I like big fancy ideas that thwart common sense. My favorites come out of philosophies that try to kill themselves that are usually called post-something and Buddhism. Ideas like there being no ultimate distinction between self and other and further—kinda—that there, again ultimately, IS NO self; there’s no such thing. I like these radical ideas because if they were appropriated and expressed in practice, instead of verbalized in ever more refined and frustrating texts, we’d live in a completely different world. We wouldn’t need to force ourselves to be better or behave differently. We would actually be different and different actions would flow naturally from this new kind of being. What I mean to say is that it would kick ass.
As the sloppy nonsense in the preceding paragraph displays, these ideas thwart attempts to speak about them because the moment you do, you’re upholding what’s trying to come undone. The first word of this post is “I”. But that’s no proof against the ideas. It’s merely proof that we’re embedded in grammar. There’s some funky shit beneath the way you and me and the world of things arise in language.
I finished a 50K race last weekend but my body only showed up to run 28 miles. I had 3 miles to go and they were long ones. At the first hint of muscle fatigue, it set in quick and soon my quads, hams, and calves were all clenched up and cramped. I don’t know what you call that hinge on the back of your leg behind the knee but it felt like some sadistic fucker from a Cormac McCarthy novel slashed them both with a buck knife, spit a big gob of tobacco juice, and said I reckon that’ll make it hard to dance, pardner. Then he laughed at me and so did his friends. There was a dead rattlesnake in the road. I bet it was 5 feet long. Maybe 9.
I tried stretching to no avail. I tried my usual trick of telling myself to just fuck off and run but a louder fuck off replied with the idea that my ankle was broken. So I walked. And then I limped. And then I hobbled while considering the economics of crawling. People running by stopped to ask if I was okay, if I needed them to send help but I just flashed a faint smile and waved them along. Volunteers at the aid stations said “You don’t look so good.”
The race started at midnight and this 3 mile walk occurred in the haunting orange glow of the sun’s tentative emergence in the desert. I was a wounded animal mourning the cover of night. Daylight would expose me as easy prey. The desert in the morning has a way of making you feel like the last man on earth in a dreamy fake landscape. Surrealism copped its style from dawn in the Mojave. The finish line never came. And then it did.
I didn’t pump my fist with confident pride as I crossed the finish line. I had no exalted sense of relief. I didn’t have the satisfied sense that I had accomplished something hard after months of arduous training. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to imply that I felt the opposite of those things. I wasn’t disgusted with my performance. I didn’t feel like a failure. I was simply too crushed, ground to dust, to be the kind of thing that had such sophisticated relationships to itself. That’s not to say there’s no such thing as a cactus or a ghostly floating tumbleweed or miles and miles of deep beige sand.
If I was anything at all, I was faintly hungry. But not for food. I mean a more wide ranging hunger that animates the world and makes even stones yearn for more. If there is a self that abides, it consists only in this empty hunger that gets us down the road.