22 May, 2008

What is the "self"?

by Jorge Reyes

As a writer, I have always tried to differentiate the private/personal from the public. Of course, how can one make such distinctions? I always thought that the personal stayed personal, while the public was always public.

These days, my ideas are not as clear-cut. What is private anymore when we have at our disposal the ability to hack into some of the most personal parts of a person's self? What is public when our discussions so often take on the hue of the personal histories. Even our candidates for public office all speak with the vanity of that landscape called the personal, which only serves to exclude all others landscapes.

As a writer, I also spend endless hours doing next to nothing; daydreaming mostly. I draw upon a rich, weird, and largely unchartered territory known as the human psyche. Characters, places, and people from the past all fight for dominion in this no man's land of memories. I extract and extrapolate from each (public/private; conscious/unconscious; real/imagined) a world and the results are unlike any I first set out to remember. Writing, like witchcraft, is a magic deception into a wonderland of dreams. But, oh, can those dreams be powerful, too!

I don't know how the once well-divided worlds between the public/private crashed in upon itself. But reading a draft of old poems I wrote and which is intended for publication sometime in the future titled Day's Night, I began to wonder. The poems were all written in the summer and winter of 2003. The poems are thematically connected to love and the poems are based on what, at the time, I considered to be a really bad personal relationship. With the power of hindsight, I now know what it was not: a relationship; it was just an attempt, however futile, at believing in the transformative power of love, though in reality it was a forceful attempt on my part to believe it was about love. In fact, it wasn't much of a relationship either.

The poems are morbid, dark, dense. As I wrote in an introduction I had written at the time in 2003, the poems seemed to have been written by someone I didn't know who it was. It didn't seem to be. On the other hand, how I felt the dark, energetic prose that transmogrified into a faint recollection and which, now in 2008, is just as powerful. Perhaps the prose seems powerful to me because I wrote it. Perhaps the prose seemed powerful, irrespective of the fact that I had written it. I know this: reading the poems even at a cursory, safe distance is still disturbing and the poems crawl under my skin. I feel the pain because it was a visceral, primal pain; the type that can have long-lasting repercussions; the type we all recognize as transcending beyond the danger zone and into areas unknown to the human psyche.

Not to dwell in melodrama, but a part of me had died. I was turning into someone else.

Suddenly, I was aware that there are no fine answers that can divide the personal from the public. If I can still distill from the experiences of years past something that can still speak to me, or to someone else, then the poems are as much a part of my private self as it is of yours, and the fictive separation between you and I drop.

I know I wrote the poems, but they could have been written by anyone else and they still would have been as powerful. Is that why, I wonder, there are so many references to "the other" or to "the stranger" in the poems? Is that why I don't recognize the person who may have written them?

And yet, I wanted to leave something of lasting-effect that marked those days; something I could go back to despite the years; something that could describe in concrete terms the emotions I was feeling exactly as I was feeling them. Is that what I meant when I wrote the following?

"I’ve been asked to write whatever comes to mind, mainly
The memories I still hold from these last two years, from the morning I
Met you, sometime in August, until the night I left you, a few months
Apart, from the first few days when we were dating to the last
few days when with such detestation it ended,

before I forget, before I lose interest, before I stop to care
examining the slow, ambling steps I made to the secured
cushion of death’s inevitable addiction, and while I’m still drunk
with my past and while I still want to remember, I’ll do it!
I’ll tell you!
Before I forget. Of course.
I'll tell you how I felt."

I think that's what I attempted to do which is something many of us attempt to do as well. Remembrance of things past? to quote Proust?

Most of the lives we lead are very similar in substance and if not because of our personal histories, they probably would be lived in similar ways. We project upon an outer reality something which is not necessarily a strange response to an inner feeling. It is, I think, something very much a part of us; it is us because it is also within. The personal and the public becoming just syntax of the same principle.

Yet, those poems resurfaced and I felt as if I'd been hit on the face by something unexplainable. The past also became the present. It wasn't so much the particulars of the poems, but the force that emanated from them-- not necessarily a good force. I was confronted with a naked truth, a naked reality, and a reality principle that competed with other principles and all of them went off into different directions without a compass, without a guide, without anything, really. I was victim and perpetrator of a bad relationship, mostly self-made, as much as a love torn freak decrying being in the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting someone I ended up hating passionately. From there, the accidentals of time and place became part of my destiny. I created it as much as I shunned it. But I created it all, whether I want to admit to it or not, and today it is part of who I am, poems and all.

Most of what we consider accidentals turn out to be life-changing circumstances, to our dismay at times to our joy at other times. The private, as much as any belief system, is just the imagination seeking to find a venue of purpose within and without. The public then becomes a much more real place than I hitherto imagined. It is how we fit the pieces of the puzzle together that makes the particulars seem so unique and how the public, you and others, can begin to feel sympathy for others. It is this same dualism that has supported some of our most cherished beliefs.

Not coincidentally, I've postponed the publication of Day's Night for almost five years. Has this been an unconscious act of self-preservation? I often wonder about that one as well.

So, where is the private? It is out beyond, somewhere, out there. It doesn't begin at the point of a personal cognition, but at the point of recognizing that there is a world out there independent of us.  The private has become public, though they remain as separate as ever.