Do Beginnings Exist?

I read this really interesting text last semester about beginnings and whether they exist and I still hate myself for waiting this long to write a blog post, but here it finally is!

When we think of a text, we call the first word the beginning. Why? Because without thinking too hard about it, it is the beginning for us. It is where we enter the realm of the characters within the novel. However, is it really the beginning? What if the beginning is the title page, even if it conveys nothing but a few words? What if the beginning is the blurb, since that’s the first time you conceptualise the novel in your head? Maybe it’s the moment you first saw the cover, now that imagery suddenly conveys a lot more than you would expect. It’s actually endless where a beginning even begins.

If you think about the author of a novel, the beginning is very different for them since they are the ones writing it. For them, perhaps the start is when they initially come up with the idea. It could be a fully formed idea or it could just be noticing that man at the corner of the street that stemmed the rest of the characters. Maybe nothing really begins until it has an end in sight, making it halfway through the draft, or when the end is actually known, making it the full first draft.

However, just to make things even more confusing, if the beginning of a novel did stem from seeing the man at the corner of the street, then surely that’s not the beginning because it’s not the man’s beginning? So the beginning of the novel would stretch back all the way to the beginning of the man because without him, the beginning of the novel would never have occurred. But then the beginning of the man wouldn’t have occurred without the beginning of two other people. And so on. And so is it all just an endless beginning, ironically meaning that there is no beginning at all?

This is evident in the way that an author can never really create a novel with no inspiration. It is impossible since they would have to invent everything. Therefore, they are unconsciously inspired by everything they have come across in their life. Their work isn’t new; it’s just a transformed, manipulated version of everything that’s ever existed. Wow, that’s a way to degrade a novel. But isn’t it also true? It doesn’t necessarily make it unworthy, just that it’s had so many influences that it’s beginning can’t be pinpointed, and to me that makes it all the more important and exciting because you know that no one else could have created an exact replica, even if they tried.

What also interests me is that if there is no beginning, then surely there’s no end either? A quote from the text I read said something along the lines of “it takes longer to write about life than it takes to live it, therefore no autobiography can ever end”. I love this sentence because I’ve never really thought of it like this before. It is actually impossible to document our life without using up all our life and more, and we don’t have that more. Therefore, our life can never fully be explained, no one can ever really know everything about you and your experiences unless they were you. If people come into your lives at different times, they only know part of your experiences. Perhaps your middle becomes their beginning. Or their end becomes your middle. It’s like a tangled web of different timelines and you all interweave and dodge each other and share information and there’s no way of knowing where anything began or ended.

But really, does it matter?


What Makes a House a Home?

I was talking with BambooChewer a few days ago about “home” because she’s moving soon and it kind of inspired me to question what actually makes a home a home and not a house.

In my lifetime I’ve had four different homes, but I guess not in the traditional sense. I lived in my first house for the first eleven years of my life and of course, it was the only place at the time I called home. When it came to moving, I was nervous – anyone would be. I remember walking around the house after it had been emptied of furniture and it was so strange, this place that had once been full of all our stuff completely clear of any sign of human life. It was like any proof we’d ever lived there had completely gone. It was kind of like all of my eleven years had gone with it.

The day I moved into my new house was a surreal experience. There was the familiar faces of family but in an unknown environment – kind of like going on holiday except it’s permanent. I unpacked all my stuff straight away but my room was smaller and there was less space. It wasn’t ideal but it was just how things had to be. You wake up the next day and you have that moment where you wonder where you are before you remember again. And then from that moment onwards, it becomes normal again.

When I moved into this house, I also simultaneously moved into my Dad’s new house. I remember painting the walls and shopping for new decorations – it’s something any eleven year old would enjoy. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t weird. Suddenly going from one home to two new houses, whilst dealing with the divorce and starting secondary school that year, wasn’t going to be easy. It was probably one of the hardest years for me. However, looking back I can now easily say that more than one home does exist, even if at the time you’re completely convinced otherwise.

I think that a lot of the time people and connections and memories make up your home as much as the place itself does. Without them, your home is merely just a building with you inside it. With them, it’s a building full of everything and everyone inside it (whether in the present or in the past). Think of when you go on holiday. At first, your hotel room is unfamiliar and strange. It takes a while to get used to. However, by the end of the week it feels normal. You have memories of certain things. You can even remember the layout of it years later. It became a temporary home without you even knowing it.

Recently, I encountered my fourth home which is at university. This change was pretty different from the one before because it really did occur without any people or memories at all. At first, there was no link whatsoever to it being a home. However, now that I’ve been here for 6 months and I know people and I have memories, it’s become one. And yes, sometimes I still wake up and wonder which of the three houses I’m in – that’s inevitable – but I feel comfortable in all of them in different ways. They’re all home to me, even if they don’t feel the same. Because no home is ever going to feel the same as another, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good.

So I guess the point of this is to say that if you’re ever moving away and you’re scared, it’s only temporary. Once something becomes familiar and we can associate it with people and memories we know, it becomes livable. And new environments can sometimes be really good for us. They motivate us to change ourselves alongside our changed surroundings. They stop us from focusing too much on ourselves (because we’ve become so used to our normal surroundings we ignore them) and focus on what’s new around us. It’s a way of moving forward.

I hope you all find a home in your house ❤

Does Pain Have a Body?

Today I finally finished ‘Moby Dick’ (oh my god major cheers crying with happiness) and despite being thoroughly bored with the long-winded paragraphs (or should I say 500 pages) about whales and wishing it would be more action-packed, it is actually really interesting to analyse. Today I came across a particular phrase that struck me which I’d like to talk about here!

“All the things that most exasperate and outrage mortal man, all these things are bodiless…”

This phrase stemmed from a description about the wind and how it can’t ‘receive a single blow’ as you simply ‘run through it’. It’s one of those moments in a book where out of nowhere you just stop and think about it and that’s exactly what I did. Because somehow thinking about the wind as a target and someone trying to hit it never occurred me (which isn’t surprising because it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence, but still).

I think this idea of humans being destroyed the most by things that are bodiless is just so interesting because when you think about it, aren’t we hurt most of all by mere concepts? You might say we suffer through relationships by other people, but isn’t that from the concept of love rather than the individual themselves? Without the love aspect, they’re just any other person. The same with if someone took your ball in the playground in primary school and you were hurt because they wouldn’t give it back. Isn’t that suffering from the concept of justice rather than the person themselves, because if it wasn’t unfair, it wouldn’t be bad in the first place?

Also when you consider mental health, there is no arguing this is pain that is bodiless because it’s all in your head. However, if other situations, like I’ve mentioned above, were bodiless too, wouldn’t they be treated in the same way as mental health? But they’re not. So perhaps they’re not bodiless after all.

What actually defines a body or makes something bodiless? Does it literally have to have arms and legs and a brain? Does it merely have to be visible? I guess it’s hard to say. In relation to the quote, I think perhaps it’s talking about verbalised pain – racism, verbal abuse. But is saying these things that are bodiless outrage man the most even fair? Surely any kind of pain, whether bodiless or not, is awful.

I guess perhaps Melville is saying that invisible pain is somewhat worse because of its invisibility. If it cannot be seen, how can it be understood? How can it be treated? And this in itself adds to the pain to make it worse. If just we had depression in the form of a walking body or a physical being embodying the love in a relationship. Although these things are exuded through our bodies, they aren’t ultimately seen as a body in themselves; we as humans hide and repress so much that they can’t possibly be shown in their fullest extent through us. Maybe this is for the better. Who even knows?

To be honest I don’t know what I even agree with so far in this post because all these ideas have suddenly sprung to my mind, but it’s certainly something to think about.

If you could wish all pain to have a body, would you?

Why Do You Read?

A while ago I shared a blog post about why we write and I thought to follow this, it would make sense to write one about why we read.

Here are a few quotes that inspired this:

“‘You identify with the characters; you feel as if it’s your own heart that’s beating beneath their costumes.’… ‘Have you ever had the experience…of finding, in a book, some vague idea you’ve had, some shadowy image from the depths of your being, which now seems to express perfectly your most subtle feelings?'” Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (p75)

“…this drama is not fiction or romance. All is true. So true that everyone can recognize its elements in his own circle, perhaps in his own heart.” Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac (p2)

From these, I particularly love the idea of your heart ‘beating beneath their costumes’. A lot of the time we read as an escape, but I think more than anything it’s a way to find people who understand you. I love that feeling when you read something and it’s exactly how you feel, or is put into words so perfectly that you’re just like aaaa ( because there is literally no way to explain this feeling in words).

The idea of fiction being all true is also an interesting concept. If the author has written something from the imagination within his own head, which I suppose is made up of the amalgamation of past experiences and emotions, then isn’t their work real? Or even if not real, isn’t it in some way the truth?

When we write, as I’ve said in my previous post, we often subconsciously let out our inner thoughts. If this is the case, then no matter how exaggerated or fantastical a novel of fiction is, the underlying concepts are actually the undertones of the author’s brain. It’s the author’s truth – it’s wrapped up in lots of wrapping paper like pass the parcel and as we unpick and analyse and uncover each layer we will eventually get to the root of it all. And if the truth isn’t the root of it all, then what is?

Some may wonder why we would even want to read about other people’s truth, but I think that’s the most interesting part about it. We want to read other people’s truths because how else will we ever understand? Reading seems to be the closest way of getting inside someone’s brain without actually opening it up and hopping inside. And why would you skip on that chance? Because knowing how other people feel is not only a comfort if we feel the same, but it is also intriguing and insightful and we learn more about the human race than we ever would otherwise. I’m sure those who have good knowledge of books know far more about other people’s worlds and their lives than anyone who hasn’t. It’s a kind of experience you can’t get through anything else. Reading is so much more than just reading; it’s a whole other world inside your brain.

Recently in creative writing we have been talking about ekphrastic poems (= vivid description of a work of art) and my attempt at one closely links to the subject I’m talking about here, so I thought I’d end on it:

Related image

When I read over the words it was like I became a character of the page, a person born from the author’s mind, popping out of the cover. I had all these words glued to my skin – they weren’t mine, they couldn’t ever be mine, but I felt them like they were. I embodied this body like my body ceased to be. And when I saw someone else like me, popping out into this fantasy land, I took their hand, because I couldn’t let this go, no I couldn’t let this go.

I looked up from the pages and smiled at the guy with a book in the corner.

We were unknowingly connected.

Art – Do We Ever Know What We’re Creating?

A while ago I left a comment on this post talking about art and the act of creating and I guess you could say that inspired me to write this now.

It’s weird because as a writer, there’s loads of ways you can go about writing, although the final result is somewhat the same. Sometimes you take a prompt and write from there; sometimes you create a whole character or world before you start; sometimes you just write off the top of your head and see what happens. I think the latter is the most interesting and that’s mostly what I’ll be talking about here.

A lot of the time I have the urge to just write out of nowhere and so I frequently write with no prompts and just see what happens. It’s always strange because as I’m writing it, I don’t really know what I’m saying; I don’t know what anything means, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s the portrayal of my own thoughts or not. However I feel like a lot of the time we are subconsciously aware of what words we are spilling onto the page all along. Whether we realise it or not, they are probably manipulated versions of our own thoughts; things we’ve buried so deep that they only seem to reappear when we accidentally dig them out.

This has happened to me quite a few times. I write stuff without meaning to say anything and then on reading it over think, oh is this actually how I feel? And it’s kind of like writing helps me learn things about myself that I’m not willing to accept or admit in everyday life. It’s kind of like therapy.

And sometimes writing does become exaggerated. It’s hard to draw up a line between imagination and reality when we’re unsure of our own feelings. But whether they’re real thoughts or not, the process itself is still important. It’s still a release in some way. The escapism of writing is what matters most of all.

Whenever I feel the urge to let something out or explain it in a way that normal words can’t, I turn to writing. And that’s what art in general is all about.

What kind of art is your escape?

Do you ever know what you’re creating?

Is Photography Real?

Last semester we had a lecture on memoirs and there were a few things that really inspired me to write a blog post, however I’ve only just got round to digging it up and actually putting these words to a screen. The lecture mostly focused on photography which is something I’m interested in anyway, however some of the quotes really made me think a lot deeper in terms of the different perspectives of a photo and how it changes its meaning.

The quote that particularly stood out to me was the one by Roland Barthes:

“In front of the lens, I am at the same time:

the one I think I am,

the one I want others to think I am,

the one the photographer thinks I am,

and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art.”

I really like this because it reflects the subjectivity of photography but also its falsity. What one captures on a camera is not necessarily what reality is. As we all know in terms of social media, reality is manipulated a lot to give out the impression that we are certain types of people. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that a lot of this isn’t true, or is manipulated to seem better than it actually is. I’m sure you’ve all had moments where you tell a story to a friend and realise that it sounds so much more exciting when you tell it than when it actually happened, even though you haven’t exaggerated anything. Everything almost always sounds better in description. And I guess everything almost always looks better as a photograph too.

But if a photograph really does have all these elements that Barthes suggests, which one is the correct one? Is there really a correct way to pose for a camera or to view and understand its result? Can we even distinguish a line between being who we think we are and what we want others to think we are? After all, it’s somewhat innate to want to be a better version of ourselves. If everyone was their real self, would photographs even be desirable? Perhaps real life isn’t interesting enough to be art. Or perhaps it’s only interesting enough when shown in a particular light.

Susan Sontag says that photographs are “not so much an instrument of memory as an invention of it or a replacement”. This supports the idea that photographs are inevitably a false representation of reality. I think they do show it successfully to some extent, but there’s always going to be that screen that lies over it like a filter, as if to highlight certain aspects of it that weren’t otherwise so attractive. Look at an iphone for instance – all those filters to change your photos. But thinking about it, the photo itself is already a filter. You’ve already filtered out the living moment and the background and all the other attempts that remain in your recently deleted. You’re simply putting filters on a filter and you just keep adding filters until it’s not even remotely real at all. We all do it. In some sense I do it when sharing my writing on instagram. There’s nothing wrong with it, but isn’t it scary? Isn’t it scary that something has been manipulated so much that we see it as normal when it’s far from it?

Sontag says that “Narratives can make us understand [but] photographs do something else: they haunt us”. But the real question is: is it good to be haunted?

The Experience Machine [Philosophical Ramblings]

A month ago I came across ‘The Experience Machine’ – a theory by the American philosopher Robert Nozick – and since then I’ve been meaning to write up a blog post on it because I find it really interesting and I miss studying philosophy!

The idea he puts forth is this: 

Image result for robert nozick the experience machine

“Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any
experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimulate
your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel,
or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would
be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you
plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? […]
Of course, while in the tank you won’t know that you’re there; you’ll think
that it’s all actually happening […] Would you plug in?”

On first thought, this kind of reminded me of the book ‘More Than This’ by Patrick Ness (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve read it). It’s weird to think that you could experience something exactly as reality but it to not actually be reality. I guess the closest we can get to this sensation is in our dreams, and yet we never feel completely alive – it’s never quite the same.

I love thinking about ideas like this because it’s interesting to debate with people and I think it tells you a lot about a person in how they respond to this kind of thing. They may not be interested; they may give you a really long in depth answer; they might say “yeah I’d give it a go why not”; or maybe they’d say “no way” and that would be it. Either answer is nice to hear because it reminds us of how we all think differently in terms of the world and what our own individual priorities are.

If I was in the position of trying out The Experience Machine, I probably wouldn’t take it. It definitely intrigues me and I’d almost want to try it out with something simple like eating a doughnut just to see if it actually works, but there’s no way I would want to go any further with it. I feel like creating a false reality is quite a dangerous thing to do, especially if it’s a higher and anti-suffering reality. That kind of world screams reliability, and once you become reliant on something like that you’d never want to come back to the real world.

However, in a way, if The Experience Machine was eternal, then couldn’t you eternally live inside it? Then you wouldn’t even have to return to reality and so it wouldn’t matter if you relied on it. I guess this would work for some people. I know I’d definitely be too paranoid to even want to risk it. After all, it’s not hard for a machine to break down or malfunction.

Nozick’s argument following this is:

  1. If all that mattered to us was pleasure, then we would want to plug into the
    experience machine.
  2.  However, we would not want plug-in.
  3.  Hence, there are things which matter to us besides pleasure.

Obviously the second point is a slight assumption – I’m sure a few out there would want to plug-in – but Nozick does genuinely make a good point. The fact that we would reject ultimate pleasure says so much about us. In a way, it’s kind of an acceptance of our suffering; that we’re at peace with our lives even though it’s hard. Perhaps if you would choose to enter The Experience Machine that says you’re dissatisfied with how you’re feeling. In a way, entering it is a form of “suicide”. Nevertheless, it shows that pleasure isn’t all that we crave, even when we think it is. Many set out their life aim to be happy, me included, and yet it seems that it could be a lot more than this.

What do you think of The Experience Machine?

Would you try it?