For the last year or so, I have been fascinated by the deliberate process of unthinking. I do not mean a critical re-engagement, as academic work would require, nor the unrelenting and necessary quest for proliferating meaning we call deconstruction, perhaps suspect in a constrained world but vital within an ethical frame, nor, also, do I mean an absence of thinking in favor of sensation or its lack. (This latter formulation captures the experience of the callus, sensation insensate). Rather, I have been obsessed (obsession being itself a symptom) with a stance Helga Crane names as “no, forever!”
To be unthinking is, contra Descartes, not to be, or, put otherwise, to be unmade. It is to be in a place where language trips up, stumbles, remains teetering on the edge of elsewhere. It is, above all else, a location for the deracinated. It is a state occupied by Nella Larsen’s Helga Crane, a woman who embodies negation, canceling out herself in a quest to be unlike. For Helga is, above all else, opposed to similes. It is also a state occupied by Claude McKay’s Lincoln Aggripa Daily, or Banjo as he chooses to be called, displacing self onto object, only to reclaim name at strategic moments (middle name “never no moh,” middle name “honey pot a life”): in a location where one’s identity papers are always available to be marked “Nationality Doubtful.”
To be unthinking might be “jazzing to fohgit,” as Banjo claims, to “leave more things than [one] remembers,” as Ray asserts, to embrace “change” as “passion,” in Ray’s terms.
And the trick, the undeniable ruse is that one strives to “fohgit.”
I have been reading Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Claude McKay’s Banjo (1929), attempting to make sense of how one reads novels that resist plot. It is not that these novels have no narrative; indeed, they are full of narrative, of action, of events, of characters, of emotional arcs, any number of factors that might define narrative. Yet the novels refuse narrative, act as histories that refuse narrativization (to use an ugly word), perhaps refuse ugliness.
One way to muse about unthinking might be to characterize it as the completion of mourning. One is done with one’s object of contemplation, one has no object to ground one, no link to history. Is the completion of mourning, then, the end of loss? Might unthinking be what follows mourning and forgets loss? Amnesia might not follow mourning, but I suspect it does.
And again with mourning. I do not worry that I return to the same ideas repeatedly; this, after all, is the nature of a certain kind of living, perhaps living in the 21st century, or living without the lubrication of drugs and alcohol.
I am relishing the loss of a certain too-polished eloquence. Not raw writing. More the texture of not-yet-cooked collard greens. Fibrous.