The tyranny of trying to grasp an idea.

Over the last few days I have been trying to think about what I am going to write for the next term paper.  Oh yes, it has come round again.  The intolerable agony over whether or not I can write the blasted thing, the endless whinging and obvious mental imbalance induced by the mental stress I place myself under when I realise that I need to get going with writing another piece.  And all those joys only materialise once I have completed the task of settling on what I want to write about.  This is possibly more agonising that what comes after, but at least occurs over a more protracted period.

Strangely enough, despite feeling increasingly anxious about trying to fix on the topic for the next paper I find myself more motivated to read and study tonight than usual.  I have had trouble motivating myself to sit and study for long periods this term.  Last year I was quite happily sitting from 5:30pm to 10:00pm (after work) trying to work through the weekly texts and readings.  This year I have, instead, opted more for a tactic of attrition, sitting down for shorter periods more frequently to tackle the reading.  I don’t know which is better, but I was starting to wonder where the motivation to just sit and plough through had gone.  I think it is partly that I haven’t been able to allow myself to get that caught up in the studying. I was suffering too much anxiety relating to my day job and simply couldn’t cope with any more anxiety/nervous engagement in my studying.  However my working life has now calmed down and I find myself with the compelling task of writing another paper.  It is compelling, I really want to do it.  The prospect of choosing a subject that I find interesting, that I want to write about and making it my own in the process of writing about it is so exciting.

Going back to feeling anxious about the paper, I don’t think it is just a feeling of wanting mental peace by getting it out of the way that motivates me.  That would be the obvious answer and it certainly would make some kind of sense.  I have suffered so much anxiety and mental unrest during the process of writing the last two, not least as a result of truely not knowing if I was capable of writing the damned things.  It is, however, more than a need to get back to mental equilibrium that motivates me. If that were all it was then I would have given up the MA by now.  That would be a much better way of relieving the tension.  The tension, however, seems to be caused by a feeling of challenge.  It is the challenge of it that spurs me on. Not just the challenge to fulfil what is asked of me as part of my programme of study though, again that is too simple an explanation for the torture I end up putting myself through.  Again, I am quite capable of deciding enough is enough and leaving it be.  No, the challenge is far more personal than that.  Once I have some inkling of a potential subject for the paper I have to pursue it. I have to know if my intuition that I might just have something intelligible to put down on paper and in some way illuminate the random connections that occur in my mind is in any way reasonably founded.  So far that has been how it starts, I have some vague notion or some connection that I make idly during a seminar or while reading.  It appeals to me for one reason or another, fits in to my existing framework of experience while still posing enough questions and confusions to prevent me from knowing exactly what I am doing immediately.  As I explore the idea further I find out which assumptions were ill founded, compare it to other things I have been reading and discover more connections, gain a deeper insight and realise how naive many of my first thoughts on the topic were and finally (almost as if by magic) end up with a coherent thesis that  seems to sum up something that I didn’t quite know I was thinking, but there it is in front of me.

Undoubtedly my motivations for studying are informed by a not insigificant degree of self absorption.  I concede this without being particularly proud of it, but not ashamed of it either.  I don’t claim to be doing any thing great for humanity, I am just doing something I enjoy because I want to.   I find something extremely satisfying in this process of trying to grasp an idea that seems to spend an awfully long time at the edges of my consciousness.  The process of grasping or groping towards an interesting or useful idea has some kind of hold over me.  It holds me in its grasp long before I get to make any tangible progress myself.  I find it fascinating to be so motivated and compelled towards an aim that I can’t even quite make out.  I also find myself fascinated by contemplation and reflection on the process by which I am learning and manage to somehow put it together to make a coherent argument about something. It still feels surprising that I have come as far as I have through this MA.  I trust more that I can do it now, but I still don’t understand how or why.  I suppose that is why I often describe it in terms of forces or processes that act upon me, (e.g. the idea grasping me, or being subject to ‘the tyranny’ of trying to do something) because I really have difficulty conceiving of it as something that I do.  It feels much more like something that happens to me or that I happen upon.

Anyway, the subject I am trying to organise my thoughts around at the moment is some kind of comparison of Adorno and Lacan.  I am sure there are some similarities there.  The Lacanian notion of the Real that can never be directly accessed and the Adornian notion of the constellation that is organised around some invisible centre that can only be illuminted by the correct configuration of the constellation.  Admittedly it might be a little tenuous, but I am determined to find out why I think they are similar.  Even if I am wrong and I have to conclude they are completely different.  I am trusting my instincts here though and I think there is something interesting or productive in this intuition and I want to find out what it is.


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