Rainald Goetz – To Live and To Write: The Existence Mission of Writing
The essence of this ongoing practice of writing is the difference between text and thought: the reading of one’s own words. And that is the fundamental experience of writing: that what’s there on the page doesn’t say what one wanted to say, that the self-will of the scripturality, the act of fixating, the textual verbality constantly impose themselves; very powerfully, the text says what it wants to, not what it’s supposed to according to the will of the writer. To experience this autonomy of writing, the texticity of statements, one needs to experience as a writer, as often as possible, constantly, how great the distance really is between a statement’s intent and what the words actually convey.
It’s often been observed that the everyday practice of writing has undergone a spectacular rebirth over the past years due to electronic communications devices. All this incessant writing everyone’s been doing in mails, text messages, forums, on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook has also, however, had the tremendous effect of promoting standardization, stereotypes, truisms, and empty talk to the degree that there’s practically no thought, experience, or even a second of life anymore for which a hiatus of speechlessness still exists; in every situation, everyone knows perfectly what sentence is supposed to come next.
The right kind of writing is very easy. Anyone who types and texts and presses ‘send’ knows this. When the feeling is right, the words are too. Writing is breathing. It used to be the writer’s life that was constructed this way, a singular existence, privileged, even sick, fantastically engrossed and absorbed in everything etc. And today, everyone lives this way: writing, constantly writing their existence-text, writing away.
Which world. — That’s wonderful, of course, but at the same time, the sensibility for it has decreased along with everybody’s me-empowerment, via their own text among other things, and that’s not wonderful. It’s a very extraneous, very alien world that the self encounters, unknown in a way that should unsettle everyone, arouse their curiosity, incite them to all kinds of everyday world exploration measures, etc. But that is not the case.
The world arrives on each person’s screen in a manner that is highly liquid, continuous, and quick: news, information, dispositions, images, and films, preselected by a collective of friends and acquaintances in a quantity so incomprehensible that self-protection requires erecting the wall of bored composure that used to typify the way the flood of TV information was dealt with. The gesture of composure today is that of the hand sweeping away towards the right, that staves off what one has seen, wipes it away, marks it as read and sends it down into the underworld of dead information that will never again inundate one.
Today it’s easier to know more, in more detail, than ever before, but it’s not this easy access that’s made it harder to profit from the fact. The great rupture in recent years comes from the subscriptions, the alerts, the dispatching automats that have been in use since around the mid-2000s, initially to facilitate things, to not have to concern oneself all the time with all the websites one wants to consult, which have since gone on to prevent any possibility of consulting a site oneself, to specifically seek out a blog that one happens to be interested in; once subscribed to, everything intrudes on the interested person unbidden and in an absolutely overwhelming continuity and number.
This intrusion forestalls appreciation. Even the most valuable messages, highly interesting new thoughts of someone’s on some blog, take on the status of annoying advertisement, become a thing to fend off: gone, gone, gone. I’m aware, I know about it, don’t need it.
Only for friends. — As the old millennium was drawing to an end, in 1999, my God, how long, how absurdly long ago that is, the German pop literature faction was also experimenting with this social media thing early on. Elke Naters and Sven Lager thought up an event and a site called “Am Pool” [Poolside], where maybe twenty or thirty people talked to one another internally, textually. I took part in it back then too, with my day-poems KRANK [SICK], which I uploaded there on a daily basis. It only took a few days to observe the extreme limitation in thought and intellect this social circumscription injected the texts with that were based on and conceived for it: the poison is the pretense, the texts automatically want to brag, the writer to present himself to the others in a braggardly manner. The underlying tone that emerges here is unpleasant, the nonchalance in one-uppance repugnant.
The reason Facebook has commercialized this so successfully is because it’s precisely the real-life loser — in the majority, naturally, in real life exposed as a zero in a matter of seconds, this is an effect of the flesh, to embody a person’s truth and to externalize it visibly for everyone to see — that especially yearns to be a really cool dude in the abstract space of the Internet, in a purely verbal sense. The braggart’s verbality is such a success because there are so many of these tricksters trying to fool one another, which explains why a sensibility for these subtle gradations in tone is not a particularly coveted commodity. Now, in many journalists’ texts, you can hear this sound that emerged in the braggart-contest on Facebook. Not a very nice development in language to come from pop literature and to have since turned into journalism.
Authorship is wrested from a highly specific limitation. If relevant texts arise, it’s not due to some sort of skill, a technique that can be passed on, but because they’ve emerged this way out of one’s response to a defect-complex configured in a highly individual manner, because the defect has brought forth sensoria that have enabled its exploitation for the purposes of text production. Objectively speaking, this is all completely uninteresting.
As a reader, one senses that every author that is somehow of interest is also crazy in some way. But that doesn’t matter, that’s irrelevant. What’s interesting are the results, the work, the books, the output in written form that goes beyond the author’s confines, that sheds, by proxy for everyone, the fear of being an existence-nothing paralyzed by a defect-complex.
Nothing else can be passed along. With writing time, in my case it’s been thirty years now, what becomes strongest of all in an author is the experience: how insanely rare it is that it actually works out. That is the essence of writing: it doesn’t work, I can’t do it, I don’t know why.
The Demon. — The demon inside me that rules me is cruel. I don’t know him, I hunt him with my intellectuality, I probably expend more energy than on anything else to find him, to understand, recognize, and in the end, hopefully, to finally disempower him. The effort fails. I can’t find him, I can only find his tracks, register the way he makes it impossible for me to live the way I want to: productive, steady, open, free.
In any case, the demon is a magnifying glass that enlarges everything that happens to me, brings it into focus. The completely normal behavior of the people around me: gigantic, in excessive detail, the horror. Just like in me, the thoughts and feelings inside me, the confusion: gigantic, oppressively gigantic and overpowering, dictating the moment completely. The next instant: gone. As though it had never existed. A mockery of the insane agitation that just now prevailed, gone. The skittishness of the demon torments me, it’s the self-contradiction of the obsession’s monstrousness a moment before. The demon is the gaze emanating from my eyes, which are extremely close together, every year they grow more closely, obsessively, absurdly together. I hate.
The demon wants to be alone and never write again. Read, lie in bed, sleep, read, and actually, quite honestly, more than anything else: perhaps to be just a little bit dead sometimes, or maybe completely dead, forever? Peace, peace is the longing, a permanence of total panic the reality.
Demon for sale, cheap, gladly. The demon impairs my work because it makes my life so insanely complicated. The work does not profit from a complicated life, actually I’ve always hoped that, hoped it would. But that’s wrong. The complicatedness stultifies me, weakens me, narrows my mind. When the demon is gone, I can see what I mean, think, want to say. When the demon is there, I’m blind. And then I try with a mad energy to concentrate, and this purpose locks my frontal lobe in a brutal torture vise, where it’s pressed together and wrung out, the result of this effort of concentration being an unfathomable depletion of the frontal lobe, the worst state of depletion, without any kind of concentration resulting from the exertion at all. The demon is a life-energy-annihilator of galactic dimensions. A life-annihilating galaxy pulsates inside me.
Then the person next to me says something while the person opposite is still talking: a brainwave short-circuit is the demon-induced result. Other people find it normal when two or three conversations are conducted simultaneously right past them, but when it’s exposed to sound in this manner, my demon emits a maddeningly piercing whistle that grows louder and louder until the short-circuit cuts it off. This is why the demon doesn’t love the sociability that I so revere. Even in the company of other people, the demon has one goal and intention: to drag me down, to make my delight in people impossible. My demon is bile and Saturn. Heavy and mean.
Go away, Demon, the compensatory hyper-focus delivers its ultimate demand, be silent, die, stop talking so that I can finally concentrate better, finally live better. The demon nods, amused. He is not at all funny himself, but the text about him is. This contradiction is called, text-typically: grace, clemency, nonsense, delirium.
Reading. — Constantly, incessantly, of course, everything. Reading as the fundamental vitality-enforcement of the mind, an indefatigable joy in gazing at these tiny black things, letters strung together into type, their beauty over and over again, in all its forms, inscrutable.
One’s feeling for language is always in a state of becoming, is unstable, changes constantly through what one reads and writes. Watch out! A feeling for language is highly vulnerable, it belongs to the sphere remotest from rationality, that of language’s musicality; even the keenest intellectuality fails to bring every dimension of this feeling in all its crucial subtleties under the control of its explicative verbality.
Because the social always inundates the brain with an unworkable profusion of individual data, and not everything can be grasped, much less deliberated during the situation itself, it is once again the reception of text, reading, which makes a retrospective reenactment of personal experience possible through the example of other, comparable social situations evoked by the text; thus, what develops as the reading material presents and makes available to the reader the interference of his own experiences and those of others is this: a knowledge of human nature.
It is the specific interiority of this kind of knowledge of human nature that reading brings forth and that differs strongly from those formed in other arts — particularly the viewing of films calls for and creates a completely different type of identification with the other, one far less contemplative, of course — from the racing stream of time that sweeps events along as though in real life, for the most part even faster, makes them race and hurtle past one, etc. Which, complementarily, gives rise to an especially elaborate discursivity upon which aesthetic theory has always prominently developed, first in music, then film, pop music, and opera, from Adorno to Diederichsen.
Wanting to write begins with being fascinated by other writers only a few years older than oneself whose books can take on an ostensible ultra-plausibility, because an individual text project has already attained a work-generating precision, there’s someone who can actually do that, in all its infinity-dimensionality: write — while at the same time he still lives in the common here and now which one also, as the younger one, has access to and is fascinated by. Which is why, in the arts in general, and especially in literature, the most wonderful masterliness is inherently: young.
From the lecture “To Live and to Write: The Existence Mission of Writing”
Rainald Goetz, Freie Universität Berlin. To see the full lecture
(in German): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJk2_Yopxcw
Excerpts translated by Andrea Scrima
Follow the link to issue 7–1 of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics.
Senior Editors: Andrea Scrima and Carole Viers-Andronico.
Scroll to page 63 or open the PDF: Hyperion Goetz 2013