Monthly Archives: July 2009

Murmur

There are strange, lucid mornings, X tells me, when it’s as if he sees all his things anew, like when he first moved into his flat. An uncanny silence descends on everything, he says, like an interruption… He drinks his tea, leaves the flat and slowly the world’s white noise returns, a vanishing, approaching static that sweeps away the dream of silence. An eternal murmur that beckons him through the city like a foreigner and merges with its noises and shouts, with the rippling of leaves and the cooing of pigeons, with all the city’s signs and disorders. It doesn’t make him feel any more at home, he says, far from it. It moves in and out of his own voice, inside and outside, close and distant — is it you, he says, is it your murmur?

Shape

X tells me that even when he loses control, he can at least control his awareness of his lack of control. He can stand fast, he says, pluck words out of the maelstrom that passes over and through him. He can observe himself stutter and hesitate, pronounce and proclaim. He can even command me into some sort of shape. But as soon as he’s done this he has to panic away, he says, from the echo of his own speech and what might respond.

A hand which writes

Proust first of all speaks the language of La Bruyère, of Flaubert: this is the alienation of writing, from which he gradually frees himself by writing constantly, letters above all. It is, it seems, by writing ‘so many letters’ to ‘so many people’ that he edges towards the movement of writing which will become his own, revealing the form which nowadays we admire as marvellously Proustian and which naive scholars relate to its organic structure. But who is it that speaks here? Is it Proust, the worldly Proust, the one who has the vainest social ambitions and a hankering for the Académie Française, the one who admires Anatole France, the one who writes in the Figaro’s society column? Is it the Proust who has vices, who leads an abnormal life, who takes pleasure in torturing rats in a cage? Is it the Proust who is already dead, motionless, buried, the one whom his friends no longer recognize, a stranger to himself, nothing other than a hand which writes, which ‘writes every day, at every hour, all the time’ and as if outside time, a hand which no longer belongs to anyone? We say Proust, but we sense strongly that it is the wholly other which writes, not simply someone other, but the very demand to write, a demand which employs the name of Proust, but does not express Proust, which only expresses him by disappropriating him, by making him Other.

– Blanchot, ‘The Pursuit of the Zero Point’ (trans. I. Maclachlan)

The Noble Prize

In the obituaries respectfully delivered to mark his passing, the great works of the age have often been mentioned, Proust, Joyce, Musil and even Kafka, these finished-unfinished works, which nevertheless retain, in what one can barely call their failure, ‘a form of appearance of truth’, including, most of all, a concern to glorify, if not the author, then at least art itself by pushing traditional literature (even if one then calls it modern) to its furthest limit. But compare Sartre and Beckett, both having to contend with the false glory of the Nobel Prize for literature. This prize that, nobly, Sartre refused, one might say he did everything possible to be awarded it by the very act of writing Words, a book which, he believed, by the sublime power of its rhetoric, would henceforth make it impossible to hope for a finer work. The dream is a touching but childish one (entirely in keeping with Sartre’s own child-like nature). And the punishment for having wanted to write (and publish) a necessarily glorious text followed immediately, in the form of the award of the Nobel Prize, from which he derived additional glory by rejecting it. Nothing of the sort happened to Beckett: he had neither to accept nor refuse a prize that was for no particular work (there is no work in Beckett) but was simply an attempt to keep within the limits of literature that voice or rumble or murmur which is always under the threat of silence, ‘that undifferentiated speech, spaced without space, affirming beneath all affirmation, impossible to negate, too weak to be silenced, too docile to be constrained, not saying anything, only speaking, speaking without life, without voice, in a voice fainter than any voice: living among the dead, dead among the living, calling to die, to be resurrected in order to die, calling without call’ (and I quote — to end — these lines from Awaiting Oblivion because Beckett was willing to recognize himself in that text).

– Blanchot, ‘Oh All To End’ (trans. L. Hill)

Clearance

I used to belong to the past and the future, X tells me, to regret and fear. I bounced between the two until I realised there was no present through which to bounce. And yet they’re still here, he says, the regrets and fears, only they’ve lost their roots in the past and future. Then what am I to make of them, he asks me, their attempts to guide me through my life? Now they bleed into each other, he says, they make a mockery of my memories and expectations. That was my downfall, he says, when I realised there was no present, no moment of control. It opened everything up and lost nothing. I still bounce between regrets and fears, but they’re no longer mine, he says. I wake up cursing myself and go to bed anxious, but the hope for control is gone. What are they trying to clear my life for, he asks, these feelings, and is all his talking to me somehow part of that clearance? What am I trying to stand face to face with, what’s trying to stand face to face with me, is it you? he asks. Or is it only something that will start me talking again, that will start the fears and regrets churning again?

Help

Why does he talk to me, X asks me, has he ever answered that question? Does it help to talk? Not especially, he says, and what would it help anyway? He guesses it’s good to have had expressed something accurately for yourself, if not for anyone else, never mind beautifully. But has he expressed anything accurately? he asks. Has he expressed anything at all? Nothing, perhaps, except his inability to express himself, despite or because of his effort to be accurate. And that’s a thought that helps, he says, perhaps he has said something after all.

Down the pub

The pub is empty apart from a young couple sitting at the other end of the room. It’s a grey afternoon, boring beyond belief, X tells me. The publican stands behind the bar staring into space. It’s like being trapped in a Hopper painting, says X. He tells me he’s embarrassed for the young couple, and the publican too, for that matter, embarrassed by what awaits them, what already engulfs them. And for us too, he says, he’s embarrassed on behalf of all of us. He strains his ears to catch snatches of the couple’s conversation, and it’s as he thought, he says. It doesn’t inspire confidence. They’re talking about the girl’s parents, it seems the mother has a skin problem, but it doesn’t matter, he says, and it certainly doesn’t appear to matter to the young man. Why am I even curious, where does curiosity come from? he asks me. The girl looks flat-out bored now, and who can blame her? he says. The man looks too simple to be truly bored, he says, bored deep down, but all the same he clearly is. They’ve stopped talking now, they’re looking down at their mobiles, which are lying on the table. She sits back and plays with her hair. He sips from his drink. They say a few words that make no difference to anything, X tells me. He says he hates it when people look bored, but even more when they say they’re bored, that’s when the embarrassment becomes most acute, he says. People should have the decency not to mention it, he says. After all there’s nothing anyone can do about it, he tells me, this embarrassing tedium. He hopes she doesn’t mention it, he says, women are always saying embarrassing things. X can’t help her any more than her boyfriend can, he says, he has no reason to be here himself, he’s just trying to get drunk in peace, please don’t say it, he says, let’s just try to ignore it in peace. How will this young couple fight against what awaits them, he asks me, against what already surrounds them? They’ll try but they can’t, he says, that’s what’s so embarrassing and so sad, the tepid life that awaits them, that they’re already living, and the fact that there’s nothing he can or wants to do about it, even if God forbid he were asked. He suddenly feels disgusted, he says, we have to leave. We have to go, he says, gulping his pint. Imagine if the simpleton started talking to us, he says, what if the publican comes over and wants to chat, he’s looking at us now as if he’s wondering why we’re here, I can’t stand it! Holidays are hard work, he says as we leave.

My idea of fun

X tells me he’s taken everything he could get his hands on, from weed to ecstasy to antidepressants. He’s worked, worked out, read, stayed in bed, isolated himself, distracted himself, socialised, philosophised, stayed drunk for months, travelled and taken courses. He even got laid once, and still this feeling of desolation pursues him. Like it’s on a mission! he says.  Like it was there before him and will be there after him. It lies in wait for him, he says, no, stretches out before him, no, surrounds him like a wasteland, no, weighs on him like a black cloud, drops him in a hole and so on. Is it you, he says, are you following me? Maybe I just need to get laid again, find a girlfriend and propagate, do some good in the world, start wearing a suit, get a chinchilla, chill out, get a life and have some fun.

Endings and beginnings

We have endings, X tells me, that much is clear, everything ends all the time, in fact his life seems like one long ending. But to end you have to begin, he says, there are no ends without beginnings. Thus we begin as often as we end, and end as we begin, which makes our despair meaningless. Or is my logic flawed? he asks. Probably, he says. We breathe the dust of the dead and living, he says. The corpses we plant become seeds and we’re the seeds of past and future corpses, hardly distinguishable from one another. Am I part of you or are you part of me? he asks. I come to you in my tiredness, he says, in my exhaustion, to renew myself in these words, in all the things I have to say to you, in all my questions. My questions unanswered, they begin again in new forms, so lightly here, like clouds that form and disperse. And yet it could be, he says, it could very well be that I just need to get laid.

Charlie Kaufman on Synecdoche

Q. Is there someone in charge of this movie in the same way [as in Adaption and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind]?

A. No, I think this movie is different than either of those movies you’re talking about, because it doesn’t… I think those movies ultimately have a safety valve, in that there’s a clever conceit that you come to understand, and that in a way is safe. And it’s also something you can go, ‘Oh yeah, oh God, that guy’s smart’, you know, which is ego-stroking for me. This movie, and the script, was intentionally not like that. I didn’t … there’s no clever ‘reveal’ in this movie, it doesn’t turn out that this is anything other than what you’re watching, it doesn’t give you any place to land, which feels to me more honest […] Things flying away, things flying off, things becoming unhinged, and things being … incomprehensible, seems to be … to be the process of existence, when you strip away the conceits you have in your own life. You know, to put it in a kind of framework that makes sense, which we do. And that seemed like a real and valid thing to explore, and I wanted to explore it in a real and valid way [...] And what I’ve noticed with this movie in terms of the response is that people tend to have these responses a day after, or a week after, probably not with everybody, but with the people that respond to it, there seems to be a kind of growing response, kind of like it’s a virus, it’s multiplying inside them… which to me says that there’s something going on in the movie that’s worth thinking about.

Charlie Kaufman