From the following words my next project will take its form.
I have begun to write myself. I began long ago, when to find myself I gave myself words. I originate in a wandering style, though you now read me at the end of a long reduction and exclusion. Having risen, I became someone who walks; having thought, I became someone who errs. So I grew capable of humanity's ways. Having seen, I became someone who overlooks; having written, I became someone who revises. So I learned the rudiments of denying and altering my being human, by envisioning and articulating myself otherwise. Ultimately, I ceased to envision myself, thus ceased the struggle to exist in both my words and my images. The final image -- the enduring, greedy image -- shows a boy, on his knees, in a row in a section on a floor of a vast library, wanting to read it all. I am not mistaken in hungering, but I have made my mistake in hungering without limit. Thus I write. The following are two of the questions to be answered in me. Where does my arrogance end? And how far do my ambitions extend?
Insanity is a problem on which I have made some progress. I have followed our most central metaphors until they loop into something dangerous: I have let high be good until goodness is vacuum, and bright be intelligent until intelligence burns away vision. We who try to be human carry humanity onward, following its errors and reconceiving its forms. We are subject to its reasons and prey to its unreason. We are those responsible for shaping history forward. My ambitions extend into certain of our common ventures, whether or not you recognize their common ground. And I may easily overextend: I return too often to that lofty mood in which concentration ionizes and diverse fantasies present themselves, from ideal little social responses to scenes of grand triumph, with me to decide which of them will enter the first stages of the progression from fantasy to dream, from dream to ambition, and at last from ambition to reality. It is a difficult decision, because I already have many responsibilities, both mundane and internal, and hesitate at one more. Yes, I am responsible to my fantasies, for to deny one that I have kept is to be untrue. I am responsible to my dreams: they nourish me, but I must nourish them as well. Most of all, I am responsible to my ambitions.
Midway through high school, some time after discovering philosophy, I wrote a list of what is good. It was hardly the only list I had written, though most I had the good luck and good sense to discard quickly. (My writing, like my life, traverses such lists, often to arbitrary effect. But I may write and live better.) This one, however, was too grand and too meaningful: I wrote it well. This was a list of values, of things worthwhile, sparkling destinations, and however much I reassured myself of its provisionality I could not afterwards outdo it. I still remember that list's beginning in a single entry, and its slow expansion over the course of a few months to include nine items, a philosophy and an ambition nestled within the nine. I also recall the order of its contents' inclusion, save for knowledge and beauty, which were added together. Now, I even realize how the list's final entry halted any further expansion, though for a long time such realization stayed beyond me, thinking as I did that my time off the ground could be nothing but good.
Now, however, my ambitions must acquire better forms, and I have lived with the old ambition too long to simply discard it. Instead, the list will be refigured. As far as my concepts go, the list's contents are easily reshaped, despite being a part of me. They have as yet little form but what I have given them. There are other concepts, call them animated ones, that were and are more difficult to refigure. I once had to acknowledge a spiritual crisis in the following terms: "To fully understand something I must embrace it and reject it in turn, and I have yet to..." The ellipsis anticipated years' worth of doubt and self-disgust, as I argued and pleaded with an idea that preferred me in its teeth. Luckily, I have since moved on to a fuller way of involving myself with what I value and what I cherish, dangerous though such involvement may become. Here is my way of refiguring the list: If I truly believe something to be good, then I should be willing to avoid parts of it, claim some of it as my own, and, where I am willing to devote myself, pursue it.
I was once a philosopher outside the scholastic cage, but that does not mean I was a good philosopher. Self-indulgence and arrogance -- a far more encompassing arrogance than remains now, an arrogance like an atmosphere, in which to breathe -- were my guiding vices, ones which easily competed with the paired virtues of creativity and civility. I may have accomplished rare feats of learning, but my styles of discussion, writing, and thought degenerated as they developed. Again and again I created a system or argument like a labyrinth, subtle, winding and many-pathed, to be learned and then escaped. Oh, I had points, I had profound and central points! But you could only reach them tired and lost. And so it was that I, coming finally to face the reality of philosophy in this world, before which I could be at most seminal (and in any case minute), at last lost myself and tired myself out: by my lack of wisdom and lack of reason I failed philosophy. At last I could only breathe to it: I will understand you by rejecting you. I will deny you, I will fear you, and I will flee you. Where wisdom is lacking, a declaration of what one will completely reject is an act of either arrogance or despair, and I despair in silence.
Yes, I know avoidance well. Not only to find myself do I lose myself. When something internal hungers after me, such as a sense of unending intellectual and emotional debt, I also move to lose myself, both in the world and in my mind. I travel until the signs become unreadable and the entire ecology of rationality becomes something external to me, leaving me with the quiet things, myself among them. Even if I did only skirt insanity this last time, with delusion avoided -- really, Lhexa, avoided? and this "writing myself" undeluded? -- I still suffer from familiar aftereffects. Here are the ideas become something more than geometric, no longer fitting together; here are the emotions that assemble into something charismatic before another person, but tug and gnaw at me watersnake-like when I am alone; here are intellectual powers sparking at random, talents spending themselves uncontrollably, and a woven identity unravelling. My entireties are connected: I cannot distinguish between my good and my evil. Fortunately, when it comes to what to avoid, I do have a central thesis from which I can draw many implications: I have gone insane, thus I am not a philosopher.
Comparable to the places I am to go are the places I have left behind. Prior to the tower of physics, there was the basement burrow thereof; before the warmth of friends, there was the cold university; before that place's harsh realizations, there was the soft isolation of high school; before the flowering of pride, there were my first declarations of identity; before the city, there were the mountains. Each site gave me treasures which I might yet lose somewhere in the space of a tired silence, if I do not ensure that I can always recover them. More, I find I should go far afield in recovering what I value. The treasures of my life are never so much kept as cached, memories, insights and emotions hidden for future need. I do not need to possess myself, nor keep what is mine. It is not mine by virtue of placement, nor am I myself because I am the person at hand.
Please forgive me as I speak of myself. I may be the only person to whom I can give words. You and I converse, if we converse, along the thin border between a person and the world: we supplement each other's senses. If my speech must reach you from further away than most, then you hear it from beyond your usual range, just as I am so often brought points of light from unimagined distances. My friends are the colors, and every reunion restores some pigment to a gray world, a hue lost while, blind to myself, I follow my voice. My friends will forgive me when I run on, and who else has a word in what I can recover? I have a burrow, a little Maupertuis of my own. I have what sustains and nourishes me. I have clothing that suits me. I even have a tower of theory and experiment to ascend regularly. What I claim as mine I need only describe.
I feel I came into this world by climbing down from a tree. What are my words? (Small thing, be still. Let yourself be nourished.) I know the easiest emotion to exploit. You can seize it. You can shape it. You are not wise enough to choose otherwise, so I know. (Even Dr. Cavell? Even your friends? Yes. And I am willing to do an evil thing for the sake of a human scholarship.) There are as many territories for the action as there are distinct people on this planet. I might see through your very eyes if the chase takes me behind them. (I would tell you of the place of ice. It too moves. Let me take you there in a story.) I have found my two high niches in the ecosystems of rationality, ecosystems where nothing human has yet appeared nor will appear. (Want to know what kind of affection exists in an animal's gaze? Ask which animal.) I walked to a high point and launched myself to the void, which shivered me apart. What did I see in the ascent? (The third and most dangerous hound, which led and still leads the pursuit of youth, which may harry me from my own, I named Ambition.)
The pursuit will be long.
My list of what is good contains happiness, freedom, knowledge, beauty, love, wonder, honor, and flight. I now follow Kant in omitting life.
Like you, I spent much of my childhood hiding. Everything worthwhile in me started out vulnerable to sight, weak against nothing so more than coming out too early: such are the games, aspirations and worlds of a child who knows to keep the clay of himself away from all calloused hands. But perhaps I learned my talent of stealth too well, and became a material no longer under any others' hands. I do not know. Now there is a need to look back as far as I can see, to find out when I first began to arrogate what was around me, when I began to involve my very identity in everything I learned. Of the creations of my past, what survived, and what fell into ruins? I can only undo myself to the extent that I continue myself. My wreckage is my foundation. I know where to find it.
Even in childhood I inhabited places behind and beneath: behind fences, beneath manhole covers, behind sealed trapdoors. I remember many such places: the deck of my grandmother's house, under which I would crawl and sleep; near the opera in the mountains, the cramped loft where I delved into fantasy worlds and the little gullies where I created them; the shadowed mesquite paths which so excited my imagination, beyond the schoolyard fence; the long culvert whose first traversal required much courage, among whose side tunnels I found the place of cockroaches; the platform for storing old curtains, its trapdoor eventually sealed, but afterwards reachable from the sound booth through the space between walls; my shrine beneath the overpass. There were other places, and among these others a specific one relates to my ambitions.
I often skipped high school. My favorite place to skip classes, usually in order to think, read or sleep, was the highest landing among the dozen or so staircases in the huge complex. Being the only landing letting onto the roof (another place I enjoyed) this was the only protected one in the entire school. A high wall resembling a chain-link fence divided the next landing below evenly in two, and unlike that to the roof the wall's door was always locked. The wall did not, however, extend to the ceiling. By climbing diagonally up the stairs' railing I could reach the perpendicular railing of the top landing, and clamber right over it, the twenty-foot gap below becoming less fearful as I gained experience with the climb. At some risk I could enter a space that resembled, but only resembled, a cage, for when I entered it my thoughts took motion within a vaster realm. By climbing into that space I caged the school, and could for a short time be safe from its appetites. Behind that wall of woven metal I was a philosopher. In that place I weighed institutions on scales better balanced than any I had been shown. I thought well and abstractly, though a strong sense of danger and isolation remained. And there I considered each entry of the list of values. Hidden, scared and alone, I contemplated goodness.
I believe I have left many dreams idling in that dusty place. To study there safe from school was, among other things, to learn arrogance: to learn, as Thoreau put it, that it was I in all the philosophers who glimpsed a new truth and wrote it down from its high place. But the other side of the talent also needs learning: that it is you, humanity, and you, reader, who see from behind my eyes when I am fully understood. Your brilliance might someday shine from my words, and your stupidity might speak through them. So I admit: I too own a garden of untouched vanities, one with very high walls. I built, or rather wove those walls (as the cage of my school was woven, from metal and fear) to keep you -- a universal You -- away from the self I cultivated in that garden. In the time I kept You away I nearly mastered everything arboreal: I learned how to take root, how to feed myself on light and fundament, how to grow, and how to bloom. My ambitions now are to attempt something higher.
Morality should often be secretive, for morality is vulnerable while it is maturing. For now, I hide myself and my morality in open view, in words illegible to all but me. What is not yet readable may become so, and what is not writable as well, if one develops one's skills to match humanity's. My being uncomprehended is only humanity's incomprehension. It is a small thing.
Who I am cannot yet survive abstraction. My attempts at picturing myself -- attempts made before I chose between style and vision as methods of self-creation, thus attempts to combine the two -- turned on me and became monstrous, so that I next had to write weapons against them. In one such attempt, I tried to convert a capacity for flight (which I foolishly called draconic) into a gift for others, into an ornithopter many could fly, but I built it before realizing there were intimacies between flight, insanity, and my specific evil. In another such attempt, I thought to make myself the equal of one of this world's histories: I conceived in myself a vastness and a vacancy suitable for an entire human endeavour, namely philosophy. But to complete myself I must undo a mistaken myself. I can no longer simply decide what I will become, which is to say that a decision is now only an initial stage in the transformation. Rather, I must limit the limitless within my appetites and personality: I must give my greed for knowledge an intelligible form, then my virtues and vices an isolating particularity. I need limitation, constraint and form, else I die mediocre. So: I set out! I am thus bound.
Call mine the crisis of insanity. As far as my ideas are concerned, am I divine or not? What powers of shaping and reshaping do I possess? These forms of fisher and fox, how much may they be me? My impositions have already begun to take shape. I have found, and will find again, parts of identity situated in the past -- I mean not only my little past -- there to be left discarded, claimed for my own, or pursued as though alive. Learn as we may, we still do not know how we are to become.
A fantasy that has been kept, but which cannot nourish you, becomes a delusion. A dream that has been held back from influencing your life becomes a vanity or conceit. An ambition that does not become reality is simply a failure. But I have been a mere staging ground for such creative processes too often: now, I want to no longer value everything worth valuing. I carry the hope that someday there will be things, good things, that I can see and like without arrogance, for I do not extend to them. They will be things beyond me. It is the hope that there will be that which I can fully not be; it is an answer, it is not the only answer: arrogance ends where I end.