Monthly Archives: October 2011

If I read a book that interested me, I read it with vivid pleasure, but my very pleasure was behind a pane of glass and unavailable to me because of that, but also far away and in an eternal past. Yet where unimportant people and things were involved, life regained its ordinary meaning and actuality, so that though I preferred to keep life at a distance, I had to seek it in simple actions and everyday people.

– Blanchot, ‘Death Sentence’

From the other bank

When you were young and jobless, you’d leave your flat and walk the streets like a ghost: it was their world, you were just passing through. You’d walk from pub to pub having a drink in each, you’d walk yourself into the ground so you could sleep. Back home, you’d stand at your window while you waited for the shower to warm up. The window gave on a slant of the river that wound through the town. You often stood watching it carry its grimy load seaward. Sometimes a kind of mental mist would steal over you. As evening fell, your reflection would appear in the window, slowly replacing the river. The more you examined it – those empty unblinking eyes, those straight lips – the harder it was to feel it was yours. It was a thing among things, untenanted, like a face watching you from the other bank.

Meditation and discipline

What do you know of meditation, of discipline? You might have got close once, when you knew God was the only answer and you could almost act on this answer, this possibility or injunction – in that time, a year or so, when time was real, a living oasis in the desert of time. You still know it, in a manner of speaking, that God is the only answer, the only means by which you might relate to the world, to others, by which the mist can lift and you can act in a world become clear and real, as you almost used to in simpler days when you were almost happy, or at least could pretend you were. What do you know of meditation, of discipline, now? You can’t even withdraw let alone act: there’s nothing to withdraw from and nothing to act on. What have you done? The worst, the very worst. You’ve killed God, you’ve made your life proof of his absence. You brought him into being and then you killed him. You harboured a hope that it was the other way around, that God was killing you, was bringing himself into being in you and that if you were given the strength for meditation, for discipline, something might grow from your failure. But your days are as tawdry as ever. The desert spreads out from you, on all sides, nothing grows and it almost seems to you that so long as you’re alive nothing will grow, this waste of time will spread, past and future oases will dry out and there’ll be nothing left even to grieve for.

I’m reluctant to call [my work] poetry. I like your idea of footnotes, or notes or some other kind of activity, because I think there is an enterprise called poetry today and I don’t really feel part of it […] I don’t have that mind that seems to be valued today. I can’t understand a lot of the stuff that’s written.

Leonard Cohen, via here

Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, dummy life…. A house, in the American sense, an American apple or a grapevine over there, has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, the grape into which went the hopes and reflections of our forefathers … Live things, things that are alive — that are conscious of us — are running out and can no longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last to have known such things.

–- Rilke (via here)

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

– Wallace Stevens

“Are you as lonely as that?” I asked.
Kafka nodded.
“Like Kaspar Hauser?”
Kafka laughed.
“Much worse than Kaspar Hauser. I’m as lonely as… Franz Kafka.”

– Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka

I realize more and more that I am so constituted that I shall not succeed in realizing my ideals… Ordinarily, most people aim their ideals at the Great, the Extraordinary, which they never attain. I am far too melancholy to harbor such ideals. One would smile at my ideals… I aspire to be as little as possible; that is precisely the core of my melancholy. For that very reason I have been content to be regarded as half-mad, though this merely was a negative form of being something out of the ordinary. And this may quite possibly remain my essential form of existence, and I shall never attain the pleasant, becalmed existence of being something very small.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, via here

The everyday is not exact, it is a cliché; realism requires vertiginous originality. But how can one be exact about what is truly unspeakable? One can only write knowing that one approaches and approximates, and that language fails you the while; you run after exactness, but the world gets away and your words fail. Beckett taught us about this failure because he knew failure and writing were synonymous.


Black: How long you felt like this?

White: All my life.

Black: And that’s the truth.

White: It’s worse than that.

Black: I dont see what could be worse than that.

White: Rage is really only for the good days. The truth is there’s little of that left. The truth is that the forms I see have been slowly emptied out. They no longer have any content. They are shapes only. A train, a wall, a world. Or a man. A thing dangling in senseless articulation in a howling void. No meaning to its life. Its words. Why would I seek the company of such a thing? Why?

Black: Damn.

White: You see what it is you’ve saved.

Black: Tried to save. Am tryin. Tryin hard.

– Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited