Essays as Shared Psychoanalysis
I too found myself writing essays as a result of reading. And I suppose Annie Dillard must be correct in noting of writers, “She is careful of what she reads, for that is what she will write”, because I came by way of philosophy, and it permeates everything I write. But isn’t it odd — especially with nonfiction — that it’s usually those who’ve read so voraciously that end up adding even more to the vast pile of things written? Wouldn’t one think that in reading widely, we’re more likely to discover that whatever we seek to say has already been said? Perhaps, but Dillard counters:
“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”
Though I do, in fact, find things written about my own peculiar fascinations, these discoveries never satisfy my desire to give them voice, they redouble my conviction. “Yes! I’m onto something here”, I think to myself in these moments. So essays are personal; they’re studies of one’s own astonishment. They bring forward elements of the self that previously existed solely in the formless whirl of internal experience, the motion of thoughts frantic enough to evade conscious perception.
Marcel Proust also memorably writes of how rummaging through oneself impels creation:
“What an abyss of uncertainty, whenever the mind feels overtaken by itself; when it, the seeker, is at the same time the dark region through which it must go seeking and where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not yet exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day.” (Swann’s Way)
This function of writing seeks, in Montaigne’s words, “to pick out and immobilize the innumerable flutterings” of oneself. It tries to investigate the murky, cascading waters of what William James would later call the “stream of consciousness”. Used in this way, essays are a somewhat psychoanalytic practice towards self-knowledge. Like scientists, we take test tubes into the coursing stream, fill up samples, and study these immobilized fragments of ourselves.
But if essays reveal us to ourselves, of what interest am I to you? I am my own problem, my own subject of study, why would I presume to drag you into it by making the subject of my essays these little isolated test tubes, writing as if asking for unwarranted attention, exclaiming: “Hey, look at this little bit of my totally idiosyncratic self.”
Montaigne also felt this way. He warns readers in the preface of his Essays that it’s surely a waste of time for anyone else to read them:
“Reader, you have here an honest book … in writing it, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end. I have had no consideration at all either to your service or to my glory … Thus, reader, I myself am the matter of my book: there’s no reason that you should employ your leisure upon so frivolous and vain a subject. Therefore farewell.”
True, this must be received with irony given that his Essays became so popular precisely because readers related to them so intimately. Emerson remarked that he could hardly tell where Montaigne ended and he himself began. But this isn’t always the case, the digital age features swaths of flat, self-aggrandizing essays. Perhaps useful for the author, but certainly not the reader. What’s the difference? Why are some essays profoundly moving, others narcissistic? Perhaps because in reading Montaigne, Emerson read himself. In reading a good essay, we must read ourselves.
Here we have both a better articulation of the essay’s function — plumbing the personal for the general — and, as I set aim for in the beginning, what it is about my manner of existing that culminates in essay writing.
It’s what lies within my stream of consciousness that lifts my gaze from my own waters to the broader landscape, movement from the particular to the universal, that interests me, impels me to write. When I’m lucky enough to encounter such a moment, where some minutiae of my personal experience launches my thoughts into orbit, and I no longer think in reference to ‘I’, but exist in the disembodied rapture Sontag describes of reading, my first impulse afterwards is to write it down, how I got there, to capture it in a jar of words like the firefly. This is an admittedly possessive response to rapture; rather than enjoying it, letting it come and go as it pleases, I claw at its wake. I try — essay — to recreate it. Such is the task.
This impulse to writing breaks, or rather evolves, from Montaigne and Proust in their psychoanalytic project of bringing our strewn selves to light. Rather than submerging in the steady flow of thoughts, the unseen currents of self, this motivation seeks to lift us from them. This impulse to writing is meditation. It asks what more there is to consciousness than the self who identifies with its ever-flowing stream of mental noise. It pursues the astonishment that shocks us right out of our narcissistic habits, ejecting us, as it were, from the stream to its banks to gaze upon the whole, where it comes from, where it goes, if there’s anything else to the mental environment than coursing thoughts.
“…the mind’s muddy river, this ceaseless flow of trivia and trash, cannot be dammed…trying to dam it is a waste of effort that might lead to madness. Instead, you must allow the muddy river to flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness; you must raise your sights; you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the realm of the real where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance.” (Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
Maybe I write to raise my sights.
Competitive Exams Essay: Self Introspection
This piece of writing is dedicated to all those who want to progress in life and discover new prospects… Not about anyone else, but regarding themselves only.
First of all let me clear a myth about introspection. It is unlike meditation which means union with God. It is rather union of a person with his own soul.
Being a Virgo I tend to criticize others but that does not mean I can stand censure myself. It's not the case with me only. Rather it's a universal truth. So here is a question to everyone. Why is it so? Why do we fear to face ourselves?
In our free time, we chat with our friends, make new ones and know more about them through internet and mobiles, but the irony is that we actually don't know what's going inside us.
We all are born with a tendency to transfer the blame of our wrongdoings to others and Saint Kabir's lines aptly describe it:
Bura jo dekhan main chala bura na mila koi.
Jo mann dekho aapno mujhsa bura na koi
This suggests how badly we require to know the substance of our own lives. We need to communicate with our soul and stop threatening ourselves with spiritual death. We need to impede succumbing our spirit from outside pressures.
It is as simple as that. What we need to do is to sit at a calm place before a mirror and ask ourselves some questions regarding the preceding day like which direction did I take today? why did I get angry with my friend? why did I get stressed today, who and what helped me to get out of hassle? The answers to such questions would let us know our path & destination, things which give stress, things which aggress us and people who we can trust in problems.
This test can also be done in happy situations too. Questions like why am I happy? with whom I feel relaxed? and so on. This way we will get to know the elements which elate us in a true way and may be we can bring those elements in our life during period of depression.
Basically it's a way to understand the essence of life. During preparation of exams, practicing introspection can be of great help. We can strategize things in a very easy way because by that time we would have known our capabilities and problems as suggested by these lines in Sama Veda:
“A man, who realizes the potential of his mind by means of introspection and contemplation, he does not lack self-confidence. He has control over his mind and he is able to realize its full potential.”
Also we will spend our rest time during learning sessions in a better way so as to retain whatever is learnt.
By knowing the elements which offset our courage, we can handle the difficult the situations better and can proceed towards the achievement of goal with a new and fresh energy.
It's always easy to preach others but when it comes to follow those lines ourselves, then it becomes a real challenge. So I m writing all this only after undergoing self introspection myself. So don't think I m writhing this against my own convictions.
Trust me it's a win-win situation for everyone.
Don't think it will not do any good but take a step forward to believe that it won't cause any harm too!
GO UNLEASH YOUR POTENTIAL!
Courtesy: Shilpi Mittal