What happens when we sit down in the silence of that early morning and start to draw the fruit? We begin to discover its otherness. We begin to learn, in our bodies, through our fingers, what its breath is, we begin to feel the stream of life in which it floats. We begin to experience that stream as other than ours, and yet by the activity of hand and eye and mind and body we begin to partake of that stream. And as we do so we are more possessed by the melon than possessing it. And in that state we start to discover something about ourselves, about the stream of life in which we float. We start to experience ourselves not, as we ordinarily do, from the inside, but from some point outside ourselves, we start to sense ourselves as having no more but also no less right to exist than the melon before us, the cat lying asleep on the table beside it, the tree that can be seen through the window.
Proust conveys miraculously both the sense of pleasure Marcel takes in the world about him and his intense desire to transmute that pleasure into something permanent by writing about it; but he also conveys the failure of such attempts. I cannot tell you how exhilarating I found this. Instead of feeling that the failure I was encountering daily was a purely personal one, I now saw that it had to do with the nature of the project itself. And, if that was so, then it was something that could be lived with and, by being accepted, be overcome. Overcome not by being left behind but by being incorporated into whatever had to be said.
There’s the kind of failure that despairs and lusts and tears itself apart, X tells me, and then there’s the failure that comes out through the other side of itself and can almost laugh at itself, can almost live. The terrible thing is, once you’ve entered the realm of failure you can’t avoid the choice, he says. Do you even know what I’m talking about, he says, are you even listening? Once a person has entered the realm of failure it’s already over for them. You might as well – if you spoke, if you even listened – you might as well ask them straight away, What do you want? Do you want to go back to where you left the others behind or do you want to stay where you are? Do you want to live or die? It’s already over for you, you’re already dead, so die better. To go back you must go on, beyond the point of no return. Only then will you have returned. But I’m talking out of turn, says X. I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Do you?
‘It may have been what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis’, he said. ‘It was just feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false. And there was nothing, and you were nothing – it was all a delusion. But you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn’t function.’
‘When that happens to you,’ David said, smiling, ‘you get unprecedentedly willing to examine other alternatives for how to live.’
– ‘The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace’
Christ on the cross, Buddha beneath the tree, says X. Wasn’t that where they learned to fail, so that we too could learn to fail, weren’t the cross and the forest their places of learning? How rare it must be to fail, to really fail, he says. Kafka’s tribunal in Berlin before Felice, Beckett in his mother’s room. Master Eckhart’s trial. That’s an education. There should be diplomas in such education. And me? he says. Me talking to you, tapping on my keyboard in my room, pausing to sip wine? What kind of education does that amount to? What are you teaching me? Fuck all, he says, that’s what. Tap some more, you say, it’s got you this far. Tap tap tap, sip sip sip. That’s my education in failure, here in my place of learning, which needs hoovering, he says.
I’m a failure, says X, it’s true, you can’t deny that. But not enough of a failure, you’re right about that. Not a total failure. A middling failure at best. I can’t understand the extent of my failure. If only I could really understand it for once, just for a moment truly understand my failure. I try but I fail to fail, I’m a failed failure, I can’t even fail right. If only I could become a total failure, he says. That’s my ambition, to fail utterly, to become a total failure! If only more people would realise they’re failures and learn to fail properly, he says, fail and smile at their failure, then the world might be a better place. But that’s rare, it must be very rare. Is it even possible? I spend all day failing, or trying to fail, and I can’t do it, I’m a failed failure, a frowning, greedy failure, so there’s nothing for it but to start over tomorrow. What will it take? he asks. What will it take to make people learn to fail, to see the urgency of failing?
They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it — a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.
It’s lost he wants to be, not found, X tells me. But lost in the good way, not the bad way, he says. Not like this, not stuck here talking to me. Given over, that’s what he wants to be, transported, ecstatic. That would be his homecoming, his amazing grace! he says. No more chatting to you, he says, no more you and me. I’d be you, you wouldn’t know what hit you! So how do I get ecstatic? he says. I should probably stop talking to you for one thing. Maybe I should drink some more. Maybe I should get raving drunk, or take some ecstasy. Where can I get ecstasy? But how would you know? Maybe if I raved at you, he says, spoke in tongues with rattlesnakes in my hands, if I went off my head, off my tits, and moved you to speak, to speak to me through my raving, to take my tongue and speak with me, in me, if I fooled you enough to move you, then maybe I’d get lost, but in the good way not the bad way, lost in you not in myself, not sat here tapping on my keyboard sipping wine. But of course you wouldn’t get moved, he says, how could you, I’m not a complete idiot – yes I am. People would look round at me and shake their heads and wonder whether to call someone, the rattlesnakes would bite me and I’d wake up in bandages, embarrassed.