20 November 2012

To Himself, on Beginnings

[This was written as the first post for an old blog of mine, several years ago.]


Well, W—I'll avoid empty phrases and rhetorical questions. The danger in the former is empty repetition (repetition!), the danger in the latter is a step down off the road into the ditch that runs aside. Etc. In any case, I meant to begin with the observation (about beginning) that every beginning must be in medias res. This is seen from several different angles. Obviously there is the angle of the hearer/reader/observer. He cannot have an absolute beginning, because such a beginning (like in time, for Kant) could not possibly be understood. There must always be fore-knowledge, a sense of tone, some placement within a context of language, personality, identity. Someone cannot simply step out of the void and into my world, because my world would not be able to contain them, and, failing to hold them, would collapse (the absurd). Absurd communication is simply not, ergo, etc.

The less obvious problem with absolute beginnings is from the speaker's side. I cannot provide a beginning, because for me there are no beginnings. Were there a genuine beginning, then this story would stretch from the beginning of my life. And of course, there cannot be such a story. People fade in and fade out. There are no beginnings. There are only haystacks, and, like Monet's, these Haystacks are not made of discrete bits of straw stacked one on another. There are lines, brushstrokes, continuities, but there are no quantum bits added to make me, such that when the sum of all bits exceeds X, (and not before!) the story begins. But my story begins even before its beginning. It too needs a context, a history, an explanation. One not given in the third person, but in the second. Tradition in this sense differs from history, surpasses history, in its ability to capture and contextualize reality. History in the third person fails....

But this is all beside the point! From the speaker's side there can be no beginning, because to pretend that the story starts HERE, at the top of a page, cleanly planned, smooth and organized (how I love those first lines! "Hide from myself I cannot")—to do so is to open with a lie. Immediately, there is something suspicious about this piece of so-called communication which you have decided to give me. If you want to say something, why have you put on this mask? Where is the truth!

Those first lines, written by Kierkegaard's "B", are perfect: "My friend, The lines upon which your eye falls first were written last." Perfect! Everything is there. Here we have an honest fellow (note that this honest fellow is himself merely a lie, a mask, a cleverly-disguised mannequin whose ventriloquist puppet-master gives life)— here we have a man who is forthright, self-conscious, and self-respecting. He speaks TO someone, and is honest from the first. He does not pretend to have a bit of heavenly substance materialized on his doorstep. He speaks to his reader.

—And perhaps there is even something dishonest in this bit of communication. There is a problem posed by the fact that I am talking TO no one in particular (this "in particular" seems almost to be an excuse, but a poor one... "being" is not the emptiest of concepts, nor the most general, but this "no one in particular" is just that. A mask for nothingness, emptiness, misdirection)—

A defense of my saying anything at all... Yes, this is difficult too. So many books published, they say, so many papers written, but it's almost never clear to whom, or why. The why is a philosophical question, and hence must have answers on both sides (or so the PSR insists)—both sides: the author, the reader. To whom is all too clearly meaningless on the side of most authors, and idiotically answered "to me!" on the side of most readers.

But of course. I might frame this as a mere statement to myself, but that's a farce (objective contradiction implies subjective communication?). Communication does not occur to oneself. Communication is a projection out into the invisible world of the other. Etc. What about journals? Well, I think most journalists (in this sense) would not be able to maintain a journal were they not communicating TO someone. If the journal is merely a pragmatic memory device, they might not be communicating at all, but merely relieving themselves of thoughts and reinforcing memories. Perhaps they write to the foreigner that is my future self. Perhaps they write to an invisible friend, or to a friend visible yet absent.

Etc.

So, in short, this piece is nothing but the brief moment of thought before the guillotine blade meets the back of the neck. It will inevitably prove itself to be a joke, a lie, a stupidity. It is a communication to no one, and therefore not a communication at all. Perhaps it is merely an empty gesture. Or perhaps not empty. A gesture, then. One that comes as the self-expression of an idea, which serves as its own demonstration, namely:

Beginnings are impossible. There are only confused travel logs, and sputtering moments of empty expression between the masses of empty, silent time. To try for a beginning is to delude oneself and allow others to delude themselves. It is difficult for what begins in a lie (for all beginnings in this sense are lies) to rectify itself before the end. And there is always an end.