Thought and language define infinite experience. Pure experience pales when human beings attempt to preserve it. On a fundamental level, any and every attempt to record sensory experience strikes just beside of the mark, no matter if we are madly jotting down sensations in nature or remembering a certain street scene.
Everything is perspectival, Nietzsche said, and he was right. Objectivity is simply consensus subjectivity. But the specific attempt to preserve experience does not take it from the perfect objective to the pejorative subjective; instead, my point is to say it removes the embodied experiencer further from the experience. As soon as we make a move toward medium, toward the sensory mediator, experience loses its power to an extent. We sap from pure experience in order to fossilize it. We paradoxically erase from pure experience the very thing we are trying to capture.
The following is a stream-of-consciousness I wrote while sitting street-side in Copenhagen. The phenomenological paradox I was experiencing in this specific scenario perhaps illustrates my point better. I was, in a concentrated way, trying to take in experience while realizing my own role in deteriorating it. I have edited it somewhat for coherence’s sake.
The locale is one where even typing this is heretical to the absorbing aesthetic of the place. It is a self-centered, myopic act that paradoxically tries to ponder a diffuse and tentacled experience. Looking at the screen, even with the noblest pretense, that of capturing the place itself, seems to draw inward the very thing my eyes should be panning outward. The irony of thought is that it is hermetic, a swirling dot. Thinking about the place, Copenhagen, even thinking about this specific street, is antithetical to experiencing it. It is a basic, selfish funnel. My eyes volley between passing street life and the page, an incessant tug between the real, the experiential, and the very human instinct to try to preserve it. “Once the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite,” Aldous Huxley said. It is my specific desire to preserve infinity, to capsulate experience through a limited medium, that deters my infinity, yet my lurch towards the memorial barrels forward.
To read, to write, to listen, enhances experience? The sound track to my walk gives dimension to it? Perhaps. Perhaps it also slants it, and tries to give emotional order to a span of time, to provide a through-line within the random, infinite maneuvers of experience. The flux collects on the page, in the ear, or on the painting in a singular failure to account for the exact dimensions of human experience. Great art gets closest, but is still very far. What we do by means of our assiduous documentation, in a way, is make a calculation of experience. We assign texture to something inherently slippery. Our multi-sensory absorbing, the second-by-second observation, gains a degree of pre-digested experience.
As I reread this passage, I am struck by the paradox of thought, and by the problems recorded experience creates. The mere fact of thought, the vocalization of experience, either inside your head or externalizing it through art, already builds experience into a pale facsimile. We cannot capture experience through anything but the senses, which are pre-linguistic and infinitely textured.
The essential human being just experiences, and everything written about or preserved is post-experiential, and is therefore less visceral. It is a crucial degree removed from experience. The thing itself is instantaneous and exists for its brief flash of time. We cannot ever preserve experience the way it first presents to us. Experience, as we live it, is pure, but as we preserve it, is a pale aspiration, a spectral semblance that tries to recapture the ineffable.