Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Way to Acclimate to the Unconscious

One activity to provoke the unconscious to rise to the surface involves looking through your older notebooks and writing journals. ("Older" could mean a notebook from five years ago or one from last week.)

Flip through the pages casually, with no serious intention, no preconceived notion of outcome or benefit.

As you're reading your own pages, jot down any alternative phrases or word choices which come to mind. Emphasis here is on "any": avoid judging what surfaces.

For instance, this morning I was reading through one of my writing notebooks and for the phrase "Organizing thought" I heard the alternative "origins of thought." With a different colored pen, I jotted down the second phrase--complete with its absence of caps: the exact way it appeared to me.

Right now, it looks like a hum-drum change, but who knows? More often than not, these second versions become the seeds for a piece later down the line.

When language changes its sound, it's like following the shadow of sound, the trail of ellipsis that follows many words (our own and those of others). Words are like musical notes in that they have the potential to vibrate for several moments after utterance. Behind pronunciation lies connotation; behind connotation lies the unconscious.

Searching for what's inside that elliptical shadow, that vibration of pronunciation, is a way to find the material of the unconscious. This strategy can be used in any genre and even during scholarly pursuits. For the operations of every writer's mind involve games of chance and walks down hallways built around indeterminacy. Even a thesis statement has a potential maze behind it.

One side benefit of trying this activity is that it acclimates us to the unconscious. First, it allows us to coexist with what might seem "strange" thinking. Second, it helps build our capacities as writers to accept material which arises in the moment.

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