November 24th, 2003

Pushing the Past Away

I just took a break from writing -- more letters of recommendation, alas --and decided to fix something I'd gotten wrong on a previous entry. Problem was, I couldn't remember which entry. I realized my mistake weeks ago, but didn't have a date in my head. It's funny how you can remember the mistake, but not when it occurred. Didn't Sigmund say that?

Anyway, I had to go through most of my entries of the past three months to find the one I was looking for and had this really interesting sensation of looking at something from the distant past. Putting my thoughts and feelings "out there," in a potentially public form, seems to sever a connection in my mind.

When I randomly toss items into one of my boxes of memorabilia or "important" paperwork, it's with the conviction that I will return to them later, that I have unfinished business with them. And that's usually how it works. As I go through some of those boxes looking for "archival material," I still feel close to many of the things I find within them.

But LiveJournal seems to work differently for me from a psychological standpoint. I feel like Nick Shay, the protagonist of Don DeLillo's Underworld.Nick's job is waste management, specifically radioactive waste. Indeed, he is a theoretician of waste management, which makes his difficulty reconnecting with his own past all the more ironic. The archives he constructs for toxic materials serve the purpose of denying access, rather than facilitating it.

I hadn't ever thought of this project along those lines, but now I'm second-guessing myself. Is my not-fully-conscious purpose here to finish that unfinished business, to send it to the grave?

Writers do that.

Watching Kim compose, practice, and then perform her poetry in public, I always had the impression that I was viewing an exorcism. That she was getting "it" out of her system. Because of the nature of that shifting "it," the disposal could only come in stages. She would perform a poem for the first time, then return to it for the next few performances. But eventually the poem would lose some of its emotional force.

Considering the extremity of her life experiences, not to mention those of my friend Joel, it has been difficult for me to get perspective on my own. Many of the most intense experiences I've had consist of listening to them.

And yet, we all have "unfinished business" to which we feel a compulsion to return, frequently with the desire to be done with it or, failing that, at least have a functional fantasy of being done with it.

Perhaps that's the stealth mission of my blog, the one too secret for someone with my security clearance to know.

Am I burying my past inside containers lined with inert material, to prevent any emotional "seepage?"

I've got to get back to my work. But let me offer some thoughts in closing:

1) Thomas Vinterberg's Dogma 95 film Celebration, which Kim and I watched last night, is all about the problem of what to do with toxic material from the past;

2) My description of the film as "Ibsen on acid," resonates with my own fixation on Ibsen during the summer before my senior year of high school, when I surely would not have described anything as "on acid;"

3) The idea that Nick's "archives" are constructed to deny access converges in interesting ways with the argument that Walter Benjamin makes in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Benjamin theorizes about what happens to art when it becomes more accessible. Perhaps, though, the "aura" that is lost in the process doesn't just get recast as a "simulacral aura," as I once wrote, but gets transposed to other realms of everyday experience. I realize I'm treading ground here that is already worn smooth, by DeLillo and many others, but think I can put a slightly different spin on the idea.

We live in a "knowledge economy" in which ease of access is paramount. You can get lots and lots of information with little effort and a hell of a lot more with money or institutional privilege. What this way of living does, however, is to make those places to which we are denied access or to which access is restricted glow with import. The "authentic," old-school aura goes where we can't;

4) I'm not sure how the preceding thought can be articulated in relation to the rest of my entry, but am thinking, speculatively, that the concept of "hiding in the light" might help. What if, as Laura has suggested, we dissemble by putting things "out there," in plain view?;

5) By creating the illusion -- for myself, if for no one else -- that I have finished unfinished business here on my blog, am I thereby imbuing the past-made-public with an old-school aura for myself even as I destroy it for others who may read me?


I have this Cordura zippered pouch in which I have kept pens and pencils since, I don't know, my undergraduate years. I was sorting through the contents today and discovered a lone Post-It note, shorn from its original context.

The back side, black roller-ball marker, block capitals:
Robert Hughes, "Rise of Andy Warhol"
The front side, sloppy red ball-point pen, upper and lower case printing:
TOP -- I'm offended by the dis of (German) Marxists, but actually I'd have to agree in a way (since that's the substance of my critique)
I can't be sure, but I suspect the note dates from 1992 or 1993.
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