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August 1, 2011 / hymenopterans

On Not Writing.

Irma Blank

Ironically, this, if I get through it, will be my first fully fledged foray into the blogosphere.

I am aware that writer’s block is hardly a novelty among postgrad students, and I am aware of strategies invoked to slay this particular demon. Just write a page a day! Just sit down and write anything that streams out, and reorganise it later! Or, the one nugget of advice I have encountered most often when discussing my inability to work on my MLitt thesis: just write! You’ve done all the work, you just need to write now. Now, I’ve had generic writer’s block before, but it has tended to cede to the adrenaline rush that comes with an imminent deadline. That deadline was 10 months ago, and as it stands, I have around 5k words — of 15-20k — written in an appropriate style. Technically, I should be able, if I applied myself and worked solidly, to finish up in a few days, because I’ve done all the reading, the notetaking, the thinking. The project is complete; the notions exist, it’s all done. However, I can’t just write, and I don’t know why. If I did, then perhaps I could do something about it. For the most part, it is presumably depression-related: my ability to concentrate has atrophied severely and occasionally I catch myself using a large or unusual word and have a pang of bittersweet excitement: “My brain is working! Maybe I can write today!” / “Hey, remember when I had a lexical memory?”.

It’s not just the words though. I don’t remember, most of the time, what my work is about. I could give you some buzzwords, but all I have is the nouns and no linking strands; those neural pathways are dulled, overgrown, thicketed, cobwebbed. So I have subjectivity, ontology, feminism, Irigaray, the sensible transcendental, Malabou, plasticity, performativity, writing. Writing. Ostensibly, the wider project concerns how to philosophise as a woman; whether this is possible; whether writing can work at all; whether other performative methodologies may be better suited. The general conclusion is that it is not really possible, within the discursive system of Western Philosophy, to be a philosophising female subject. This is a (the?) common tenet of Continental Feminism. Irigaray invokes fluid logic and a sort of transcendental materialism; Malabou seeks to get past this through a new ontological approach with its origins in plasticity. This is the general trajectory of my dissertation. The final chapter is supposed to speak of the implications of these approaches for how to write/perform/be philosophically.

Sometimes, I can even remember the more complex details of it: there is somewhere I posit that materiality is the transcendental condition of transcendental conditionality itself, and that the Irigarayan sensible transcendental aims at this catachrestic moment. At the points of rupture, the conditions of discourse become tangible, and ontology itself is a discursive construct with a necessary outside — the necessary transcendental condition of materiality, which can be pulled through the cracks, and this folding together of sensible and transcendental conditionality is a way to eschew binary relations and reinstate (sexual) difference, and allow for new notions of subjectivity. I think when I got to this point in thinking through the project, I was pleased as it seemed to be a breakthrough in terms of the main point I was getting at; the hinge between all the books I’ve read and the questions I want to ask of them. But I still can’t write.

Throughout the MLitt my work has been meta-philosophical, generally from this same quasi-feminist base, since I am a woman, and I do buy into the notion of the constitutively excluded feminine of philosophy. However, this new level of meta- is one I could do without. My work is about the (im)possibility of writing philosophy as a woman, and I am finding it impossible to write this work. Several notions have crossed my mind: presenting the dissertation orally; presenting it on film; writing sections asemically (cf. the Irma Blank piece above); writing it quasi-poetically; writing it with an alternative syntax that emphasises changeability, perhaps through gerunds in place of nouns; simply not writing it at all, because I can’t. These are unsatisfactory, though. None of them feel entirely apt, and besides, at this fledgling point in my philosophical career, such a move feels hubristic. Departmental guidelines, markers’ opinions, and the need to secure PhD funding in future are further factors, the stress of which feed back into the originary factor of the depression.

I really want to just write it.



Leave a Comment
  1. WildlyParenthetical / Aug 15 2011 18:37

    I just happened here, and I wanted to say, basically, yes, I know, exactly and frustrating, isn’t it? One piece of advice not listed above (I think) that I find kind of interesting (and has been useful to me in the past) is to indulge the meta. Write about how hard it is to write. Write about why you can’t, or how it feels that you can’t, or what it feels like you might not capture if you do. I know you’re doing some of that here, but you’re also presenting it coherently, for an audience. Can you let yourself do incoherence for a while? Radical incoherence, if you like – after all, for those who listen with ready-made grids, anything a feminine subject says is incoherent. Take it to the extreme!

    I noticed that you tagged this ‘performative’… I wrote a similar length piece (I think it came out around 18k) on Butler and Irigaray, actually, as an undergrad (well, honours in Australia which I think is more like Masters elsewhere?). My focus was on style, and the capacity of particular styles of writing to engender the transgression of distinctions not only between self and other, between self and lover, between lips, as in Irigaray, but between the reader and the text. I suggested that Irigaray’s writing enacts the reformulation of embodiment that it describes (‘When Our Lips Speak Together’). And the thing about this? It means that you are already your project, already reconstituted by it. Even if the words never get to the page, the transformation it marks has already been enacted. In a performative sense, then, the project is done and dusted; you’ve done your work, finished it, become it.

    Sometimes I think that this then produces the sense that whatever one writes must be adequate to what one had become. But of course, there’s a gap between who you have become and the written work, whatever that work is. Which is basically a way of saying: you’ve already done the work, so let yourself off the hook a lil bit, and remember that whatever you write will never quite adequate with the effect the project has had… which is not to say it doesn’t matter, but just to say that the sitting down to write it is an experimenting anew, not a rehashing of a past process, not a laying out of the already-known.

    Not sure if any of that helps, or if it’s all irritatingly advicey (I was allergic to advice during my PhD, at least half the time!). But the project sounds really wonderful and exciting, and I would love to read it. So this is me, with a vested interest :-). Good luck.

  2. underground-man / Oct 16 2013 18:24

    Or realize that enough has been written already – too much in fact – and you’re not all that interesting. This commodifcation of ink and paper, it’s beyond me.

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