September 26th, 2012 / 4:30 pm
Craft Notes

Constrain my writing.

From Rick Strassman’s book DMT: The Spirit Molecule. This is the way a DMT test subject named “Willow” described her experience on the psychedelic. I’ve added emphasis to the sentence that struck me:

The other side is very, very different. There are no words, body, or sounds there to limit things. I first saw deep space, white with stars. Then there was this multidimensional experience starting. It was alive. It was the aliveness that I heard.

And here, a quote from Terence McKenna recently reTumbled by Tao Lin:

Culture replaces authentic feeling with words. As an example of this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding light of many colors, movement, sound, a trans-formative hierophany of integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes into the room and she says to the child, “that’s a bird, baby, that’s a bird,” instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock iridescent trans-formative mystery is collapsed, into the word. All mystery is gone, the child learns this is a bird, this is a bird, and by the time we’re five or six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with words. This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky, and we seal ourselves in within a linguistic shell of dis-empowered perception.

I have a troubled relationship with both these quotes.

Let’s accept that words are now and always will be an imperfect way of relaying “authentic feelings.” That words are limited and limiting. That because writers write with words, they are limited by the imperfect work words to to convey feelings and experiences.

Let’s accept that.

Because I think I accept that. I think I embrace that. I think I prefer that. I like being constrained by the imperfection of our language to convey “authentic feelings.” I like having trouble getting across to you whatever it is I want to get across to you. I want very much to be forced to communicate with you using a series of squiggly lines broken apart by space, and I want every separate segment of those squiggly lines to be a little box filled with your meanings and my meanings, and I want those meanings to sometimes overlap and sometimes not overlap. I want all the authentic things to be stuffed haphazardly into that little box. I want meanings and authentic feelings to spill out. To fall to the bottom of the page as a footnote maybe. And those little boxes to be overfilled and spilling.

Keep me off DMT. Replace my authentic feelings with words. That’s what I want. I want to spend my life at a computer fighting an impossible fight. Fighting to get you to understand me entirely. And knowing you never, ever will. The struggle makes me happy.


Image of the author’s cat on drugs taken by the author. Cat’s drugs provided by the author.

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  1. mike

      The flattening, the short-circuiting, yay!, of words. The McKenna quotation in particular reminds me of this Ben Lerner poem from Angle of Yaw (which I copy/paste from the Poetry Foundation site, where the ALL-CAPS has been unjustly removed from the first five words; what, no shouting?):

      “The predictability of these rooms is, in a word, exquisite. These rooms in a word. The moon is predictably exquisite, as is the view of the moon through the word. Nevertheless, we were hoping for less. Less space, less light. We were hoping to pay more, to be made to pay in public. We desire a flat, affected tone. A beware of dog on keep off grass. The glass ceiling is exquisite. Is it made of glass? No, glass.”

  2. John Bloomberg-Rissman

      As someone who has spent time on both sides of the “divide” I don’t think it’s an either / or. I think both the quotes are partly wrong: “There are no words, body, or sound there to limit things.” That’s just not true. I mean “someone” is “knowing” that as it’s going on. And they are knowing it in a medium of some sort. So there are limits to the limitless that are just going unacknowledged. Tho, yes, words do seem inadequate to express that limitlessness – of course, that’s not what words were designed for. “Culture replaces authentic feeling with words.” Well, no. Given the example, Culture replaces infantile feelings with words. I know that’s not really what McKenna meant, but. It’s not words’ fault that the hors-texte is wordless. But the main thing is that to privilege the psychedelic stage over the rest of life is a mistake that was really over by about 1967. Some time is spent “there”, some time is spent “here”. When we are “here”, we use language. “I want to spend my life at a computer fighting an impossible fight. Fighting to get you to understand me entirely. And knowing you never, ever will. The struggle makes me happy.” Well, you do a hell of a good job.

  3. deadgod

      I agree with ‘laboring to be understood’, but I think that that work isn’t simply or exclusively a fight.

      I also don’t think one has to aim for or even worry about being understood entirely. Understanding – even self-understanding – is always tentative, incomplete, ‘towards’–even though, simultaneously, it stakes a claim. To say one ‘understands’ is to say something both assertive and partial–it is to have a perspective. To sense that you’ve been understood a little is already to be an optimist of the will, however strong your pessimism of the intellect.

      I agree that the constraint by imperfection of “words” is something to be embraced. Perspective is not a condemnation to joyless limitation; it is a fate neither incompatible nor incongruous with pleasure.

      I doubt that anyone knowingly has an experience that’s not linguistically mediated. –though saying one is against “words” is a fun game: whether one’s position is reasonable or not, one wins!

      I don’t think “culture” replaces “feeling” with words. It both smothers and intensifies it with words–culture is simultaneously a disablement and an enablement of feeling. This conflict between effects is neither ‘wrong’ nor ‘right’, but rather, is a condition for the possibility of judgement.

  4. rawbbie

      those constraints on language/perception/meaning keep us sane.

  5. abysmal

      but our very conceptions of sanity are derived from them, are they not?

  6. Abruse Banks


  7. Matthew Simmons

      But how do you “authentically feel”?

  8. rawbbie

      it’s perfectly circular logic, I know. It’s like using logic to justify logic.

  9. jeroen nieuwland

      Woa… writing & DMT (& other drugs) need not be mutually exclusive. Hafid Bouazza (Dutch-Moroccan writer who has edited a nice book on intoxication & art (in Dutch unfortunately)) said writers/artists often take drugs/alcohol to deal with the pain of not being able to continuously be creating :-) He meant this (at least partly) facetiously, but I like the thought nonetheless,

  10. William Owen

      IF culture replaces authentic feeling with words, that is simply the side-effect of language. The purpose of language is to circumvent the slowness of evolution, to transmit adaptation more rapidly than the slow generational dissemination of genetic traits.