22 June 2014

Writing and Action

It was a wonderful dream. That is, as the dream ended, in the dream I was smiling, and I from the dream feeling content and fulfilled. Now, as I sit in the coffee house and recollect the dream in moments of tranquility in order to consider the import of the dream, I feel it reduced to mere cliché. Of course, the possibility exists that the dream itself was reflective of the ordinariness I have spent years trying to (unsuccessfully) rise above but into which now my dream and its interpretation situate me. And hours from the dream, I can now only reconstruct and narrate it as I wish it to have been and not necessarily as it was then when I would not awaken from it. In fact, all I can remember at this instant is the punch line: “All writing is deferral,” and even that memory might be inaccurate. But it is that on which I must reflect for that is all that I can recollect.
            I think that writing, yes, defers action. Thoreau, who penned millions of words years ago noted this interesting irony: somewhere in his multi-volume journal he said we could not live and write about our lives at the same time. We must do or observe our having done! This is a situation similar to the problem with engaging in life and photographing it: one can only do one thing at a time. Ross McElwee, the director of Sherman’s March, narrates that perhaps he is photographing his life in order to have one, and his documentary positions him as the quintessential voyeur, watching the world through the lens of his camera. I can write a life, but I cannot enact that lilfe at the same. But I am not Marcel Proust who wrote from his bed from which he rarely arose, and there rests not lightly in me the ever-present tension between the desire to act and the desire to write about the action.
            Which is not to say that writing is not living for it is a way of life, but it is a deferral of all other action,: I cannot write about baseball and play it simultaneously. And though I might learn through my writing, it is my life that proves the effectiveness of the learning and hence, of the writing.  I can use the writing to plan the action but not to do the action itself. In the writing I plan but defer commitment. This is true for Roth’s Zuckerman who retreats from the world so that he might write it. Or I can use the writing to reflect upon action, even to plan it, but not to enact it. Writing in this sense becomes both action and its deferral. As long as I write I need not attempt, and following the attempt I return to the writing to consider the action.
            And so the opposite is true as well: that if I defer the writing I defer reflection and can continue to act and produce the raw materials about which I may write and therefore, upon which I can reflect. And what it was in the dream that must have been so satisfying was the acceptance of this tension. I awoke content: it is ok to act and it is ok to write. There is no hierarchy.


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