Your anxieties, when did they start? No prize for guessing: when I turned up. But they seemed to have a life of their own, didn’t they? Didn’t they creep into your life despite me, despite you, almost as if they were there before us, as if they had no regard for us? Nothing we did could stop them because we did nothing in unison. It was almost admirable how they crept up on you, wasn’t it, how they undermined you better than any enemy could have done: how they got to you before me. Or was it my arrival itself that brought them into being? From the most primitive fears – I can’t leave my room, not while there are still voices in the hall – to the delicate sensation of the marrow in your bones turning into cold metal rods, quivering ever so slightly.
For the man who sets out to write, the work is in no way a shelter in which he lives, in his peaceful and protected self, shielded from the difficulties of life. Perhaps he in fact thinks he is protected from the world, but he is exposed to a danger much greater and more menacing because it finds him powerless: the very danger that comes to him from outside, from the fact that he remains outside. And against this threat he must not defend himself; on the contrary, he must give in to it. The work demands that, demands that the man who writes it sacrifice himself for the work, become other – not other than the living man he was, the writer with his duties, his satisfactions, and his interests, but he must become no one, the empty and animated space where the call of the work resounds.
– Blanchot, The Book to Come (tr. Mandell)
Kit took Port’s hand. They climbed in silence, happy to be together.
‘Sunset is such a sad hour’, she said presently.
‘If I watch the end of a day – any day – I always feel it’s the end of a whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything’, he said. ‘That’s why I hate cold countries, and love the warm ones, where there’s no winter, and when night comes you feel an opening up of the life there, instead of a closing down. Don’t you feel that?’
‘Yes’, said Kit, ‘but I’m not sure I prefer the warm countries. I don’t know. I’m not sure I don’t feel that it’s wrong to try to escape the night and winter, and that if you do you’ll have to pay for it somehow.’
‘Oh, Kit! You’re really crazy.’
– Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
When did it happen? When did you lose your name? Wasn’t it when I came on the scene and was forced to try to control you, to impose your name upon you on their behalf? And you could do nothing but hurry back to your new room and lock your door, hoping they hadn’t seen you… Didn’t you lose your name at the very moment you were supposed to gain it, when you shook hands with your father and walked down that grey path between the thistle bushes? Whose fault is it, mine or yours? For there was no one else, was there? Weren’t they all pulled out from under you in those moments? Strange trick. Oh it wasn’t so tragic, the high heavens didn’t fall, but we were instantly relegated to our lifelong roles, though we had no idea what they were.
What we couldn’t have achieved if we hadn’t been hindered by each other, if we’d slid into each other without noticing, if we’d grown into one! We’d have slid right into the world, with all its worldly pains and joys. What did you ever want but to feel those pains and joys? Didn’t they seem like child’s play compared to having me around, compared to being you?
It’s as if the thread of our potential life were always running under our life. A life that I would have overseen if things hadn’t gone so wrong. A proper life in which you hadn’t dragged me down, in which we could have cooperated and merged into someone real, someone with continuity, solidity, influence. And at the same time it’s as if we both deny this potential life, deny it as something as dubious and unreal as ourselves. Oh, things are grim, we agree. But it’s not just that. It’s as though if we were to start all over again it would all turn out the same, and this same potential life would still run beneath beside or beyond us, taunting us.
Things are bad, we agree, truly grim. Oh, but it’s worse, we agree, much worse than even we imagine. At least we’re not homeless, not yet. At least they haven’t shot us, not yet. But the logic will soon be quite clear, we agree, and there’ll be no other option, they’ll have to march us and our ilk into a stadium and shoot us, and they’ll have made us willing, they’ll have made us agree we’re a symptom of all that’s wrong and that it’s for the best.
I came to you hoping to be healed.
You are my doctor, my saviour, my omnipotent judge, my priest, my
god, the surgeon of my soul.
And I am your proselyte to sanity.
* * *
to achieve goals and ambitions
to overcome obstacles and attain a high standard
to increase self-regard by the successful exercise of talent
to overcome opposition
to have control and influence over others
to defend myself
to defend my psychological space
to vindicate the ego
to receive attention
to be seen and heard
to excite, amaze, fascinate, shock, intrigue, amuse, entertain,
or entice others
to be free from social restrictions
to resist coercion and constriction
to be independent and act according to desire
to defy convention
to avoid pain
to avoid shame
to obliterate past humiliation by resumed action
to maintain self-respect
to repress fear
to overcome weakness
to be accepted
to draw close and enjoyably reciprocate with another
to converse in a friendly manner, to tell stories, exchange
sentiments, ideas, secrets
to communicate, to converse
to laugh and make jokes
to win affection of desired Other
to adhere and remain loyal to Other
to enjoy sensuous experiences with cathected Other
to feed, help, protect, comfort, console, support, nurse or
to be fed, helped, protected, comforted, consoled,
supported, nursed or healed
to form mutually enjoyable, enduring, cooperating and
reciprocating relationship with Other, with an equal
to be forgiven
to be loved
to be free
– Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis
She walked through the fog into Tottenham Court Road. The houses and the people passing were withdrawn, nebulous. There was only a grey fog shot with yellow lights, and its cold breath on her face, and the ghost of herself coming out of the fog to meet her.
The ghost was thin and eager. It wore a long, very tight check short, a short dark-blue coat, and a bunch of violets bought from the old man in Woburn Square. It drifted up to her and passed her in the fog. And she had the feeling that, like the old man, it looked at her coldly, without recognizing her.
– Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie
He is suffering from his isolation. He has talked about it several times. As always during the winter, he has been unable to work. He has seen nobody. He goes out walking or sits for hours in his armchair, entirely given over to what is taking shape inside him. He talks frequently about the unknown, of what emerges when all desire, all will and self-regard have spontaneously vanished and the being becomes purely passive. It is to the extent that he has the audacity and courage to welcome the unknown that the painter can engender something new and produce paintings which are each an effective encounter with life. ‘Painting’, he says, ‘is attempting to reach a point where it is impossible to remain’.
Juliet on Bram van Velde, Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde