Friday, July 22, 2011

pretty fucking fun: creativity, anguish, and the uncanny

The other night I went to get a drink with a friend. We ended up back at her apartment rolling around the floor, for a while. We went out onto the roof of her porch and lay there, mostly naked, looking out over the freeway. Drunks and prostitutes walked by. We couldn't tell if they could see us.

She started telling a breathless story about a family vacation (maybe there was a station wagon, and coyotes) in some southwestern desert state. Cars and trucks drove by on the freeway a few yards from where we perched. I could feel the ground vibrate. The night was awash in orange lights. And everything about it had the feel of a movie that I had already seen but couldn't remember. At one point I looked over and saw a building I have passed hundreds or thousands of times. It looked essentially different. Out of place and out of time. I looked over at her body and watched the shadows change over all the curves and recessions as she breathed... And it too seemed out of place and time. No longer merely a body, but a vast landscape.

The same type thing happened last night while talking to a friend on my porch. He was speculating about anxiety and death and suicide and knowledge and alienation … and what it all might mean. And as he spoke, I felt a moment of vertigo, of intellectual disequilibrium in my guts, as I and everything I thought I knew became a stranger in familiar place.

A few weeks earlier I met a girl at a coffee shop for something resembling a date. Perhaps, because of this blog, she had some knowledge of my mind and steered the conversation in that direction. Nonetheless, the moment we started talking I felt like we were the same person: we had the same concerns in life; the same anguish following us; the same lust for knowledge (maybe to explain our places in the world); the same compulsion to make art; the same attraction and repulsion by community... Only she was entirely different from me: she was meticulously made up to look like vintage doll; she was beautiful and young and self-educated; an outsider on the inside who was always sought out for company, but who resisted it. I immediately wanted nothing more than to fall into her and be turned inside out … I told her, basically, that I found her monstrous, uncanny: attractive and repulsive at the same time. (I didn't hear from her again).

These moments, where everything you thought you knew becomes strange, are the root of horror and creativity. It's also what we (at least some of us) should want from love and art and life in general.

It's been a long long time since I read Freud's The Uncanny, or Jentsch's On the Psychology of the Uncanny. What I remember is that Jentsch focused on the uncanny as the result of being intellectually or cognitively adrift or disorientated. And, not surprisingly, for Freud this experience was ultimately about castration anxiety and the repulsion/ attraction of the desires of the id. In this I see the entire scope of Bataille's life work – that defilement and blasphemy is the telos of all human desire.

This is a big chunk to try and chew-up in a short-attention-span format. But I'll give it a shot. For Bataille we are always drawn to those things which point to the violence and excess of life that we exclude (sort of) from the world of work (in Nietzsche this is akin to the way the will to power is exercised and concealed by /within the herd's language/ morality). In eroticism there is a moment where the rules of that world are suspended; where, in the desire for the beloved something divine appears as “full and limitless being unconfined within the trammels of separate personalities, [as] continuity of being... [as] the truth of existence (Bataille, Erotism, 21).”  What interests me here in the context of the uncanny is not what happens next for Bataille: the sacrifice, the transgression, love . . . but that very moment where “the truth of existence” as an object of desire appears.

Early in the introduction Bataille talks about nakedness and obscenity as the signal of our desire to be dispossessed of our discontinuous existence. And that, obscenity is merely our word for the uneasy feeling of having our self possession upset. This moment that promises the continuity of discontinuous beings through violence “entails a breaking down of the established patterns […] of the regulated social order (18).” It is then a liminal space between a stable, ordered, predictable world and the vertiginous, excessive world of the divine (for Bataille there are three different kinds of eroticism – physical, emotional, religious – all functioning in more or less the same manner). Between these two worlds is a space where everything is at once familiar and alien. Here, in transgression/ in obscenity you are out of place, adrift, free (and for Bataille (and Freud) this is anguish – especially since there is some indication that with Bataille the continuity/ truth offered by the beloved is “a sham” (I'm still working on this one)).

This state is exactly what Freud was looking at in The Uncanny: the familiarity/ strangeness of your double, of being lost in the woods and coming back to the place where you were, of seeing yourself as an alienated object, of encountering the repressed infantile material of your unconscious …

It's my believe that this place of anguish is our most creative state: where we see the world as a poet and a philosopher all at once; where the strangeness of the familiar allows us to think differently so that we might find paths that didn't exist seconds before (and be willing to take them).

And, arriving at that space, living there, is usually pretty fucking fun.  Even if looks like this sometimes:

the photo-collage I'm working from

the painting in process

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