Truth in a Forest
I had a mental breakdown this weekend.
“Breakdown” is one of those unfortunate terms we’ve borrowed from the mechanical world to try to describe the non-mechanical world. Like saying we are “processing trauma” as if we are computers, or talking about “hardwired” human desires as if we are electronics. Cars have breakdowns, as do systems. Humans aren’t either of those things.
Really I was just tired and it was all too much.
I wrote one of my closest friends about it, and he replied “I’m surprised you’ve made it this long without one.” My husband, gods love him, was quite quick to understand what was happening and took over everything, reminding me that I’m actually working more than he is, albeit for about a fifth of the income that he gets for his work.
What actually happened? I was making dinner, it was almost done, and while preparing it I just couldn’t anymore. Couldn’t anything. It was all too much, too ridiculous, too insane. My mind went on strike, I refused to think anymore, and really didn’t even give a shit if dinner burned or not.
“Becoming a writer is the worst thing a human could ever choose to do to himself,” I told my husband.
“Yes,” he replied. “Or a dancer or opera singer.”
“Oh,” I answered. “Yeah, at least I don’t have to starve myself.”
Earlier that day, a Saturday, I’d written for six hours on this manuscript I’ve been telling you all about. You know, the one I’ve been working on since autumn of last year, the one about Woke Ideology. Yeah, that one.
The cursèd thing is almost done. In three weeks I’ll send it off to the publisher in the morning just before leaving the house for a two week honeymoon during which I will slowly try to remember who the fuck I was before I started it. About nine months of relentless research and thinking and (most fraught of all) trying to inhabit the minds of really broken and destructive people will be over.
I will have my world back for a little while.
Other writers have told me it’s like this, so I know I’m not crazy. It’s also not my first book, just the first book written for a very, very large audience. That’s part of the difficulty there, one of the scary bits I guess.
Also, other people I know who’ve looked too deeply into the contradictions and absurdities of identity politics have come away quite scarred. It’s really difficult not to just write the Woke all off as hateful delusional idiots, because that would be much easier.
What’s even more difficult is not to fall into reaction, or as I described it all in a review of Angela Nagle’s book Kill All Normies a few years ago, “reacting to reactions to reactions.”
Ideologies generate and shape their own opposition, just like religions do, because anytime they identify an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ the ‘them’ encountering it inadvertently take on the qualities ascribed them. It’s the problem of institution, Bourdieu’s observation that the Greek sense of the word that became categorize was “to insult.” This is also the problem of the dialectic, of oppositions seeking resolution in each other. It’s also the alchemist’s problem, the hidden desire that marries Solve et Coagula, dissolution and unification, together.
Consider: what is the opposite of the Woke? To them, it’s Fascism. All who reject the invisible ideology which they reproduce are the evil for which their ideology exists to fight. Nevermind that the world can never be reduced that way, that ‘left’ and ‘right’ only described a seating arrangement in a French government building. “You’re either with us or against us” is the only logic they can countenance.
Unfortunately, when a dominant ideology defines its opposition, those who oppose the ideology often take on its definitions. Just as shrill right-wing idiots warned that leftists wanted to ‘abolish the family’ and then shrill and unhappy left-wing idiots like Sophie Lewis decided “hey, great idea, let’s abolish the family,” too many people who reject Woke ideological formations become hyper-traditionalists and adopt whatever looks like the opposite of what they oppose.
It’s all like when a teenager decides to reject Christianity by becoming a Satanist. It’s the Emmanuel Goldstein1 problem in Orwell’s 1984, the false opposition to the established order which sustains that order. Rejecting identity politics by becoming identitarian is just as effective as disfiguring your face and becoming morbidly obese in order to oppose society’s unrealistic standards of beauty.
Rejecting Woke ideology means also rejecting the framework which animates it, otherwise you’re still caught within its absurd categorizations. The opposite of racism isn’t anti-racism, nor is Antifa the opposite of fascism. They’re shadows of each other, divided halves seeking the resolutions of their contradictions. The opposite of Woke identity politics isn’t the politics of traditional identity, but rather a full rejection of identity politics altogether.
A few hours before my breakdown, I’d gotten lost in a forest.
No, you’re never actually lost in a forest, only just not where you thought you were going. Where I thought I was going wasn’t where I ended up, and instead I was in one the oldest parts, the ‘heart’ of the forest, least accessible to loggers and thus filled with the oldest trees.
I’d gotten ‘lost’ because I was distracted. I’d intended to film a video for the course I’m instructing in front of a nearby monument erected to the Last Wolf of Luxembourg. Instead, I took a wrong turn and ended up there, which is probably where I most needed to be anyway.
One of the participants in the course mentioned something she tells people she guides: “what’s true in the forest is true everywhere, even if it’s inconvenient.” I had been thinking on this while sitting there in that place, and how it’s ultimately the haunting spectre of the Real, the bone that catches in the throat reminding us that death and the material compose us and our ideas.
We might try to escape the terrible truths of the forest in the mirrored halls of our thoughts and political formations, but in the end we are no more—nor less—real than trees that will outlive us.
Thus, the breakdown, which wasn’t really a breaking down at all, only a remembering of what’s real and what’s just meaningless human noise.
Like a pregnancy soon to be complete, this manuscript’s almost done, ready to be passed into other’s hands. Like carrying a living being inside you, it’s been exhausting, fed from my surplus life and thoughts.
Soon enough, it’ll live on its own, and I’ll be off to other things. Maybe it will change things. Maybe it won’t. It’s changed me, anyway, so there’s some power in it regardless.
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Too few ever mention that the name choice was a dig at Emma Goldman.