The problem with essays is that they tempt the writer to speak from a podium of sorts, as if he or she (let’s say he, because I’m talking about myself obviously), as if he were Walter Cronkite, the last representative of the True Believers in solid facts at the center of life, fading out to extremes of fantasy on the left and right.
But that’s not a valid picture of honesty, because there is no solid center if I am learning. The center is precisely the place where suspension and uncertainty live. Nothing is known; all is shifting perspective.
But in saying this I end up sounding like I’m standing at a podium again, and the hypocrisy this generates is fascinating, if nothing else.
Essays generally leave a stench of dishonesty no matter how honest they try to be. I think there’s another way to write essays, and that’s what I’m exploring.
I wish I could ask the reader to bear with me while I say this next sentence, because this statement is just a door to a larger room, but here it is: I’m not really interested in helping anyone. That’s not why I write. I write because I enjoy tracking down and confronting my own dishonesties.
What I am, at best, is honest about my own dishonesties. And I DO think that facing dishonesty is a good thing for the culture, because the culture is not facing its dishonesties, and I’m pretty sure that this will shortly be the cause of our extinction. But even if I feel this way, that’s not my motive.
I think it’s the other way around: I don’t think I can have a motive if I’m honest. I think I can only have a motive to be dishonest. Honesty is merely being without duplicity. There’s no effort involved if there’s no duplicity. So honesty is an empty condition, negated of all efforts, which are in fact efforts to hide from myself. So honesty is incredibly lazy, a slacker of sorts. There’s nothing moral about it. I do nothing and I’m honest. If I do something about it, then I’m squirming, looking for an advantage, an improvement, anything but the truth.
Here’s another reason I like to write, and bear with this sentence also, because there are millions of refractions available here, and this might not mean what you think it means, but here it is: I hate myself. Now wait, I don’t mean this in a dramatic way, but as a candidly comic observation of a Self that isn’t real. I actually can’t stand the Selves that stand in the way of living honestly. Self-consciousness is a pain in the ass.
When I’m looking at a beautiful sky, more than half the time (the actual percentage is a state secret) I’m looking at myself looking at the sky. Oh, come on Me, let’s be honest for an instant at least. The damn voice is always chattering, saying, “oh the sky is beautiful today!”, and the very statement helps to create the impression (of myself and for myself) that I’m enjoying life, when in fact, at this moment at least, I’m straining to merely be quiet enough to notice something other than this constantly chattering Self, that hydra-headed pain in the ass.
And the only way I’ve discovered (and just indulge the use of “I” here for the moment), but here’s a discovery: When I realize that my Selves, including especially this one, this voice here standing at the podium, is not real, but only a kind of fiction, then a new kind of honesty is born right here on the page.
Let me try to explain this to me (I’m not really trying to convince anyone else but me): But as soon as I relate to my Selves as fictions, something is emptied and made beautifully lazy. Call it “I” if you want, but it’s more like the old stench is replaced by an intoxicating perfume of humor and joy. The pain in the ass of a Self has diminished to a red herring, and this ironically allows the Self to be used playfully, without taking it “personally.” It becomes a helpful illusion or performance. It’s so much easier to speak honestly if I have no vested interest in the person speaking.
Look, it’s a burden to be pinned down by the things I write. I don’t want readers listening to me as if a particular voice I’m using is the “real me”. Then I’m trapped into living like that or feeling like an unbearable hypocrite the moment my honest inconsistencies re-emerge. Now you think you know me. Impossible, I don’t even know me. But if I can speak from a voice that is obviously a fiction, then ironically the writer is freed to speak candidly, because he knows it’s not really him. He won’t get pinned down and forced to take himself seriously, or literally. And then the voice is free to say things beyond his normal reach, to draw from the whole movement of consciousness, to become different people, and look at things from their perspective.
That’s why I prefer to speak from the perspective of an oven mitt or a cluster fly. Through them, the realities of daily life can be discussed more candidly without feeling weighed down by the need to be those “people”. It eliminates hypocrisy to knowingly speak through illusions. Only then is honesty possible.