After finishing the book on states' rights, which was awesome, I began reading one of Jacques Derrida's more prominent books: Voice and Phenomenon. Derrida is one of the more preeminent philosophers of the 20th century and has had a major impact on how all philosophers think nowadays, as well as how literary theorists and writers think. At least, writers should take Derrida into account when we think. Part of me wants to read Derrida for that reason--to be a writer knowledgeable of what signs, signifiers, differance and trace mean for "meaning" when writing--part of me wants to read Derrida just to say that I've read Derrida.
While reading Derrida, I came across one of my major mantras as a person, and as a thinker and writer. Though in a completely different context, Derrida argues that repetition is what gives meaning and identity to a thing, to an object of any kind. Of course, Derrida is referring to the meaning of words: only through constant repetition does a word take on meaning--if I say "cat" meaning cat, but then say "lamp" and then say "house" and then say "girl" and then say "mfupsus" all while intending to mean the same thing, cat, then none of the words will mean anything. In other places Derrida argues that other factors are involved in giving words, or signs, meaning, but those are the more philosophical concepts that need not concern us here. For the moment, be satisfied and understand that only through a sign's repetition can any of us know what the sign signifies, what it means.
Now I'd be a total liar if I said one of my mantras as a person, thinker and writer has anything to do with how words attain meaning and significance. I'm not sure I could care less about that, though I do acknowledge I should be aware of it. What I care about is the repetition piece. Anyone who has read Soren Kierkegaard more than a little and also knows that I absolutely love Kierkegaard should know why: repetition is not only what gives words meaning, but it is what gives our lives meaning as well. Reading Derrida has simply reminded me of that fact that Kierkegaard always does his best to convince his readers of; indeed, reading Derrida has reminded me of one of my major missions as a writer.
It should go without saying that I plan to write an essay on the relationship between Derrida's sense of repetition and Kierkegaard's sense of repetition and what means for living. Off the top of my head, though, it would seem clear that the idea is this: to gain identity and character one must repeat and repeat. My main concern as a writer is the tendency I perceive in the people around me to not feel comfortable with their lives or who they are, not knowing how to live a meaningful and content life, and seeking pleasure and identity in all the wrong places in all the wrong ways. I can't say that I know the secrets as to what should be done, but I do know that repetition needs to be involved if we ever hope to establish an identity and then relish in it. Too often I hear people say, "Don't knock it till you try it," or, "I'll try anything once," and a bunch of related catch-phrases intended to end all argument. Well I will argue. Nevermind the fact that usually we employ those phrases to shun responsibility and engage in harmful activities. Let's assume that no particular activity harms us more than another. Still, one will never be truly happy or, which would be even better, truly content if the "Don't knock it till you try it" and "I'll try anything once" attitude reigns. To establish an identity, character, and livelihood with meaning and joy we must choose a way of life and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Similarly, choosing something to believe in, a religion or not, to center one's entire life around will engender meaningful repetition. One should be able to encounter a choice and not have to rack one's brain over the choice, the choice should come naturally based on central faith. But it will do us no good, and ruin our meaningful repetition, if we believe, say, in making and hoarding as much money as possible and then one day be convinced by a charity to donate a small fortune. That will only bring doubt and, worse, anxiety into our lives.
I don't mean to say that once we choose a way of living that we can never change nor am I saying that we should all be strict moralists who only "do good." All I'm saying is that in the world of post-modernism too many people flit from one identity to another, one act to another, without any intentionality involved, without any repetition, and then wonder if there is more to life. Without intention there is no repetition, and without repetition there is no true contentment, and without true contentment we are missing out on a whole lot of life.
At a glance, what I'm saying in this post forms the heart of who I believe myself to be as a writer. It might not always be explicit, might not always even be implicit, but this is what I'm about. So now you know what goes through my head while I'm reading, how my reading influences me, and what I most hope to do with my writing: help others establish an identity that they can be comfortable and content with and feel empowered by. Of course, I hope that identity will be rooted in God, but if God is who we say He is then all I need to do is plant a seed free of emptiness, depression, melancholy, and sorrow.
Clearly the essay that I will write on this will kick some serious butt.