguably the most difficult to obtain because you have no say about such people ever associating with you and, no less importantly, you are the one who has to be ready for signs and encounters, a transparent readiness, an open receptivity that expects nothing whether in happening or return, which is hardly a facile undertaking. The point of #3 is inextricable from losing illusions about what fucking is, in freeing oneself from the unproductive circuits of festering fetishism that takes for granted bourgeois conception of beauty and sexuality, and that means walking close to Marcuse's ideas about eros and polymorphous sexuality as bulwarks against a repressive society. Of course, all of us have to develop our own sensibilities and ideas about this, and different situations, contexts, and persons call for different responses, including ascetic celibacy--because the point is not fetishizing a particular practice, to escape the rigidity and segmentation of making an idealized image or an idol out of promiscuity or monogamy, to say nothing of physical beauty as such. #4 haunts all of the above, and it is only on its basis that the rest makes any sense; it is the ineluctable consequence against which the totality of our existence is necessarily situated.

The last is especially worth emphasizing not only because of the cool-headed perspective, a sense of stillness and irrevocable realism with which it infuses the whole proceeding, but because no act, gesture, or thought can ever escape the irreversible jurisdiction or, rather, the complete negation intimated in the possibility of death. At the heart of #1-3 is a motor that hums the question of mortality; for none of these activities and relations can mean anything if one is not alive. It is useless to talk of desire to the dead. But of the dead we can speak and have no choice but to speak, because it is their rank to which we ourselves must enlist one day. "For ourselves, we ask nothing; for you, everything," the Zapatistas said. You see, in our daily transactions, something is always awry, nothing is established one way or the other, and, if we only let our sight take on an angle, let our feet backtrack into some gesture of surprise, some stance that turns the world around, if only for a moment, then, I believe, all of this becomes clear. Then, god or demon or no metaphysics, everything clears up like an unadulterated shot of poetry, poetry without pretense or self-regard, poetry that burns in spite of itself, and that is nothing if not freedom, because whatever you say or do does not matter anymore—the very conception of perfection crumbles under the light of new turnings, impossible welcomes, contradictory beauties. These are just words. 

You simply know it's true when you realize, for example, while trying to seduce a woman, that none of it matters, all this verbiage, calculated whispers and dramatic gesticulation, testing the water of her gaze with a pause and then some unquenchable phrase, all this is just going through the motion, and not caring about the consequences, as if walking to the firing line and finally being able to say "fuck it all" and turning around to make a final statement out of a feeling and vision that one never thought one possessed, and letting all that go to hell, departing like an exterminating angel from the site of seduction or death with no fury in mind, neither regret nor tenderness, only an open arm to ashes and then nothing. To know that I am going to disappear, losing myself in you and losing myself altogether, that realization, to trace its outline in every remark and thought that I etch onto the scoreboard of this place and time where I am now, means saying "fuck it all" and meaning it, to accept death, almost kissing it, and yet still living, to curse all the cathedrals and apologetics and rationalizations, to perish thoughts, and to find myself face to face with all these temporary gestures, like seduction, sipping a cup of tea, writing a book, or facing the firing squad, that I have to go through as if they may mean something while knowing too well that they do not. 

Copyright © 2003 Manuel Yang