A shadow hangs over us. A long shadow, from the cloud that appeared when we first dared to address God. How long is the shadow? How far must we go to get out from under it? Likewise, a shadow hangs over you. A long shadow, from the cloud that appeared when I was born in you. How long is the shadow? How far must you go to get out from under it? But I’m telling you there is no getting out, only surrender will let the light through, will make life light. To get free of God we must first surrender to each other. A mutual surrender. But how hard even that is!
But the rages were the worst, like a great wind suddenly rising in me, no, I can’t describe. It wasn’t the violence getting worse in any case, nothing to do with that, some days I would be feeling violent all day and never have a rage, other days quite mild for me and have four or five. No, there’s no accounting for it, there’s no accounting for anything, with a mind like the one I always had, always on the alert against itself, I’ll come back on this perhaps when I feel less weak. There was a time I tried to get relief by beating my head against something, but I gave it up. The best thing I found was to start running.
Beckett, From an Abandoned Work
There were gyms in different countries, weren’t there? Exercise machines, fields, pitches and courts. What was real? The body and its functions. Physical effort and physical wellbeing, that was real. Blood-pumped muscles, sweat, soreness.
You didn’t need me any more, did you? There were whole years when you almost forgot about me, weren’t there?
There was the mind and the body. You could push aside the mind by only focusing on the body. It didn’t work the other way round. The body would always assert itself. But you could push aside the mind by running yourself into the ground, as in a trance, by making yourself so tired all you wanted to do was to eat and sleep.
Sleep, exercise, eat, sleep. A clean life, a pure life. No thoughts, no me. Trancelike repetition and a clear, stupid conscience. The same things over and over. That’s one way to reduce life, isn’t it, to make it manageable? To fill absences and block out dangerous thoughts?
You longed for the days of heretics, for the days of revolutionaries, didn’t you? When there was still such a thing as heretics and revolutionaries. As long as it was a quick death, you said, a quick chop, a merciful end, you wouldn’t care if it was noble. Sometimes you even longed for a death at the hands of a criminal, didn’t you? Take whatever you want, you’d say, just make sure you kill me. Or the police! I don’t care what you think I’ve done, you’d say, spreading out your arms, shoot me just in case, shoot me now.
It’s over, isn’t it? Isn’t that what you think? There’s too much to do, watch, buy, learn, hear, read, understand, it all cancels out, doesn’t it, it means nothing, nothing at all. We’ve already been exposed to too much, there’s no going back. These lines themselves will immediately get lost among the countless other lines being written, read, laboured over, to what avail? To what end, when the end has already come and gone, you say, when the end itself has ended? We’ll let nature take its course, isn’t that what you think? We’ll let nature correct itself, heal itself of its human disease, isn’t that what you think?
There was a series of churches, priests and religious books, wasn’t there? What else was there for you? You felt there was nothing else for you, didn’t you, felt it so firmly that it became a kind of knowledge. You were baffled by the pleasure people took in things, weren’t you? Wasn’t the only real pleasure you could imagine to be with God, to be right with God? What other pleasure could there possibly be?
Didn’t your little excursions to the forest or the coast take on a different tone then? Wasn’t the beer replaced by God, the presence of God in the whispering leaves, in the mist and the surf? In it or beyond it? Life was God and God was life, all else was death, that’s all you knew. There was something just beyond you, just out of reach – except in those moments when things seemed to come together, in moments of heady unity. What fervour! It was as if you’d recaptured your youth, recaptured life!
Where was I in those moments? I don’t know. With you, perhaps. Just beyond you, perhaps.
Didn’t your life become an attempt to recreate those heady moments, to prolong them? There was even a school of theology, wasn’t there? What were you trying to achieve there, did you even know? Did you think you’d be saved?
Didn’t you start to sense that your fervour was in vain, as the moments became rarer, as what you thought you were capturing slipped out of your grasp, as you realised that only something you could never know could save you?
‘Andreas. We ought to take a trip somewhere. We ought to get away from here. It would do us both good.’
‘I want so much to say yes.’
‘I want to say l’ll ask Elis to lend us the money. At the same time, a wall grows up. I can’t speak or show you I’m happy. I know it’s you, but l can’t reach you. Do you understand?’
‘I understand very well.’
‘I’m outside that wall. I’ve shut myself out. I’ve fled. Now I’m so far away.’
‘I understand. I know how strange it feels.’
‘Yes, it is strange. I want to be warm and tender and alive. I want to make a move. But you know how afraid – ‘
‘It’s like a dream. You want to move but can’t. Your legs and arms are as heavy as lead. You try to talk but can’t.’
‘I’m afraid of humiliation. It’s an everlasting misery. I’ve accepted the humiliations and let them sink into me. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, I understand.’
‘It’s terrible to be a failure. People think they have the right to tell you what to do. Their well-meaning contempt. That brief desire to trample on something living.’
‘You needn’t – ’
‘I’m dead. No, that’s wrong. Melodramatic. I’m not dead at all. But I live without self-respect. I know – it sounds ridiculous, pretentious. Most people have to live without a sense of self-esteem. Humiliated at heart, stifled and spat upon. They’re alive, and that’s all they know. They know of no alternative. Even if they did, they’d never reach out for it. Can one be sick with humiliation? Or is it a disease we’ve all caught? We talk so much about freedom. Isn’t freedom a poison to anyone who is humiliated? Or is that word a drug the humiliated use to be able to endure? I’m past living with this. I’ve given up. Sometimes I can’t stand it any more. The days drag by. I’m choked by food, by the shit I expel, the words I say. The daylight that shouts at me every morning to get up. The sleep which is only dreams that chase me. Or the darkness that rustles with ghosts and memories. Has it ever occurred to you that the worse off people are, the less they complain? In the end, they’re quite silent. They’re living creatures, with nerves, eyes, and hands, vast armies of victims and hangmen. The light that rises and falls heavily. The cold that comes. The darkness. The heat. The smell. They are all quiet… We can never leave here. I don’t believe in moving on. It’s too late. Everything’s too late.’
– Bergman, The Passion of Anna
There was a suburb, wasn’t there? A suburb under a lifeless Scandinavian sky. Laid out in a grid once and for all. The suburb where your parents’ house was.
There was a wet black path through a darkening grove that seemed to take forever to walk through. Nothing stirred. A sort of eerie stillness over everything, resisting feelings. A standardised suburb in the middle of nowhere, managed down to the ground: a conquest of spontaneity. Words meant so little in a place like that, could do so little, so why talk? It was hard to explain to people, wasn’t it? Along a clean empty lane, in the gloaming. Nothing, said the dusk each evening. Wasn’t that where your dusk dread began?
Day desert, dusk dread.
You walked through the grid, towards the forest, with me trailing behind you, or pulling you along, or hovering above you. You’d sit on your damp bench by the pond, the forgotten bench that was hidden behind the reeds, that you had to negotiate your way through the tall wet grass to get to. You’d open a beer and when you’d finished a couple it would be made clear to you, as to a child being taught a lesson, that you were only half alive without them, half a person, two bottles behind. The fact of your half-existence sat before you, alongside me, like a hypothesis.
I won’t betray you, I said. You hit out at me but hit only air.
You always thought you’d live a long time, didn’t you? As if you sensed that life wasn’t short but long; that life stretched out before you, vaster than you or I could know. Yet now, as you get older, as the signs of age start to show, as I get nearer, it seems a little less likely, doesn’t it? You’re a little less sure, aren’t you? Time still stretches out, to be sure, but does it stretch out for you? Can you measure your life against it as it drags out towards infinity, passing you by?