04 January 2012

The Impulse to Write

John Berger’s new book Bento’s Sketchbook: How Does the Impulse to Draw Something Begin?  links the impulse to draw to aspects of Spinoza’s philosophy in the Ethics. Spinoza talked about the ability to live in the present fullyto have adequate ideasand to live in the present under the species of eternity. This would mean to know that what exists does so by necessity and could be no other way. And this knowledge should lead us to an understanding of all that exists and to know how all that exists must exist as it does. When we understand the essences of thingsthen we participate in eternity. Since God is the only substance—because a substance can only be its own causeand since all things are only modifications of the infinite attributes of God, then the closer we come to understand things then the closer we come to God. “God’s existence and God’s essence are one and the same thing and is an eternal Truth. The closer we come to realize this the closer we come to eternity. Thought is an aspect of God and God, therefore, is a thinking thing.” When we thinkand Spinoza knows that to think is to discover why things are like they are and can be no other waythen we are like God.
Thus, Berger writes, “we who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.” We draw to make something visible that demands to be visible—but what that something is we do not know until it is seen. And we bring that something to its proper destination that we will know when we arrive there. When we make something visible we make it be and bring it on.
Or the impulse to draw begins with the desire to hold onto something when the present has passed. Courage, Spinoza writes, is “the desire by which each endeavours to preserve what is his own according to the dictate of reason alone.” To draw requires courage. Berger’s use of his mishearing of Woody Guthrie’s “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You” as “Hold, on, hold on, Its been good to know you” explains the impulse to draw because to draw is to hold onto something that insists it be held onto, but what that something is may never be completely known until it is drawn.
It is why I writeto enact E.M. Forster’s statement, “How can I know what I think until I see what I say.” There is a dynamic expressed here: in the act of writingor speaking, evenForster creates what he thinks because writing and speaking (though to a lesser extent) demands a linearity that creates thought. I write to think; if I didn’t write, what would I know?
And when I write I think myself into eternity for when I write time does not exist. “It is the nature of reason to regard things not as contingent, but as necessary . . . but this necessity of things is the necessity itself of the eternal nature of God. Therefore it is the nature of reason to regard things under this species of eternity. Add to this that the bases of reason are the notions which explain those things which are common to all, and which explain the essence of no particular thing: and which therefore must be conceived without any relation of time, but under a species of eternity.”
I’m not always sure what he’s saying, nor even sometimes what I’m saying, but I’m working on it. 


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