To hold a pen is to be at war— Voltaire
I pity the insane. I know that those who smash walls and scream inarticulately are in desperate battle. I know that those who stare at the wall and drool have been captured and can not escape. I do not call “crazy” those who fight to be free. I do not call “deluded” those who know that they are enslaved. I have heard the heart-rending stories of those who know they are not in control of their own bodies. They knock their heads against their chairs because it is the only part of their bodies that they control. They smash up their apartments because they know of no other way to fight the voices in their heads. They trembled at the thought of them coming back. If they were truly deluded they would not be unhappy, for they would think that they understood. If they were truly crazy, they would not struggle to hold onto their souls. They know that they are not in control. That is why they are so angry, so sad, and so full of fear. Crazy acts are their only chance to demonstrate some kind of control.
My crazy act is this blog. It is my attempt to assert control against ethereal voices. My battle might not be as desperate as those poor souls who are medically insane, but it is a struggle all the same. I struggle to rule an unruly domain that is populated with a multitude of voices. These voices do not seek to assert control over my body. They only wish to speak with out ceasing, to debate everything, and to ask all questions. They wish to make a democracy out of what should be monarchy. They assert equality when they are nothing. They refuse to be ruled.
For most of my life, I had no problems with these voices. They were my companions as I explored the world that I was born with. An internal world that could keep me entertained for hours with no need of action or movement. Sitting still was not the struggle that it is for so many who are young, though paying attention often was. When I was a boy, I rarely minded going to bed. Bedtime did not signal the end of the fun as it did for so many other kids. My own little world would keep me entertained to all hours of the night. No matter what time I was sent to bed, I would still get up late or else be tired beyond reason.
The internal world has such a hold on me that most of the milestones in my life have been internal events. On the outside, my life was notable primarily for its uneventful nature and the lack of initiative that I displayed. But my internal world was always exciting, constantly being shaped by new ideas. A transcript of a debate between Attlee and Churchill on trade changed my life more than getting my first job did. Reading Solzhenitsyn’s works for the first time excited me more than my first car. These were the type of things that shaped me. It was the exposure to ideas like these that made the world that I live in.
The phantoms that trouble me now are an integral part of this inner world. They listened to my lectures, debated my views, and asked questions that needed to be asked. Because of the constant debate with my phantoms, all my ideas became woven into a coherent whole. Every new idea that I was exposed to would shift the debate across the whole spectrum of my ideas as my phantoms and I tussled over the implications of the new idea. Even a slightly quirky interpretation of a common idea would provide me with weeks of amusement as I dealt with it in my internal world. Every other idea that I held might have to be modified because one idea was modified. Everything I was given, I tested. What I accepted, I often changed.
But a world that is full of promise for the youth can become a prison for the adult. The older I got, the harder it became for me to find new ideas and new thoughts to challenge my invisible phantoms and me. I looked into subjects that I had no previous knowledge of and saw only patterns that I had already seen. Did I just reach the limits of my ability to comprehend? Or did that common affliction of the elderly, the inability to see the world any way than they have always seen it, take hold of me? I still ran through the old debates and lectures and I still read some new stuff. But it was like pacing in a cell; it brought nothing but the same scenery. I still do it only because there is nothing else to do.
The real world still has no attraction for me. That is to say, if you define the real world as the social world, than I am not interested. Having been exposed to the whole spectrum of humanity I have found that real people have less interesting things to say than dogs, imaginary friends, and two year olds. People go out of their way to avoid thinking. They need alcohol to enable them to enjoy the banality of their own company. TV’s are necessary lest they start to think while sitting on a couch or laying in bed. Even these standbys are not be sufficient for they run to and fro frantically, making time for everything but sleep. This has the double benefit of keeping them from having any still time in which thoughts might occur and guaranteeing that, if by some chance their life should happen to pause, they will fall asleep rather than think.
Some snobs would have you believe that this is only true of those who are not intellectuals. I use to believe this myself. But I have found that the distinction between the educated and the less educated is simply a matter of how much predigested thought has been memorized. Even scientists have little in the way of original thought. They are like monkeys trying to write like Shakespeare, save for the fact that they have rules and formulas to guide them. Very few scientists actually look at things in a new way or come up with new approaches to solving problems. Instead they use methods that they memorized to solve problems that were identified for them by others.
I know that not all of humanity is as deplorable as I have described. I know of some people who are more interesting than imaginary creations. Interesting because their ideas are not simply warmed-over versions of someone else’s thought, and their lives not lived according to templates they received without question. They actually think for themselves and their ideas are as individualistic as they are. Sometimes they are recognized for what they have done, and their ideas get memorized and regurgitated by those who consider themselves educated. But the fact that their ideas have been used as crutches does not take away from the fact that they thought for themselves. I owe all of these entertaining few a great debt. They did much to keep my own little internal world going.
Most of them are dead now and have said all that they are going to say. Those few who are still alive have expressed their thoughts on the subjects that they chose to talk about. But, like me, they seem to have their own prisons. I can trace out the boundaries that they do not leave, however original they might be inside those boundaries. Having absorbed their thought, they become for me like all other people, easily replaceable by my phantoms.
Save for one difference. I often wonder how they would respond to my observations on their thoughts. I wonder how they would react to how I twist their ideas. I wonder how they would respond to criticism based on fields of thought that they don’t seem to have addressed. A phantom with no soul can easily argue any orthodoxy. It can easily speak as intelligently as those who vomit out the thoughts of others without digesting them. But phantoms can say nothing about how people who think their own thoughts will respond to something new. At best, the phantoms can take the thoughts of those who hoe their own row and play with them.
This sufficed for me as long as my phantoms and I could keep finding new sources of original thought. But when I had run out of what I could find I began to wish that they would give more. Maybe there is nothing more for them to give. Maybe the production is limited and we are all doomed by our own limitations to stay within predetermined boundaries. But it was thanks to the original thoughts of others that my boundaries are as wide as they are. It was interacting with their thoughts that made me what I am. They in turn did not build their ideas out of nothing. They interacted with those who came before them. I can only hope that interaction with those who think can at least stretch the boundaries that confine us. I can only hope that they can at least test us in ways that we are unable to test ourselves. I can only hope that by doing this we can see things that we were unable to see before.
But such a hope is vain unless you can see how this interaction can be accomplished. In order to interact with others you must speak as well as listen. You must write as well as read. I am like the prisoner who taps messages into the walls of his prison not knowing if there is anyone on the other side who can understand or is willing to understand. I want to write not because I had any particular hope for what I might accomplish by writing, but because I have no other hope to expand my boundaries. My phantoms have turned from friends into jailers, however, and it disturbs them to have me tapping on the walls.
They demanded that I play by the rules that we had always played by. Ideas that we had debated and played around with for weeks, months, and even years, they would not see reduced to a page or even ten pages. Everything I tried to write became an expression, not of myself, but of a whole host of phantoms. To shut them down was to shut my self out my internal world. To shut my self out my internal world was to render myself unable to say anything. But to go back into the internal world was to be forced to contend with the phantoms. The interconnectedness of my ideas, and the cross indexing that had been established by my phantoms and I, meant that there was nothing I could say that would not drag in all of them. Having grown up with me, my phantoms can see no reason for me to be the only one that speaks, and I cannot ignore my phantoms any more than most people can ignore their fellow man.
I have often tried to rule my phantoms, but with little success. In one of my many battles with my phantoms, I tried to write out a short observation on why the Harry Potter series was so popular. I wanted to reference my understanding of the purpose of fantastic creatures in fantasy (on a psychological and symbolical level). But my phantoms would not allow me to do that do that with out referring to our arguments over J.R. Tolkien’s understanding of the purpose of myth. This lead us back into the old arguments into whether fiction itself had any insight into truth that could not be better expressed in non-fiction. That lead me to re-read The Runner for the umpteenth time, to revisit the argument about whether it was even possible to expresses what Voigt was saying in that book in any form other than symbolic (i.e. fictional). That led me on to number of other ideas and old arguments. By and by I came to realize that I was not in Kansas anymore, and that it was hopeless for me to try to finish what I was originally trying to write. These things were entertaining when I was going over new ground. But just going over old internal arguments again and again has gotten really old.
A similar story happened most times that I tried to write. I despaired of writing. But my boredom would not go away. Instead, it began to increase so much that not writing was no longer an option. In desperation, I turned to the last refuge of the pathetic. I started a blog.
Blogs are all about bad writing by pathetic people with places for even more pathetic people to comment. With the permission to be pathetic and to be virtually impossible to understand, I hoped that I could at least force my phantoms to let me finish something. I figured that controlled dissent is better than unrestrained rioting, so I gave leave for one of the phantoms to express dissent per post. But even on a blog without any pretense at quality and bending over backward to make my phantoms happy, it has been quite a battle. In each of my posts, many battles are being fought with a host of phantoms on subjects that go far beyond the goal of my post. I shadow box all the way to the finish line and it shows.
One kind reader sent me a link to a whole bunch of resources to help me become a better writer. But my goal for this blog is simply to put down my phantoms long enough to declare myself done with a piece of writing. I would just like to get in the habit of finishing a written work and declaring myself done with it. Even most bad writers can do this, so it seems like a much more reasonable goal than that of becoming a good writer. But I despair of learning to accomplish even this modest goal.
I guess the fact that I have put up three posts can be construed as a success. But it is a discouraging sort of success. Writing Pondering the Battle of Bicocca was hard. That was only to be expected. But I was discouraged to find that finishing the posts only got harder as I went along. I really did not finish The Dangers Of Historical Symbolism in even the loosest sense of the word. I threw it out of the door because I could feel myself losing control of it. I came too close to ideas that were important to me, and the phantoms really went haywire. I probably would not have even put it up if it was not such an important part of the trilogy. But it was only an important part because I can’t seem to help playing to my phantoms. No one else would have noticed that it was a necessary part of the trilogy.
The sour taste left by my last post has only increased my trepidation as I review in my mind the next trilogy. It should be easier but I can already hear the phantoms arguing for change and I have not even started writing yet. But the foolish part of me still hopes to arrive at the point where ending a post is easy. And all that I need to work on is becoming a good writer.