Category Archives: Writing

Sisyphus doesn’t work here anymore

It’s a pretty stock tactic: present the young undergraduate students of Philosophy with the myth of Sisyphus, and tell them it’s an allegory for human existence. There’s a way to get their attention. There’s a way to get them thinking. Except it’s not. Because Sisyphus doesn’t work here anymore.

Life Unfurnished

Fulfilling your role

They may know that they’re mortgaging the future of their grandchildren, that in fact everything they own will be destroyed, but they’re caught in a trap of institutional structure. That’s what happens in market systems. The financial crisis is a small example of the same thing. You may know that what you’re doing carries systemic risk, but you can’t calculate that into your transactions or you’re not fulfilling your role and somebody else replaces you.

Noam Chomsky

Time lost

I loved watching my husband and my son walking together to the Temple, and I loved waiting behind to pray before setting out to the Temple alone, not speaking, looking at no one. I loved some of the prayers and the words read from the book aloud to us. I knew them and they came to mean soft comfort to me as I set out to walk home having listened to them. What was strange then was that in those few hours before sundown a sort of quiet battle went on within me between the after-sound of the prayers, the peace of the day, the dull noiseless ease of things, and something dark and disturbed, the sense that each week which passed was time lost that could not be recovered and a sense of something else I could not name that had lurked between the words of the book as though in waiting like hunters, or trappers, or a hand that was ready to wield the scythe at harvest time. The idea that time was moving, the idea that so much of the world remained mysterious, unsettled me. But I accepted it as an inevitable aspect of a day spent looking inward. I was glad nonetheless when the shadows melted into darkness at sundown and we could talk again and I could work in the kitchen and think once more of the others and of the world outside.

– Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary

The epitaph of speech

Language speaks through us as the origin of speech, but it also speaks through us as the death of speech. It speaks as the moment in which the purposeful agency of speech is finally called into question and in a certain sense undermined. I think it’s appropriate to call language – again, metaphorically – the epitaph of speech, the way in which in any given speech the end of its own agency is inscribed even as that agency is going forward.

Paul Fry


In the whole of your absurd past you discover so much that’s absurd, so much deceit and credulity, that it might be a good idea to stop being young this minute, to wait for youth to break away from you and pass you by, to watch it going away, receding in the distance, to see all its vanity, run your hand through the empty space it has left behind, take a last look at it, and then start moving, make sure your youth has really gone, and then calmly, all by yourself, cross to the other side of Time to see what people and things really look like.

— Celine, Journey to the End of the Night (tr. Manheim)

Before I started to write I had quite a clear idea of who he or I was. If I’d written that down it might have been ten pages.


I don’t know what time is

I don’t know what time is. I don’t know what its real measure is, presuming it has one. I know that the clock’s measure is false, as it divides time spatially, from the outside. I know that our emotions’ way of measuring is just as false, dividing not time but our sensation of it. The way our dreams measure it is erroneous, for in dreams we only brush against time, now leisurely, now hurriedly, and what we live in them is fast or slow, depending on something in their flowing that I can’t grasp.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith)