Author(s): Dan Fox
An irreverent and erudite essay on being stuck and its opposites, from the author of Pretentiousness: Why it Matters.In a world that demands faith in progress and growth, Limbo is a companion for the stuck, the isolated, delayed, stranded, and trapped. Fusing family memoir with a meditation on creative block, depression, solitude, class, place and the intractable politics of our present moment, Dan Fox draws upon his experiences as a writer to consider the role that fallow periods and states of impasse play in art and life. Limbo is an essay about getting by when you can't get along, employing a cast of artists, exiles, ghosts, hermits and sailors - including the author's older brother who, in 1985, left England for good to sail the world - to reflect on the creative, emotional and political consequences of being stuck, and how these are also crucial to our understanding of inspiration, flow and productivity. From Thomas Aquinas to radical behavioural experiments, from creative constraints to the social horrors of The Twilight Zone and Get Out 's Sunken Place, Limbo argues that there can be no growth without stagnancy, no movement without inactivity, and no progress without refusal.
“Being in limbo is involuntary," writes Dan Fox in this discursive book on the importance of writer’s block to the creative process (so to call it). "It’s a state slipped into accidentally, or a condition into which you’ve been forced.” Joan Acocella, in her essay 'Blocked', points out that "the term 'writer's block' is so grandiose, with its implication that writers contain within them great wells of creativity to which their access is merely impeded.” (This fixation on liquidity and flow, this representation of the creative process as a form of plumbing, quips Geoff Dyer, is tellingly “lavatorial.”) To be in limbo, demonstrates Fox with many examples, whether it be creative, social, political or religious limbo, is to be in a holding place, or, rather, a holding state, for those to whom categories do not apply, or, rather, for those for whom categorisation has been suspended. Development is stopped, edges, borders and identities cannot be reached, agency is removed, exit cannot be achieved. Limbo is a temporal (rather than an atemporal) state: it will come to an end but that end is indefinitely postponed (plausibly beyond the lifespan of the subject in some cases). Limbo is a liminal state of indefinite duration, a place of transformation that seems like non-existence. But, says Fox, “there can be no growth without stagnancy, no movement without inactivity, and no progress without refusal.” Writer’s block “generates energy through obstruction, just as a hydroelectric dam blocks water to create power.” Fixity leads to suppression, which leads to sublimation, which leads, eventually, to creative resurgence. By this model, though, creativity is entirely a pathological state, a symptom of suppression or repression, of the disjunction between inner life and external reality that it tries and necessarily fails to bridge. Would there be literature in a happy world? Creative production is not necessarily desirable anyway: Kafka wrote of the torment of writing and “seeing pages being endlessly covered with things one hates, that fill one with loathing, or at any rate with dull indifference.” No redemption either way.