Possessed To Write

Graphomania: (from Greek γραφειν — writing, and μανία — insanity), also known as scribomania, refers to an obsessive impulse to write. When used in a specifically psychiatric context, it labels a morbid mental condition characterized by the writing of long successions of unconnected meaningless words.

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This mediating term uniting inner and outer is in the first place itself external too. But then this externality is at the same time taken up into the inner; it stands in the form of simple unbroken externality opposed to dispersed externality, which either is a single performance or condition contingent for the individuality as a whole, or else, in the form of a total externality, is fate or destiny, split up into a plurality of performances and conditions. The simple lines of the hand, then, the ring and compass of the voice, as also the individual peculiarity of the language used: or again this idiosyncracy of language, as expressed where the hand gives it more durable existence than the voice can do, viz. in writing, especially in the particular style of “handwriting” — all this is an expression of the inner, so that, as against the multifarious externality of action and fate, this expression again stands in the position of simple externality, plays the part of an inner in relation to the externality of action and fate. Thus, then, if at first the specific nature and innate peculiarity of the individual along with what these become as the result of cultivation and development, are regarded as the inner reality, as the essence of action and of fate, this inner being finds its appearance in external fashion to begin with in his mouth, hand, voice, handwriting, and the other organs and their permanent characteristics. Thereafter and not till then does it give itself further outward expression in its realization in the world.

– G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit  (1806)

Bouvard and Pecuchet is the narrative of two loony Parisian bachelors who, at a chance meeting, discover between themselves a profound sympathy, and also that they are both copy clerks. They share a distaste for city life and particularly for their fate of sitting behind desks all day. When Bouvard inherits a small fortune the two buy a farm in Normandy, to which they retire, expecting there to meet head on the reality that was denied them in the half-life of their Parisian offices. They begin with the idea that they will farm their farm, at which they fail miserably. From agriculture they move to a more specialized field: arboriculture.

Failing that they decide upon garden architecture. To prepare themselves for each of their new professions, they consult various manuals and treatises, in which they are extremely perplexed to find contradictions and misinformation of all kinds. The advice they seek in them is either confusing or utterly inapplicable; theory and practice never coincide. But undaunted by their successive failures, they move on inexorably to the next activity, only to find that it too is incommensurate with
the texts which purport to represent it. They try chemistry, physiology, anatomy, geology, archeology… the list goes on. When they finally succumb to the fact that the knowledge they've relied upon is a mass of contradictions, utterly haphazard, and quite disjunct from the reality they'd sought to confront, they revert to their initial task of copying. Here is one of Flaubert's scenarios for the end of the novel:

They copy papers haphazardly, everything they find, tobacco pouches, old newspapers, posters, torn books, etc. (real items and their imitations. Typical of each category). Then, they feel the need for a taxonomy. They make tables, antithetical oppositions such as "crines of the kings and crimes of the people"-blessings of religion, crimes of religion. Beauties of history, etc.; sometimes, however, they have real problems putting each thing in its proper place and suffer great anxieties about it. -Onward! Enough speculation! Keep on copying! The page must be filled. Everything is equal, the good and the evil. The farcical and the sublime-the beautiful and the ugly-the insignificant and the typical, they all become an exaltation of the statistical. There are nothing but facts-and phenomena.
Final bliss.

Douglas Crimp, "On The Museum's Ruins"  (1980)



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