Finite but unlimited: the journal
February 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
Abandoned tables at cafés sometimes hold more than dirty cups & a small tip. A few months ago, I stumbled across a rather interesting journal, relatively preoccupied with its own worth for being well-cared for & bound in a soft leather.
I could deduce very little about the identity of the author, the frontispiece left blank. At the back of the tome, there are two loose documents: a photograph of a gathering in Greenwich (aged, but aged well) & a 2011 postcard from Austria that is devotional, addressed to a Koko.
Transcription of the first page:
To keep a journal is to submit to the finitude of words, which is to say “This is the truth & nothing else may enter upon it”. Of course, it is the very act of “entering upon” that I make my business although this does not change the finitude of one’s own words. Words are dead—to take from Einstein, “Finite but unlimited”. & so it is that we live out our human realities, between animals & angels.
By virtue of this finitude of Language, to write is to take responsibility (in turn anxiety, nausea, the weight of the world, reward). To write of one’s own life is to admit to the finitude of life; normally, this is the same as fearing death. I do not believe it of myself, not today, though it is true that I am no longer invincible or unscarred. What has changed? While I carry still the itch of infinity, my being knows itself to belong to a different order. It remains for me to embrace the personal pronoun, to choose the project by which I will be defined & through which I will observe the world—that is to say, it remains to write my life.
Koko is more than a little like that familiar character in flux, torn between the moment & eternity (or “animals & angels”). Presumably on account of the immutability of a printed/recorded word, language belongs firmly to the dead in her estimation. Nevertheless, the project delineated here is precisely that of entering into being, by means of the ultimate writing of the self, the journal.
Although there is no immediate audience for such a document, very often — & those who anticipate fame are especially guilty of this — a readership is nevertheless implied. In such cases, the desire for the absolute is especially strong. This seems to have been Koko’s initial attitude to biography, making documenting the self an impossibility (on account of the act being a concentration of one’s finitude). In the gorgon face of the absolute, awe incites inertia. The trick is not to look at it in the eyes.
The major leap of putting words on paper is seen as almost a promise to “embrace the personal pronoun”, or the situated self, the particular. Infinity & ambition are not dispensed with as dry desires, rather there has been acknowledgement of the fact that for humanity such things can only be achieved through the particular. Philosophically, this is on account of our necessarily having to exist in time — an extension of our mortality.* This is what is meant by historicization of the self: the taking responsibility for oneself in the moment.
Koko attempts this by writing. Her achievement cannot be viewed but as half-fulfilled at this point:
- these words are for the author alone, presumably, which eliminates the possibility of a contract to continue “choos[ing] the project” of oneself socially; it also leaves the work of judging the success of “the project” solely to its subject/object, a figure necessarily prone to bad faith
- they are written in pencil, perfectly malleable (quite like a blog post or one’s hairdo)
Criticism is easy. Actual representation of oneself is perhaps impossible.
The ethics of posting pages of another’s journal do not concern me especially in this case. Having read Koko’s entries quite carefully, I am confident that she would have no objections to their distribution & analysis. In any case, I include the typical disclaimer: If the author of this or any future entry I post should come by my blog (&, given the intimacy of our interests, this is quite plausible), I encourage her to contact me if any complaints are in order & to organise the return of her (his?) property.
* Supposedly the reason angels are brought up by Koko is to contrast two relationships with time. There is evidence to disprove a religious disposition throughout the journal, generally, in spite of the prominent instinct to infinity.