Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
Too much freedom tastes of the void
> And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
She became frightened during the analysis because she could see that this could very easily have led to her lying all her life in a bed in a mental hospital, incontinent, inactive and immobile, and yet in her mind keeping up a continuity of fantasying in which omnipotence was retained and wonderful things could be achieved in a dissociated state.
There is a famous Hadith, albeit of apparently questionable authenticity, which speaks of God as a hidden treasure; and in this, that He created the creation that He might be known. This has been glossed in commentary as comparable to the essential nature of God, in this respect, being akin to a drop of ink within which are contained as potentiality the totality of all that might thereof be written. Henry Miller spoke similarly on his deathbed, where he said:
… the love of people, that was all I really cared about; to have their love—not their admiration, all this clutter, clutter. No, just their love and understanding of me; that’s why I wrote so much me, me; it sounds so terrible.
There is here the image of each soul as a hidden treasure, and in this there is the desire that it be made manifest; yet this desire quickly encounters contradictions in coming to express itself. The manifest world is limited, whereas in the potentiality of a drop of ink there is all and every possibility of an unbound freedom. Here the quote with which this begun comes to mind, for the case of which Winnicott speaks there is that of a woman who has full fallen into fantasy. She would sit in this place beyond place, her body immobile or with mere twiddling of thumbs, and all the while within would live out in fantasy her unbound omnipotence. Wherever she sought to escape or overcome this, then she would be quickly discouraged by her encounter with actuality: “As soon as this patient began to put something into practice, such as to paint or to read, she found the limitations that made her dissatisfied because she had let go of the omnipotence that she retained in the fantasying.”
This is a familiar experience to me, for I have felt precisely this even in the very notion of this piece which I am writing now. The ideas float about within my mind in full freedom, and yet to take these and place them to paper seems a violence; so rarely will a piece attain on the page to quite the perfection with which it was initially envisaged. There is in this a desire simply not to write, that the unlimited potentiality of fantasy is thus superior to the actuality of these words.
This is a familiar experience in further cases, in the entirety of life, for everywhere much the same shape is found. The impossible dream seems superior to its actuality—and like a dog chasing a motorcycle madly down the street, we may well wonder what we would do if ever it was caught. Surely it is only the tendril of desire which we desire, that the thing itself will ever be but a disappointment in comparison? Yet this brings us back to our beginning, for such would be to consider that the ideal was that described there: an ideal life would be of immobile and unbound fantasy upon a hospital bed in some psychiatric ward. Here the dream ever remain perfect precisely because of its impossibility, that insofar as it was impossible so was disappointment.
There is the further limitation: that to choose this is to let go of that—and here there is a another violence in our encounter with actuality. The ink drop contains within itself every possible word, but when we come to write; then we must pick first one, then another. Every word that we put down entails an infinity which we must disregard; in which way we find that life everywhere and always requires death. If nobody was ever born, then nobody would ever die; and would that not be the easier way? The suffering of this world sometimes seems too much, that it would be far better had none of it ever been; so long as nothing ever was, then just as well everything and anything might well be—and doesn’t that seem the better way? I can easily love this patient asleep on her hospital bed, for I have likewise spent long years lost in dreams.
Suicide sits here in much the same shape, as if the ultimate limit whereby the whole may be defined, for it is precisely such a choice whereby all others are excluded. Sloth is an inverted counterfeit, for in this we seek avoid choice; and it is in this a sort of suicide characterised by cowardice. We seek instead slip below, that we cannot even kill ourselves; it is the weaker way.
The aim is to kill ourselves correctly, and this is the project with which we are always tasked. Here, for instance, I am forced to choose which branch of possibility is to be killed in every instant. Whether I might close my laptop now, for a hunger presses against my stomach; that I might well go downstairs to the teashop or simply return to bed. The task is to determine which of these possibilities will be killed, and for this there cannot be a mechanical means; it is ever a creative enterprise, as much in the choice of words as which branch is to be cut. The bonsai tree only takes its form by the violence of secateurs, whereby its formlessness gives way to art.
“If I am successfully understood, my listener will have acquired the benefit that his life will have been made significantly more difficult for him than ever before, and therefore I will not urge anyone to accept this invitation.”