Saturday, September 11, 2010

Once I was

Charlotte stuck this damn song in my head. I've been trying for two days to write a blog post to accompany it, but I just can't do it. I even posted something yesterday but then pulled it down almost immediately.

This kind of inarticulateness is really rare for me, so I know I must be onto something. I can usually hold forth for hours in both speech and prose (yes, I know that I sometimes talk waaay too much), so when an idea lodges itself in my head but won't let me express it, I usually take notice.

An explicitly stated inability or refusal to put something into words is a type of metaphor. My dissertation director calls it occupatio. It's a type of apophasis, a sort of definition by negation. Think of Shakespeare:

"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds"

"Love = -(x)." But rather than definition by negation, occupatio occurs when the speaker claims that he or she cannot put something into words at all. Think of an athelete being interviewed on the field right after winning the big game:

Interviewer: Can you describe your feelings right now?
 Athlete: I can't put it into words.

I use this idea in my critical work a lot. Here's a snippet from my notes to my "Introduction to Literature" lecture on Romanticism. In "Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth tries to describe his former self and fails:
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved. For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days,
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.--I cannot paint
What then I was.

Imagine that: the purveyor of what Keats called the "egotistical sublime," unable to describe who he used to be.

I think that may be what's happening to me right now. For the Wordsworthian speaker of "Tintern Abbey," the past, present, and future have all collapsed into one another:

And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
Just like the Wordsworth of this poem, I find memory creeping up on me, and within that memory, I remember my former self anticipating the self that I would become. In other words, who did I used to think I'd be? And how does that formerly anticipated self differ from the person that I've actually become?

This retrospection also compells my thinking forward in time: who will I be next, and how do I use the lessons of my past failures and successes to better shape the person I hope to become in the future? How did I get here, and how can I use that map to plot my future path?

*          *          *

I can't really figure out what to do next. Who to be. Where to go. To quote Thomas Wolfe, talking about the wind, "O lost! amid the hot mazes, lost."

When I first came back to Omaha almost exactly one year ago, I was pretty damn sure of the choices I'd made and my plans for the future. Now, all of that certainty has gone to shit. I have no fucking idea what I'm doing. And maybe that's the best first sign of my recovery? Admitting to myself  (and all 12 readers of this blog) that I have no idea might just be the first step towards figuring it out. Saying "I can't say it" might help me realize just what the hell "it" is.

So here's Tim Buckley, stuck in my head. He's also experiencing a temporal collapse of past, present, and future. Two lyrical moments are sticking with me: 
Once I was a lover
And I searched behind your eyes for you
And soon there'll be another
To tell you I was just a lie
In other words, the self that I thought I was is in danger of being retrospectively invalidated, which sucks. Because the self  I was with you is the only one who mattered.

The other moment is this:
And though you have forgotten
All of our rubbish dreams
I find myself searching
Through the ashes of our ruins
For the days when we smiled
And the hours that ran wild
With the magic of our eyes
And the silence of our words
And sometimes I wonder
Just for a while
Will you remember me
"The silence of our words." Damn. THAT'S an occupatio.

The hardest part about being in Omaha? None of the people who knew the self I was in Davis are around to remind me of who I used to be.  But even if they were here, they'd have "forgotten / all our rubbish dreams". I saw Ginny last week, and that helped remind me.

But I still miss the wind.

1 comment:

  1. Just to let you know I am #13 that has been secretly combing through here. When I reach this point I have to remind myself the Love isn't just in me but also all the you's both past, present, and to come so I reach for this: