When Writing is Impossible

Derrida quote

Words, like statuesque monuments of brick and mortar foreclosed by economic eras past, struggle in vain to rise out of the rubble of their origins…stretching to the surface to breath, like Pauline prayers of souls that can only speak with moans.

Recently, I have found that it is difficult to write, difficult to even produce this sentence or write in ways that synergistically combine my passion and intellect with words that can convey more than themselves.  When it’s difficult to write, maybe writing about why it is difficult to write is the right place to start writing.

So I write why it is impossible to write, hoping I may actually write in my non-writing.

There are moments when the subject and object of our writing makes speaking of itself impossible…when the act of writing simply fails to comprise its subject.  To reference theological discourse, these are moments when we speak of silence and tranquility as we stare into the eternal gaze of the numinous object of our incredible urge to speak.  Our words fall short.  We write to transcend our place, seeking to be carried off by words, but words are simply the substitution for something far more mysterious and real that lies underneath them.

At moments like this, when we realize the disconnect between what we write, and what we write about, and that writing about it is an infinite impossibility that will only produce words that continue to mangle our imaginations even as it gets us close enough to never see it…at moments like this we write, we speak, but we know our writing will never get it right.

We write as a response to the infinite; not in an attempt to encase it.

Yet, this is what makes writing impossible as an act.  Writing feels impossible at moments, at seasons, because it is our attempt to span the chasm of the genesis of our internal echoes into paradigms of symbolic exchange that might somehow bring meaning from the abyss of our deepest subjectivity.  And this is impossible.  It feels impossible because it is.  Nothing can be written only because the only thing we can write is nothing. This is why theological, philosophical, lyrical, and narratival imagination is necessary for the writer.  Without imagination the subject and object of writing is betrayed by prose that falls empty and shoddy, derelict of any contoured image that might make writing worth writing at all.  Writing comprehends itself as the inability to satisfy the imagination with traces of its content, even as it leaves its true meaning behind, lost in the relation of its symbols.  The only way to suppress writings urge to speak nothing is to imaginatively portray the place from where it comes…to look back on itself via a linguistic inversion and see from where it was thrown.

But this conundrum of writing is inherent in the task.  The theory and nature of language is one that refuses its purpose, and thereby, becomes its purpose.

Martin Heidegger in his On The Way To Language delicately describes the balancing act of language and its inability to speak.  He writes, “There is some evidence that the essential nature of language flatly refuses to express itself in words – in the language, that is, in which we make statements about language.  If language everywhere withholds its nature in this sense, then such withholding is in the very nature of language.  Thus, language not only holds back when we speak it in the accustomed ways, but this its holding back is determined by the fact that language holds back its own origin and so denies its being…”

What Heidegger is so accurately portraying and defining is that language itself always holds itself back by its very nature.  It can never contain the whole of its occasion, of its purpose.  Writing occurs at the intersection of origin and community, an originary act to create community and speak within the boundaries of language games yet also knowing that the game is that what we speak will never be spoken because our own medium of speaking, language, is never capable of speaking past its own medium; its very nature does not allow it to say what it means to say.  It is only capable of being a trace of an expression that seeks to be said but as soon as the expression, idea or passion is seen via words or heard via language it loses itself as it enters the symbolic order in which language and words make sense.

To draw illusion to Lacan, one could say that language, writing it, speaking it, is not real; yet language is because the real exists.

And this is not to be nihilistic about language; rather it’s just a simply discussion about the very nature of language itself.

Writing language further confounds the writer because the real of its subject matter, whether it be God, beauty, meaning, truth, passion, story, etc., is always ahead of the medium in which it is communicated.  Just because writing is never occurring as an act of definition that actually says what it means to say, does not mean that what precedes writing is not real or truthful; it doesn’t mean that which gives language and writing occasion doesn’t exist.

But our speaking, our writing, the incessant drive to communicate something that swells within us and claws at our insides peering outside our pores into a world it thinks longs to receive it, always follows what we are saying.  The said is not what is trying to be said but it is all that can be said.  It is always removed from it as said.  Not only does language (& its medium of speaking or writing) itself refuse encapsulation to speak itself, but it is most clearly the incarnation of following language.  The said never catches up to language because language cannot “overtake” what it is attempting to take into itself via its speaking.  To do so would mean to remain in silence because silence would be the only thing that puts us close to saying anything without removing ourselves from it.

So writing doesn’t just seem impossible at times, but it is impossible, the most ludicrous act in which humanity engages.  Our prose fails us.  Our sentences languish.  We rewrite and re-edit.  We try to say it just right knowing that can never happen.  All that can happen is a vacillation around the kernel of the originary moment from which writing comes, a place so deep within the speaking and writing subject that access to its recesses is to plumb depths that are too real to even exist.

The revelation of the revelatory nature of language leaves us hapless.  No wonder speaking is so difficult.  No wonder meaning is so elusive.  No wonder that intense moment inside of us never satisfactorily emerges into a meaningful expression.  The very nature of language, of the things we attempt to speak about, not to mention the hearing and reading part of our language, is to disrupt and betray itself…to exist in wistful repetition hoping that saying it repetitively will take it from there to here.

This reality is what manifests itself when writing is impossible.  This is what happens when one simply can’t write.  This is what is happening when your hands and your mind do not make the agreement that is necessary to produce something worth reading or worth saying.  We are coming up against the very nature of language and we are not able to transgress it and extract our demands from it.

These are the moments when you stare at your screen…screaming in silence words you want to commit to the page, but when you go to write you are trapped in your own ideas of saying nothing because you have everything to say, which means, of course, that nothing is what you have wanted to say all along.  And at the end of the day we will have said nothing as we must say it again and again, hoping that speaking it often enough will affirm its illusory nature.

Writing mocks us because we are bound to language, even as we think we have tamed it with our crafty literary techniques.

This is what is happening when writing becomes impossible.  In dialectical fashion, it is this existential angst rolled up in our inability to write, or speak, which is also a manifestation of writing itself, communication turning in on itself an becoming incommunicable writing that communicates everything it cannot say by saying it.  We stand in the face of our unspeaking, of writing chasing language and language that cannot be harnessed that says more than we can ever say by wishing we could say it.  This negation of language that is language is the speaking of truth even as it must first speak a lie…since lies are all that can be spoken via words that never speak truthfully.

As we stare blankly at screens, our minds racing and anger building at the sights of fingers that cannot move to the rhythm of meaning or hands that cannot write otherwise than themselves, we experience first-hand the impossible possibility of language, of speaking or writing it.  Thus, we should not lose heart when we remain speechless.  The very need to use speech at all will render us all speechless at various intervals.  The Gospel of language is this: Language produces its own speechlessness.

So when is writing impossible?  Always.

It’s not that writing ever becomes impossible; it’s that writing is impossible…always already impossible even in the most lucid prose…and it’s in the moments of profound difficulty wherein that impossibility is simply made more acute.

In the Beginning was the Word.

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