I Cannot Help but Think. . .

Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing and yet curious trend in my writing, and specifically in my academic writing (though I’m surely guilty of it on this here blog as elsewhere).  I’ve been using the phrase: “I cannot help but think that. . .”[1] followed by an assertion, usually an interpretation of some sort, far too much.  As in: I want to start off virtually every sentence (including the one that will follow this one) w/ “I cannot help but think. . . .” I cannot help but think that my use of the phrase “I cannot help but think” is somehow important, maybe even interesting, while simultaneously something I cannot help but think is me being lazy, a crutch, a tried-and-true verbal formulation that, well, gets my thinking down onto paper (easily).  It has been so bad recently that I’ve actually had to go back through whole documents, searching for “cannot help” and deleting or reformulating sometimes far too many sentences for me to be comfortable w/ my own ability to write—as in: I can’t (write, that is [again]).  (Wow, look at that, even here I’m developing a new one: as in, I just wrote “as in” above.  Will this ever stop?  As in: will I ever get to a place where my prose flows freely w/o so much language that could easily be thrown away?)  We all have these verbal and grammatological tics (lord knows I have had them, currently do, and will for the foreseeable future).  You know (again), those little stylistic quirks that aren’t quite necessary but always seem to be suggesting themselves.  The ones you use over and over again, almost unconsciously.  These short, relatively meaningless phrases that allow our thinking to transition from one syntactical unit to another[2]. . . I cannot help but to use them (though I could have written: “I cannot avoid them.”  What the hell).  And I’m usually perfectly aware of myself when I’m writing like this, even if it takes me a while to recognize it; and yet I cannot help (again) to use them.   In the past some of these have been, for myself, a gross and almost embarrassing reliance on the phrases: kinda, with regard to, furthermore, basically, in short, vis-à-vis, grounds,[3] namely, and yet, articulates, in other words, i.e., formulates, expresses, etc. etc.[4] This list could go on and on, and if I were to be exhaustive in this list, I might perhaps (another one, “perhaps,” that is) come to the horrifying realization that I am a robot.  Yes, you heard me right, a robot (or perhaps [sheesh, again] an anthrobot[5]).  I may very well be nothing more than a preprogrammed vocabulary who does nothing other than stitch together whatever amorphous rules of English expression I may have a shaky grasp upon in order to attempt to articulate (sheesh) whatever it is I am “thinking.”

I know that the usefulness/quantity of these types of words is largely to facilitate understanding, that they serve as moments to pause, breathe, signal the importance or lessen the impact of a statement.  They mirror verbal speech—i.e. no one speaks in (H.) Jamesian prose nor Derridean deconstruction (or maybe they do, and I just have the wrong friends [or the right friends. . .]).  These grammatological tics serve to mark, at the same time, that writing is trying to mirror spoken language while calling attention to the very construction of its inscription.  But for all that, they feel like cheating to me, like inserting something that I know will make the sentence “flow” (or break. . .) w/o having to think terribly rigorously about how I’m using language.  Perhaps this is b/c—at least I console myself w/ this fiction—that I’m trying to be “clear” (i.e. a bunch of unnecessary words eases the readers eyes and ears. . .), but is it really b/c I am lazy, uninventive, un-attentive, and—the real kick-in-the-pants—stupid?  That I should get in another racket while I’m still young and have something to sell the world?[6] Or is it something else?  I cannot help but think that this most recent tic—and there will be others, I’m sure—is significant in some way, that it signals something, and that what it signals is precisely (maybe) how these types of tics work.

So I’m sitting there at any of my various word processing machines (sometimes, though not often including the pen), attempting to communicate,[7] or whatever, something I’ve been “thinking” about, attempting to use words to encapsulate something I’m not terribly sure is a purely linguistic phenomena (thinking)—though this is also to say that I’m not terribly sure it isn’t purely linguistic. . . get back to me—and though the words might be struggling to get to the page, when they do come, I can’t help but think that they are midwifed in some way by the “I cannot help but think,” that they are eased into the world by this specific sort of nonsense.[8] In other words (again), “I cannot help but think” functions precisely as it says: I am thinking, I am attempting to write that thinking down, and it is the interaction b/t these two things is happening on an automatic level that I cannot understand.  I literally cannot help it.  I don’t know how.

Taken purely in-and-of-itself the phrase “I cannot help but think” might even be said (shit, again) to be (mildly) ontologically profound.  I am.  I cannot help but to be.[9] I am the thing that thinks.  I being I, I thinks, regardless of whether I want to or not.[10] I cannot help but think.  What I’m thinking is what I’m attempting, oh so poorly, to convey to you.  My not being able to telepathically mind-meld w/ you, I’m forced into this other thing,[11] this action of thinking for a long, anxiety producing, and never static time cannot help but find its way onto the page, into this form.  Writing “I cannot help but think” becomes the grossest and most accurate tautology for the whole process.  I’ve tried helping it, really I have, thinking that is; and furthermore, I’ve tried thinking other things, at length and laboriously.  Anyone familiar w/ academic labor (a few people), or thinking (hopefully everybody), knows what I’m talking about.  I’ve thought a lot, and this is where I wind up.  I can’t help it.  I can doubt it, question it, revise it, etc. etc., but ultimately, this is what I’m writing down, so this is what I cannot help but do.  Yes, I could do otherwise, but then I couldn’t help but think whatever it is this otherwise would be; it would amount to the same thing.  I suppose this is why Zen Buddhism is so attractive—it is attempting to not think.  Perhaps a good mantra for it would be “I can but help think.”[12] End of sentence, document, oeuvre, writing. Of course my overly-Westernized sensibility realizes this is a contradiction and paradox in-and-of-itself: thinking about not thinking, trying to help but not think is still a thinking, which, I guess, is the whole damn point and why I failed so miserably those times I tried to meditate (for real, and at a meditation center).  But writing is in absolute contradistinction to this.  One cannot write the not thinking.  This is not an experience that can be conveyed.  It simply doesn’t work.[13]The minute you try to help explain not thinking by putting it in writing, there is a thinking.  (This is also why surrealism and Dada ultimately fail, btw [perhaps, damn, again!].)  Surely to be able to help thinking, to not do it, is a complex, respectable, and fascinating goal, even if I’m not sure it can be reached, but it does me no good when writing, esp. when I “have” to write something.[14]

So I cannot help but think that I should refrain from using “So I cannot help but think that” ever again.  (Of course I will use it again.  I’ll be writing a long time, hopefully, and it will inevitably pop up.  The nature of my thinking is that I will have forgotten ever having written this, and it, or any number of other grammatological tics will seep like Tracy did into the soil the other night in the Heroes[15] finale into my writing.)  In other words, it is an ultimately meaningless, empty, needless, and tautological phrase.  In fact (again), its real evil might be that it obscures and prevents thinking at all.  “Better” thinking.  “Better” prose.  For it is a fact that I’ve just now spent a few hours writing about this rather than the writing I should be doing.  It, quite literally, has prevented writing and thinking.  Even if one takes writing as an emergent self-articulation of thinking onto the page, we don’t need to hear about it, have it crammed down our throats (or in my case, I’m doing the cramming).  So, in the interest of verbal tic-ery and its proponents everywhere, I’m in the market, on the search, w/ my ear to the ground for a new throwaway phrase to heedlessly put into my writing.  Right now I’m thinking about “viz.,” but am open to other suggestions.  Perhaps “It should be freaking obvious that. . .,” or “anyone who isn’t Sarah Palin would clearly comprehend that. . .,” but those would be perhaps slightly inappropriate and would wear out quickly.  For now I’m simply left w/ the hope that one day I will have developed and cultivated such a large fecal mountain of these types of phrases that they will go unnoticed, but for now I’m only left w/ the hope that I can be aware of them, delete them when they occur too often, and reconcile myself to them like I have so much else, viz. if you can’t help but mobilize the “can’t help but think(s)” of the world, why not join’em at their orgy and whatever it is that occurs afterward.  (Seriously [yet another one, I can’t stop], what happens after the orgy?)[16]


[1] It should be understood here that “I cannot help but think” also stands in for all the variations on this phrase: i.e. “this cannot help but to suggest,” and others.

[2] Whatever I say (or don’t) about language below, I firmly believe that we don’t think syntactically.  Though I can only “believe” this, like having faith in my own statement “I cannot help but think. . . .”  What if I could help it.  And isn’t this really the whole point?

[3] As in: grounded in, upon, etc.

[4] And, sad to say, my poor students probably bear the brunt of these throw-off grammatical tics in the comments they receive from me more than anyone else.  For this, I apologize (even if I don’t see it changing. . .).

[5] wink.

[6] Another (empty) consolation I tell myself: every writer ever has asked themselves this question—not consoling at all.

[7] It should also be noted that (again!, look how similar this is to note 1, which was actually written after this note!) I have similar, if wholly different tics, when it comes to poetic composition, as opposed to prose.  That said (again), I will not tell anyone what these are, though they’re obvious, for the thought of uttering that type of candid statement about my own poetics is one that makes me mildly nauseous, in that I’d-be-nauseous-at-myself sort of way, which, of course (another), I already am.

[8] This is also the moment I’m realizing that this entry perhaps has no place on this blog whatsoever, is overly self-indulgent (like anything I do isn’t!), and really would be of no interest to anyone whatsoever.  Which, of course, is also to say that (look how many words I just used that were wholly unnecessary in this sentence already, and then, to top it off, I wrote a whole gaggle of more words that were unnecessary in this parenthetical [something, btw, I’ve grown perfectly accustomed to and comfortable w/ tic-wise w/r/t myself, so now just bask in my ability to make an aside about an aside about an aside], and am still doing it!). . . even this self-indulgent footnote is a product of my anxiety over feeling self-indulgent about my anxiety about writing about my self-indulgent interests and anxieties, in a place where I try to attempt to understand the nature of the expression of anxiety w/r/t the biggest cause of anxiety of them all: the end of the world.  In other words, anxiety, for me, is a fundamental aspect of any eschatological formulation (again), and consequently, perhaps fits quite well, considering the degree of anxieties which are in play here, w/in The Hyperarchival Parallax which is above all about the anxiety over the (over-)accumulation or destruction of writing, of the archive, anyway.  Furthermore (again), the reason this is even being written in the first place is a result of the anxiety I’m feeling about not writing something else that is decidedly not self-indulgent though does make a fair use of “I cannot help but think” and is thus producing this anxiety, both the anxiety of what I’ve written and the anxiety of not continuing to write it; and at this point everything is probably getting pretty boring for anyone reading this (here, a link to something else! Okay, that one probably is absolutely the wrong thing to be linking to here [look esp. at the post “Does Nietzsche’s Grocery List Constitute Writing?”], so here! Couldn’t have said it better myself.), which, of course, is producing more anxiety.  Perhaps what I’m trying to say is (again), that instead of whatever I’m suggesting “up there” (wink, wink to all ya’ in the know down here), these grammatological tics are really a way of coping w/ the anxiety of writing, or something.

[9] Well of course I could, but then I wouldn’t.

[10] I’ve found solutions, but they’re largely chemical (I think), and have much more to do w/ memory, or more precisely a memory lacking, than thinking.  Or perhaps I should be valiantly striving to go Rimbaud’s way: Je est un autre.

[11] I know there ain’t much terribly profound here, but I cannot help but think I have to say it anyway.

[12] Or something.

[13] You may feel free to disagree w/ me here, and even show me an example of what you would call such a writing, but again, my overly Westernized mind would simply respond: “prove no thinking was involved,” or even worse, “of course thinking was involved, I’m reading someone’s writing.”  Actually, I’m kinda fascinated by this.  Maybe I take it back.

[14] I.e. I cannot help but think that there would have been an adverse reaction had I handed in my PhD project exams w/ simply the line: “I can but help think.”  (I still think there is a far better way of formulating this, of writing this, of expressing it, but that’s sorta the point.  It doesn’t spring to mind (unlike “I cannot help but think”).  I cannot help but to think that helping to think cannot but help to be put in writing, which of course is a “cannot help but think.”  But again, if anyone can formulate [literally, third time, what is wrong w/ me] it better, esp. b/c out of the context of this writing it actually doesn’t make much syntactic or grammatical sense (again, the point), get in touch; even if it just sounds cool.  Btw, one of my more-favorite blogs, if only b/c it is by a PhD student at pretty much the same place I’m at, studying, disturbingly, many of the same things I am, has a recent post on the whole doubt/anxiety/writing/etc. thing, that I’m perhaps merely expressing after the fact of my most recent and specific submersion into that realm.  Please check out “Winter Snows, Doubts, and Donna Harraway,” at Jason Ellis’ Dynamic Subspace.

[15] Lord, how I hate how that show is always promising in for its futurity rather than its present.

[16] I’m stealing this from somewhere.  I can’t help but think it’s Baudrillard.

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One thought on “I Cannot Help but Think. . .

  1. this is not to say; that is to say; that is; to my mind; it is worth noting; what seems significant here; in a sense; suggests something like; a whole [something] [something] of [something]; it is a [something]–one that [something].

    on note 5: the result of robonucleosis.

    on note 8: this might as well have been written by the depressed person from brief interviews.

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