For the past three weeks, to anyone who has cared to listen, I have bemoaned my lack of faith in all things noumenal. Whatever takes a belief to have, I have lost it. I have struggled to understand what art is, or its purpose, or why I have any place in making things. (Why write?, a small voice says. I don’t know.) There seems to be a fathomless gap from the part to the whole—from sentences to a book, a book to an idea, an idea to anything at all.
On the phone, Wei tells me it sounds like I’m getting in my own way. I posit myself as despairingly existential, but she thinks it’s something else. “It sounds like you’re scared of something, and it’s worth wondering what that thing is.”
I am sitting cross-legged on my bed, tracing with my free hand the curlicues of the iron frame, thinking about every bad sentence I’ve written in the last week. “It’s okay to have these kinds of doubts,” she says. “It’s part of the process.”
As Kant uses it phenomena loosely corresponds to thing-as-we-observe-it, through senses like touch, taste, and smell. Noumena, conversely, is the thing-as-it-is, the thing in its ideal form, which we might be able to know without any use of our senses. The problem is that by definition, we can only ever experience the former, even if the latter exists on some level outside of our comprehension.
Drunk at the Boiler Room and dancing to Grimes, Santi kisses my forehead and tells me to put less pressure on myself. Zach, with whom I shared a painting studio in college, texts me that yes, it’s about faith and that he’s trying to find it too. “Spending your life in pursuit of the definition of a state that’s not definable is futile,” he writes. His texts arrive in gray, elliptical bursts. “It’s a fundamental misunderstanding of that condition.” Max reminds me, as he always reminds me, that it’s about the work.
And what if I were to leave behind all talk of the inaccessible? Kant’s phenomena and noumena are less interesting to me than phenomenology, which is a study of consciousness and in turn a study of first person narrative. It is or it can be at its most basic a series of first person sentences like: I am standing in the bathroom doing a line of coke. I am yanking down my leather leggings to show him the tattoo on my upper thigh, which blossoms as ink does underwater, which has the imprint of a seam running through it, which he will trace with his mouth later that night. I am looking at us in the mirror and watching the light bounce off our skin. I am closing my eyes. I am kissing him.
For now as I am lacking faith maybe it’s best to say I don’t want to believe in a thing I can’t experience. I don’t want to believe in ideal configurations. I don’t want to believe in some Platonic conception of being, the form that determines the shape of all things that follow, though none are made entirely in its image, though none are truly perfect. I would rather dwell in the substance, in the experience, in the imperfection.
I am hailing a cab. I am moving, slowly at first and then very fast. I am crossing the bridge. I am looking out at the glittering lights of the city, at their shimmering reflection upon the river, at the new moon on its back high in the sky, through the glass of the window that is beginning to fog with the hot breath we are exchanging.