Become as a child,
become deaf, become blind!
Your very something
must become nothing,
drive all something, all nothing away!
Leave place, leave time,
and images as well!
Go without way
on the narrow path,
thus you will come to the desert trace.
O my soul,
get out, god in!
all my something sink
into god’s nothing,
sink into the bottomless swell!
If I flee from you,
you come to me.
If I lose myself,
I find you,
O goodness beyond being!
– Master Eckhart, from Granum sinapis de divinitate pulcherrima (tr. W. Franke)
Sometimes a small shift seemed to change everything and the effect was simple, like night turning into day. Some turn of direction or a modulation of frequencies. What was revealed then, what new view opened up? But it wasn’t quite a question of revelation, more like a possibility actuated and so trailing new possibilities behind it. You’d turn your head and see something you’d sensed all along, or it would see you. Those changes made a gentle mockery of you when you put yourself in a position to receive them.
Sometimes things came together when you needed it, even when things seemed to go wrong. Sometimes things went wrong in order to come together. There was a current beneath acts and events that could carry you or turn against you. When it found you, or when you found it, and it brought you towards other people, you called it grace, in the old style.
Luck came only through playing. So how could you start playing, how emerge from your refusal to play, from your grey timid life? How else but by a stroke of luck that carried you with it? What game were you playing, what game was playing you? What did you find as you played, as you renewed your search for luck? You crossed a line and found something that was searching for itself. When you got lucky luck played its game with you, without you. You got lucky: you were ruled by a game that didn’t know its own rules. You got lucky: your luck ran through your fingers…
An uncanny empathy broods above these zoomorphs, and invests them with more of their creator’s soul than all but a few human characters receive. So a child, cowed and bored by the world of human adults, makes companions of pets and toy animals.
– From John Updike’s introduction to Schocken Books’ Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories
Something went wrong when I turned up. What was supposed to happen seamlessly happened like a break. What usually happened didn’t happen and that was what defined it: as something that failed to happen, that broke apart instead of coming together, or broke apart the instant it came together. I turned up too suddenly, or you hadn’t been prepared well enough, eighteen years later I still know as much as you do, that’s to say nothing. We’re reduced to a series of empty images: the foundations hadn’t been laid, the ground was barren and cracked. Nothing could be built from my words, the seeds wouldn’t take root. Words, words, words, that’s all we became. I botched up the experiment, like Frankenstein, or the guy in The Fly.
My arrival in the year it all went wrong opened up a space between us, between us and the world, between everything. I arrived in the manner of a rupture, a break that made all your previous breaks, not in themselves dangerous, look like child’s play. I didn’t grow out of you in the slow natural way, wasn’t that the problem? I made you cryptic, though I was sent to make you straight, and you in turn made me cryptic. We still don’t know what we’re talking about, we don’t know anything. My words didn’t take root, didn’t root you to the world. So we both became my words, each in our own warring way. Do we even know who’s who? Do we even know whose words these are? Yet there’s something to be said for that break after all, we have to think this because we can’t think otherwise, we have to think this to stay sane, there’s something to be said for breaking open, being broken open, leaving yourself open, being left open, like an open wound.
How peaceful it had been, his college, when he first arrived! Colleagues greeted each other warmly. They sat out in the quadrangle, taking tea and discussing their scholarship. No one taught more than a couple of hours a week.
Then the fall began. Contact hours went up. Colleagues became busier; there was less time to talk. Scholars worked alone, with their office doors closed. But still they waved at one another across the quadrangle. Still they visited each other’s offices for tea.
Things fell still further. Colleagues worked in solitude, only in solitude. Some stayed home to work in their studies. Some fell ill in isolation. Some prayed in solitude in the college chapel.
And then? His colleagues have begun to scowl at one another, W. says. Colleagues snarl at each other in the college corridors. Who talks of their scholarship now? Who talks of ideas? Who reads now? Who writes?
You dreamed of a vast library, evening sunlight on the wooden floor and the spines of the books. As far as you could see, shelves full of books with blank covers: no titles, no names. Anonymous readers were seated along great tables. You entered with some confidence, still full of the bustle of the streets and shops. You were the only living man in this place, the only one with something to bring to these shelves, these tables. But doubts crept into you, and a strange loneliness, as if the library were not so easily dismissed.
What’s our favourite activity besides drinking? Sleeping, we agree. Sleeping and drinking, because both seem close to dying, because both are ways of dying in time. Hypnos, Bacchus and Thanatos, that’s our real holy trinity, we confess.