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  • Lex van der steen

5 days of writing

For Max and me, setting up Thought Magicians was always about creating a space to accommodate a practice of writing regularly. For me personally – although I think this goes for many – thinking, or at least a thinking that wants to develop layers, requires writing. As the first months have gone by, I have really enjoyed creating texts on a regular basis. Yet, all these texts always had some sort of a planned direction, some sort of image, however undefined, of what they were going to encompass eventually. In the ‘text’ below you will find a literal week of writing. I have written a little bit every day, with the goal in mind that I would use the writings of one week for one text. This is an experiment, and if successful I might use this way of working more often. I believe I can speak here of an essay, since the etymological origin of ‘essay’ lies with the French infinitive ‘essayer’, which means something like ‘to try’ or ‘to attempt’.


Added at the end of the week: what I ended up with is a text that contains something I could turn into a polished text, but have not. Instead, this text is much closer to my experience of my thinking and writing process. The text is not structured to lead to one solid conclusion. It is fractured, has many lose ends, and has gaps and jumps. I like that it is fractured however, and that it has lose ends. Because as such, the ideas present themselves not as solid and finished, but as something found and usable (or unusable), as something that can be played with by anyone who wishes to do so.



Monday.

The other day I was reading The Hobbit, and a particular sentence struck me: “I am like a burglar that can’t get away, but must go on miserably burgling the same house day after day”. Immediately when reading it I felt some invitation to think and reflect upon this sentence. But, when trying to do so, I also felt some resistance. I was fascinated by the image Tolkien had drawn: I imagine Bilbo living for a very long period in the kingdom of the elves completely unnoticed, constantly wearing his ring that renders him invisible, and surviving by stealing food and sleeping in unused corners. A life lived in complete secrecy, surviving by hiding and stealing. But, although I wrote down the sentence somewhere on a piece of paper, I had forgotten it after a couple of days and the note had moved on to a destination I do not know. Yet, today I remembered the sentence when I went out in the morning and unlocked my bike. I found that there were at least – but probably more – 7 ladybugs residing on it. They joined me on my journey, which gave them enough time to spark an association in my mind.


Parasites. Bilbo lived a parasitic life. But a particular parasitic type of life. When I think of a parasite that lives on, for example, a dog, I imagine how it could potentially abandon its current host and look for another (I do not actually know if they can or not, but the idea is what matters here). However, as those who have read The Hobbit will know the elven kingdom within which he was staying was located in an enormous forest from which Bilbo could never escape alive by himself. He was stuck on an island. I thought the same for a second about the ladybugs on my bike: now that I am riding, they cannot get off anymore (hence the idea of the parasitic entered my mind). Of course, ladybugs can fly, and they could probably easily get off my bike (although, those that I was able to see did not). Anyway, Bilbo was a burglar that needed to keep on burgling because he could no longer go back.


In the movie Parasite, a poor family is portrayed and shown to slowly infiltrate in the daily life of a rich family by taking on manual labor jobs like driving, cleaning or helping with homework. As many pointed out, it reflects on the lives of many poor people having to live parasitically on and off the rich, and thereby on the current capitalist society in which we find ourselves today. In a sense, perhaps, Bilbo’s situation might also be used as a metaphor for the parasitic lives of late capitalism.

 

Tuesday.

Let me continue with the theme of yesterday. Bilbo’s invisibility reminds me of my own latest text for Thought Magicians, in which I construct a metaphor between dark fungi and cleaning workforces. I am currently reading The Life of Plants by Emanuele Coccia, and he at some point emphasizes the parasitic nature of all non-vegetative life:


The survival of the near totality of living beings presupposes the existence of other living beings: every form of life requires that there be life in the world already … Humans need the life produced by animals and plants. And higher animals would not survive without the life they exchange among themselves, thanks to the process of nourishment. To live is essentially to live the life of another: to live in and through the life that others have been able to construct or invent. There is a sort of parasitism, a universal cannibalism, that belongs to the domain of the living: it feeds off itself, without realizing that it needs other forms and modes of existence. As though life in its most complex and articulated forms is never anything but an immense cosmic tautology: it presupposes itself and produces nothing other than itself. This is why life seems impossible to explain other than starting from itself.


Then, later, he goes on by saying that “Plants alone break this topological rule of self-inclusion. They have no need for the mediation of other beings in order to survive”. Ironically, Coccia is wrong here. Plant life did actually presuppose the existence of other life, namely fungi (which are technically not classified as ‘plants’). It was fungi that first extracted the minerals from rocks and other dead material and turned it into soil. Only then was it possible for plant life to take over the land. Thus, here in Coccia’s story, fungi are once again excluded and rendered invisible. Nevertheless, the idea is clear: human life lives parasitically on the totality of all other life, especially vegetative life.


So, it seems that in my writing stream I’ve gathered some themes and elements that apparently overlap. Bilbo’s fate as the infinite burglar (understood as a situation that was not uninventable, but became almost inescapable once manifested), the movie Parasite and its critique of our current economic system and organization, the parasitic nature of all non-vegetative life, and the need for invisibility in order to survive (in the case of Bilbo, the movie Parasite and even somehow for fungi).


I do not think there is a need for me to start interpreting and elaborating on these overlaps for now. I can come back later to them if I would desire so (or, somebody else can, since I am now sharing it). For now, it can rest as a fertile piece of soil, where thought could potentially grow.

 

Wednesday.

I can hear the big road outside of my room much better than usual. Why so? Why is the wet surface louder? Apparently, all the surfaces around us, like the road, absorb sound. When it is wet, however, these surfaces absorb less sound than they usually do. So, for us, noise increases when it is raining. And, of course, rain itself produces sound. Can we then say that rain is often, at least in the city, heard less than other sounds because it itself produces a situation in which the intensity of other sounds is increased as well? The sound of rain hides itself by making others speak up more.


Does it hide, or does it prefer to manifest itself collectively? We could also say that rain always takes into account the others, never thinks solely about itself. The sound of rain is never just the sound of rain.


Is this an ethic? An approach that deviates from pure individualism? The rain does not completely disappear in the sound of the others it emphasizes. Rather, even, it could be said that the sound of the rain also becomes louder and stronger in its cooperation with the other sounds.

 

Thursday.

I have no energy to write.


Oh, there is something funny about that sentence.


It tells the reader that the writer cannot write in the moment, but nevertheless did, because it itself is a written sentence.


The mere existence of the sentence denies the truth it tries to tell. Apparently, it is false, because the sentence is written. So, did I just lie to myself? That doesn’t seem apt either. By expressing my thought, I denied it, also towards myself. And if I hadn’t written it down, but only thought it, it would have remained true (or, at least not false).


And now I have even reached the point of having written a little paragraph, a little text perhaps even. The truth that would have remained a truth if left unspoken gradually becomes less and less true as these words keep flowing. What a powerful gesture!

 

Friday.

It is actually not Friday anymore. It is almost 1 AM on Saturday. I just got back from working a very busy shift in the kitchen. But let’s pretend it is Friday still.


I had a thought today, somewhere at some time, about what I wrote yesterday and what I wrote before about invisibility. Can the same that I wrote yesterday about ‘I have no energy to write’ not also be said about the phrase ‘I am invisible’? In a way, this phrase is again wrong, since the one who wrote it down is at least visible insofar this sentence is visible. Somehow, by affirming their invisibility, the invisible become somewhat visible, namely as those that reveal their invisibility. Just imagine Bilbo wearing his ring and all of sudden saying ‘I am invisible!’ He would not be wrong, but neither is he completely right. In fact, the sentence I referred to on Monday would no longer apply absolutely. So, is this then a possible emancipatory gesture or is it only increasing the problem? One could also point out that, by negating its own truth in the moment of expression, the truth can never be spoken. Bilbo could never communicate the truth of his existence in that moment without changing that truth somehow. This, perhaps, is also an important difficulty that cleaners need to deal with, or that the parasitic lives of capitalism face. Coming out – that is, become visible – as invisible, seems difficult to say the least.


Maybe that, nevertheless, the truth is spoken insofar the spoken phrase refers to a truth that it cannot capture, that it cannot express. To say ‘I am invisible’ is always a lie, but a lie that refers to a truth. The truth is then spoken as a ‘truth that was but no longer is’.  


Let’s look at that sentence of Bilbo again:

“I am like a burglar that can’t get away, but must go on miserably burgling the same house day after day”


I think this can be interpreted also as a ‘truth that was but no longer is’, as a ‘lie that refers to a truth’. Because, a burglar is someone that breaks in, that wants to get in somewhere and take something. Once one is stuck somewhere, and only wants to get out, one is actually not a burglar anymore, but a prisoner. It seems, then, that to be a burglar or to be a prisoner are not that far apart; one can easily shift to the other. This might be important to note in light of many situations in which we seem to find ourselves. We might want to figure out a new technology very bad (to get in there, to burgle), like AI for example, but before we know it we become prisoners, parasites.

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