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Why Do We Write?


Liam puts his hand into the jar of frosted cereal, grabs some chunks, and can’t get his hand out through the narrow opening.

“My hand somehow enlarged,” says Liam, who is ten in human years but younger in monkey years.  “Maybe I just do these things unconsciously when you’re writing, to give you something to write about.”  A sly little side-slash with his eyes to where my fingers hover over the keyboard.

Why do we write?

Besides the money and fame, there are certain inducements.  The chance to put a typo-free document into an error-riddled cyberspace is high on the list.  Then there’s the commitment to letting posterity know what Liam was really like.

No wait, revenge isn’t a legitimate reason.  The fact is that I usually begin with a picture of future generations pawing through the N’Am wreckage several decades from now and asking each other if there was anyone in the early part of the twenty-first century who wasn’t insane in the membrane.  That usually keeps me from writing about my first and second choices.  Then I get cracking.

I write an article, send it to the local paper (this nation’s counterpart to the New York Times) with the note, “you’re too stupid to print this.”  Then I send it to CounterPunch.  The local paper I keep for the humanure pile.

Just what are we up to?

Are we merely stenographers of empire, duly noting and chiding, clucking and pecking at the trouser hems of those who have real power?  Notice me!  Notice me!  And (to each other): well clucked, guv’nor, good one, that.

Wait a minute, say the writers at CP with national-level cultural capital, just who are you calling “we,” white man?

Alright, scratch that, said the chicken in fowl language that cannot be reprinted here.

A few minutes pass and Liam’s on his third bowl of chicken soup and now he wants an egg, which appears to solve an old philosophical problem about which came first.  “Drop the egg in the soup,” says Eva-Lynn, to problematize things.  The house is filled with the reassuring death stench of the free-range bird intensifying the pungency of the den, quickening the imagination of the cat, the dog, and me in conflicting ways.

Yesterday Sebastian, whose vital stats include fourteen (age) and twelve (shoe size), got his toes pinned under a car whose driver managed the tricky feat of getting the vehicle up onto the foot of our firstborn platypus and putting it into park in one deft motion, pinning the gangly gosling to the ground of being.  Bathos/pathos: meanwhile this week our neighborhood is treated to a fresh round of stabbings and shootings, putting the American back in our N’Am hood.  If this keeps up it’ll be time to break out the old numchucks, which have been oxidizing in retirement.

Eva-Lynn is going off to the university to teach a class on performative utterances, those words that enact what they describe.  “I christen this ship the HMS Titanic.” “I do.” “You’re fired.” All the statements that work well with the word “hereby.”  If onomatopoeia had a judge’s gavel, that’d be performative utterances.  In performative utterances, the word is the power, as with Aslan the deft lion chanting creatures into existence, or some version of Yahweh in which the old semitic storm god says “rabbit” and out comes not a word but a fuzzy little animal.

“I’m outta here,” says Eva-Lynn, and the front door clicks, punctuating the silence of her departure like a “hereby.”

Let us posit here a category of anti-performatives, words that negate power.  “I hear you,” you say to a friend, for example, but you cannot hear your friend because your head is a drum and it is filled with the reverberation of your own vocalization.

Anti-performatives.  “I am sleeping.” “I do not exist.”

Lies might be a subcategory of anti-performative.  The empire is rife with them.  “I do not torture,” says the torturer torturing.

Anti-performatives.  Let’s see. “412 horsepower,” says the advertisement for the Mustang, and it is a lie of form, for it implies efficiency, or power, at the least.  It’s not just that a Ford Mustang couldn’t, and isn’t (couldn’t ford a river and isn’t a horse, respectively).  It’s that 412 underperforms as a statement, right where it appears most to have performed well.  Five hundred years after people called Americans figured out how to move a man efficiently over the countryside with one horse or less, a claim to be unable to perform the same trick with less than 412 of them is an admission not of power but of powerlessness and inefficiency.  In its larger context, called capitalism, the statement is an anti-performative.  It is the gesture of futility of a dying people, a sob from a tribe eating next spring’s seed corn, because there is no use anymore.

Far from being a nexus of innovation and risk-taking, capitalism is atrophy and decay.  It only ever appeared to work because of the power of oil, a liquid dense with life and death and the power that is unbound in fire.  Any fool can make a spark and claim that the power of oil is his own entrepreneurial cleverness or “efficiency.”  Fancy business schools at elite universities sit atop such gushers and it gives them a few generations of loft from which they can display themselves and their superiority more fully.  The funny thing is that the era of capital is itself a stratum of a few inches charred and crushed and registered in a future geological archive.  Its only real power can be prophesied as a quantity of a particular viscosity and compression, available in a distant worldtime as a renewed fire.  As Bender the robot puts it, “we’re boned.”

Capitalism is a man with a flamethrower walking down the street admiring his reflection in the glass and thinking people are looking at him because he has a nice suit.

Brothers and sisters in the movement, let us despair, but not too much.  Sad days, these, and we appear to have no power, while the empire seems infinite, eternal, and unchanging in its being, wisdom, power, holiness, justness, goodness and truth, to use the words of some catechism or other sitting there on my brain pan.

The fact is that as we write nowtopia, as we write “to the moment” (as the epistolary novelists of the 18th century used to say) we make the world.  The sun shines, the child lives, the chicken walks while she lives and is thanked when she does not.

The anti-performers with their anti-performative babble have only the power of the thrash, of the conflagration, the morning-after flicker of the spectacle.  Capitalism is the vestigial fire ritual of a people who have exhausted their myths.  They have horsepower, with no knowledge of horses, power, or the world you might want to see from the back of such a beast.  They are dangerous, of course.  But the downfall of capital is written in every microfissure and every outright crack and pothole in every street of the world, in every place where the scab of tar fractures to produce a line of that which is not tar, a writing against tar nation, touching tar nation, but consisting precisely in that which is not tar.

We write Nothing, an invisible writing visible in every concourse on the planet.  We are the fissure kings.

We are psychogeographers, not stenographers.  We are makers and performers.  We are making the world anew.  As we write, we sing the world into being.

“Liam,” I say, and he turns to me with a smile.

DAVID Ker THOMSON lives in a part of N’Am where the local brigand chieftain is apparently named Rob Ford.  Thomson’s “John Ross, The Inspiration Lives On,” on the Mexico City journalist, is in this week’s Anderson Valley Advertiser.  Come for the picture, stay for the words.



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