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To Write Spirit

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” This quote by Anaïs Nin encapsulates the essence of writing, for it is shaped by our moment-to-moment beingness in the world as well as our stored thoughts, feelings and memories. Writing is an art form and a craft denoting our presence in the world. It is a powerful medium for self-expression, communication and effecting change. There are many ways to write and many things to write about. Creative writing, for example, aids one in the verbalization and expression of psychological conundrums through stories and poems. Academic and expository writing helps to shape the reader’s understanding of a topic concisely, in the form of essays, textbooks and articles. The way individuals perceive the world varies, and so writing may mean different things to different people. All forms of writing, however, are based on a basic human need; the need to communicate.


The realm of writing known as poetry echoes human emotion in a way that can be profoundly healing for both the poet and the reader. Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher, notes how language is a resource for agency as the ever-expanding self seeks to find new ways of being in the world. ‘Is it not the function of poetry to establish another world—another world that corresponds to other possibilities of existence, to possibilities that would be most deeply our own?’ (Ricoeur 2008, p. 270–271). Furthermore, he notes how poetry ‘preserves the width, the breadth of language’ (Ricoeur, in Valdés 1991, p. 448) in effect, allowing for a refreshing sense of potentiality to emerge. To write in this way is a freeing practice where words come closer to articulating the sublime, a notion stemming from the romantic literary movement describing how language can trigger emotions in us beyond ordinary experience. Technical writing does the opposite and seeks to merge language with reality in a way that is informative but ultimately constricting. Again, each serves a different purpose through a different style of communication. Each seeks to engage with the world differently.


A written text is commonly associated with the overarching presence of the author, however, the reader’s perception of a text rewrites it to some extent in their mind. In this case, could the reader also be the writer? According to the French Essayist Roland Barthes ‘the author is dead’ and thus, by design the reader actively participates in the production of a text. However, this participation is fragmented because there is always an amount of autonomy the reader gives up in entering the symbolic universe of a text. Language is firmly rooted in a sense of duality; when we as beings in all our beingness enter any symbolic realm, we cut ourselves off from the source, from the oneness of everything that we experienced as children. It is tempting to think of the psychoanalytic implications of this. In Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious, he notes how the unconscious is structured like a language. First the child dwells in the pre-oedipal imaginary realm where there is no distinction between self and other. Then, the child enters the ‘mirror stage’ where the child glimpses its reflection in the mirror realizing they are indeed a separate being. This is the beginning of the child’s sense of alienation from and desire to merge with its image. This desire is prompted by the formation of the ego (which can only provide an illusory sense of wholeness) and exploited further by a capitalist and consumerist society, where each new desire can only be partially satiated, evoking a feeling of jouissance (pleasure mixed with pain), for the original state of the child’s imaginary realm can never be reinstated fully. Thus, the father is the author (the controlling ego that claims its authorship through separation), the body of text is the mother and the child is the reader. In this case the mother (the initial formless mass of the imaginary realm) is always fragmented and subjective. As readers, we seek to penetrate the text as the text seeks to penetrate us for as Barthes confirmed ‘the text is a fetish object and this fetish desires me’ (Johnson 2016, p. 12). The way the poet attempts to capture the notion of the sublime is similar to how the reader falls into a hazy ‘textual pleasure’ of each unique textual corpus. All art forms lead us to experience this process for all art forms attempt to utter the unutterable, thus the Lacanian notion of the real; that which is indescribable and boundless.


To write is to seek and evoke meaning for ourselves and others. The connotation of a piece of writing or a painting is a question of perception. Maurice Merleau-Ponty introduced another dimension to the philosophical discussion regarding phenomenology (the study of the structures and experience of consciousness). In his work, ‘Phenomenology of Perception’ he grapples with what it means to perceive. His theory rejects the Cartesian dualism of mind and body, with a greater emphasis on an intersubjective and intentional approach that is grounded in the body as the main site of perception. The information retrieved from the environment in each unique present moment through your bodily senses is a form of coded language. Thus, the true presence of life or beingness can only be witnessed within the flow. That is not to say that our imitation of presence in the form of writing or painting is not interesting or beautiful. It is a way to layer the essence, to make life more colourful, but true presence cannot be articulated. I like to think of presence as the spirit of omnipresence; it is unutterable, and yet admittedly, words can dance around it in a way that is consoling to the soul. Spirit transcends all time and resides beneath all projections and dualisms that people install through their creative endeavours. When we put anything together, be it colours, words, movements etc. spirit gains momentum. When we witness any form of art, and truly I believe anything can be art (our everyday life for example), we are met with a feeling. This is the spirit in us witnessing an external presentation of it, a presentation imitating the silent essence that binds us all.
“Spirit” or the essence of presence cannot be articulated for it is the glue that binds us all. To fully pinpoint it one would have to plunge themselves into the abyss, for spirit is the abyss.

Beingness precedes all art forms. It can only be truly witnessed within the flow of life. Lacan’s
concept of the real is another term for “spirit”. Ultimately speaking, to write is to imitate spirit.

About the Author:

Nicole Turner

Nicole Turner is a songwriter, poet, truth seeker and an Anthropology & Visual Practice graduate. Currently based in Poland she is developing her creative pursuits.

Find out more about her here. And buy her a coffee here.

Barthes, Roland. ‘Pleasure of the Text’ translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.
Johnson, Luke. “The Author Is Dead, But: A Lacanian Response to Barthes’s Return-to-the-Author
Paradox”, in ‘Texas Studies in Literature and Language’. University of Texas Press, 58:1, 2016.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. ‘The Phenomenology of Perception’. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Synnes, Oddgeir, Lie Romm, Kristin, Bondevik, Hilde. “The poetics of vulnerability: creative writing
among young adults in treatment for psychosis in light of Ricoeur’s and Kristeva’s philosophy of
language and subjectivity”, in ‘Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy’. The Author (s), 20, 2021.

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