I could have told myself: value, authority — this is ecstasy; inner experience is ecstasy; ecstasy is, it seems, communication, which is opposed to the ‘turning in on oneself’ of which I have spoken. I would have in this way known and found (there was a time when I thought myself to know, to have found). But we reach ecstasy by a contestation of knowledge. Were I to stop at ecstasy and grasp it, in the end I would define it. But nothing resists the contestation of knowledge and I have seen at the end that the idea of communication itself leaves naked — not knowing anything. Whatever it may be — failing a positive revelation within me, present at the extreme — I can provide it with neither a justification nor an end. I remain in intolerable non-knowledge, which has no other way out than ecstasy itself.
– Bataille, Inner Experience (trans. L.A. Boldt)
X tells me he wants his words to open and swallow him, that’s why he talks to me, he says. No, not open and swallow him, he says, spit him out, out into nothingness, into not-X. That’s why he talks to me, so he won’t have to, so he can bombard his words with words, no, let them bombard him, no, be bombarded, no, become a bombardment of words, no, become a bombardment of words that bombards itself, blows itself into a million, ten million pieces, an endless cloud of answers, questions, denials, pronouncements, lies, resolutions, evasions, contestations, supplications, sentences, syllables, letters, an endless cloud, he says, endless and silent.
He had the most wonderful thought in his head and no matter how much filth and grime he for some reason would cover himself in he could always think of this wonderful thought, and how pure he would then think himself or at least try and think himself. But for some malicious reason its power faded, who knows — perhaps through overuse — which left a quandary. Should he, to remain in bliss rather than in grime, try and keep this thought ever in mind — to ward off the grime — or should it be kept treasured in the dark, so to speak, purposely not thinking of it, not dirtying it with this overuse, but, and yet, ever dimly aware of its existence, its glowing secretly and gloriously in the dark; and then when most needed, when feeling I suppose most grimy, to produce it and vanquish all foes, however falsely great and powerful they had appeared!
But in time does even the idea, great and lofty, rather than glow triumphantly, sink into the muck also? And if it does, who knows, perhaps all the better. The muck is truth! Why try and overcome it? And maybe that’s all the idea was all along — the muck and a lure into the muck.
– In Abstentia Out
A culprit is indispensible, X tells me, one must have a culprit, and the safest culprit is himself, he says, after all he’s always around. He wants to get himself right where he wants himself, really lay into himself, he says, then maybe the others will fall in line too, then maybe everyone will listen to him. Will I help him? he asks. No, of course I won’t.
He’s found out what his life’s like, X tells me. It’s going headlong into a cul-de-sac and coming back out only to realise he’s in another cul-de-sac. Isn’t that brilliant? he says. He’s very pleased, he says, now he can move on.
What tipped me over the edge? X asks me. What made me decide not to speak to him, not to listen to him? Was it his stupidity? His sentimentality? Out with it, he says, clear the air. Fine, he says, I’ll just start over. How do I start over? he asks me.
If these were someone else’s words, X tells me, if this were someone else’s speech he might nod solemnly, but it isn’t, is it, he says, it’s all lies, incomplete lies at that, so all he can do is carry on, hope for the best, fear the worst, wade through this morass of clichés, towards what? he asks. A personal language? Absurd, he says. Clearly the enterprise was doomed from the start, he says. Yet he carries on, he says, must carry on, even though I’m not listening.
The most he can hope for, X tells me, is a kind of stupid wisdom, or wise stupidity, that’s the conclusion he’s come to: to go so deeply into his stupidity that he can embrace it; but even that seems beyond his grasp, because that, he imagines, would be wisdom itself, wouldn’t it? So maybe the only way he can gain legitimacy is by approaching himself with the utmost suspicion. But is he really that stupid after all, he asks, or is it just another show? Is he showing off his stupidity as if it were wisdom? How does he even know if he’s stupid or not? he asks. If he were really stupid he wouldn’t know it, would he? So maybe he’s secretly wise, he says, though he very much doubts it. Maybe he should get a guinea pig, he says, to keep him company.
But in art there are no initiators or precursors (at least in the scientific sense). Everything is in the individual, each individual starts the artistic or literary endeavour over again, on his own account; the works of his predecessors do not constitute, unlike in science, an acquired truth from which he who follows after may profit. [...] He is not much further advanced than Homer.
– Proust, ‘The Method of Saint-Beuve’
Only when, time and again, we have discovered that there is no such thing as the whole or the perfect are we able to live on. We cannot endure the whole or the perfect. We have to travel to Rome to discover that Saint Peter’s is a tasteless concoction, that Bernini’s altar is an architectural nonsense. We have to see the Pope face to face and personally discover that all in all he is just as helpless and grotesque a person as anyone else in order to bear it. We have to listen to Bach and hear how he fails, listen to Beethoven and hear how he fails, even listen to Mozart and hear how he fails. And we have to deal in the same way with the so-called great philosophers, even if they are our favourite spiritual artists, he said. After all, we do not love Pascal because he is so perfect but because he is fundamentally so helpless, just as we love Montaigne for his helplessness in lifelong searching and failing to find, and Voltaire for his helplessness. We only love philosophy and the humanities generally because they are absolutely helpless. We truly love only those books which are not a whole, which are chaotic, which are helpless.
– Thomas Bernhard