I’m making a test

I’m making a test: on the balcony is a sparrow which expects me to throw some bread from the table on to the balcony, instead of which I drop the bread beside me on the floor in the middle of the floor. It stands outside and from there in the semi-darkness sees the food of its life, terribly tempting, it’s shaking itself, it’s more here than there, but here is the dark and beside the bread am I, the secret power. Nevertheless it hops over the threshold, a few more hops, but farther it doesn’t dare go and in sudden fright it flies away. But with what energy does this wretched bird abound, after a while it’s back again, inspects the situation, I scatter a little more to make it easier for it, and – if I hadn’t intentionally-unintentionally (this is how the secret powers work) chased it away with a sudden movement, it would have got the bread.

– Kafka, Letters to Milena (tr. T. and J. Stern)

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The satanic circle

I began to look at everything in relation to the child. My hands, for instance, which would some day touch and hold it, our third-floor apartment, the Kandlgasse, the VII. District, the ways that one could take criss-cross through the town right down to the Prater Meadows, and finally the whole world, with all that’s in it, which I would explain to the child. It was from me that it should learn the names: table and bed, nose and foot. And also such words as: spirit and God and soul, useless words in my opinion, but ones that could not be kept from it, and, later on, words as complicated as: resonance, diapositive, chiliasm, and astronautics. I would have to see to it that my child learnt what everything meant and how everything was to be used, a door-handle and a bicycle, a gargle and a printed form. My head whirled.

***

I had thought I would have to teach him about the world. Since my mute dialogues with him I had begun to doubt that, and finally realized it was not so. Was it, for instance, not in my power to conceal from him what things were called and not to teach him the use of things? He was the first human being. Everything had its beginning with him, and there was no saying that everything might not also become quite different because of him. Should I not leave the world to him, immaculate and without meaning? After all, I didn’t have to initiate him into functions and aims, into good and evil, into what was real and what only seemed to be so. Why should I educate him into my own likeness, causing him to know and to believe, to rejoice and to suffer! From here, from where we stand, this is the worst of all possible worlds and nobody has understood it down to this day; but from where he stood nothing was decided. Not yet. How long was there still to go?

***

When he was a little older Fipps was sometimes allowed to play with other children in a blind alley beside the house. Once, on my way home at lunchtime, I saw him there with three other little boys, scooping up water from the gutter in an old tin can. Then they stood in a circle, talking. It looked like a conference. (It was the way engineers conferred about where they would begin the boring, where the first well should be sunk.) They squatted down on the pavement, and Fipps, who was holding the tin, was on the point of emptying it when they got up again and went three paving stones further. But this place also seemed to turn out unsuitable for the undertaking. They got up once again. There was tension in the atmosphere. What masculine tension! Something must be done! And then, a yard away, they found the place. They squatted down again, becoming silent, and Fipps tilted the tin. The dirty water flowed over the cobbles. They stared at it, silently, solemnly. The thing had been done, it was finished. Perhaps it was a success. It must surely have been a success. The world could rely on these small men; they would keep it going all right. I was now quite certain that they would keep it going. I went into the house, up to the apartment, and threw myself on the bed in our room. The world had been kept going, the place had been found whence some more progress could be made, and it had been done, a move in the same old direction. I had hoped my child would not find that direction. And once, a long time ago, I had even feared that he might not find his way about at all. Fool that I was, I had feared he would not find the direction!
I got up and flung a few handfuls of water, cold from the tap, into my face. I wanted no more of this child. I hated him because he understood things too well, because I could already see him following in all the footsteps there were.
I went about extending my hatred to everything that emanated from human beings, to the tram-routes, the number-plates on houses, titles, clocks and calendars, all that ingenious tangled mess that is called orderI hated the collecting of garbage, programs of series of lectures, registrar’s offices, all these wretched institutions that it’s now futile to attack and which indeed nobody even dreams of attacking, all these altars at which I too had sacrificed but at which I had no mind to see my child sacrificed. What had my child to do with it? He had not set the world up the way it was, he had not caused the damage done to it. Why should he set himself up in it just the same way! I screamed at the census office and the schools and the barracks: Give him a chance! Give my child just one single chance before he goes to the dogs! I raged against myself because I had forced my son into the world and had done nothing to set him free. I owed it to him, I had to act, I must go away with him, go off to some island with him. But where is there an island from which a new man can found a new world? I was trapped together with the child, condemned from the very beginning to keep on keeping on with the old world. That was why I dropped the child. I dropped him out of my love. For this child was capable of everything, only not of stepping out of the ranks, breaking through the satanic circle.

– Ingeborg Bachmann, ‘Everything

A speech of the infinite

‘How can we live without the unknown before us?’ [Rene Char] The pressing form of this questioning, then, comes from the following: (1) to live is necessarily to live ahead of oneself; (2) to live ‘authentically’, ‘poetically’, is to have a relation with the unknown as such, and thus to put at the centre of one’s life this-the-unknown that does not allow one to live ahead of oneself and, moreover, withdraws every centre from life […] Here let us recall René Char’s now long-standing affirmation, which will bring forth everything we have just tried to say: ‘A being of which one is ignorant is a being that is infinite – capable, in intervening, of changing our anguish and our burden into arterial dawn.’ The unknown as unknown is this infinite, and the speech that that speaks it is a speech of the infinite.

– Blanchot, ‘René Char and the Thought of the Neutral’ (in The Infinite Conversation, tr. S. Hanson)

The unknown is at stake

The unknown is neutral, a neuter. The unknown is neither object nor subject. This means that to think the unknown is in no way to propose it as ‘the not yet known’, the object of a knowledge still to come, any more than it would be to go beyond it as ‘the absolutely unknowable’, a subject of pure transcendence, refusing itself to all manner of knowledge and expression. On the contrary, let us (perhaps arbitrarily) propose that in research – where poetry and thought affirm themselves in a space that is proper to them, separate, inseparable – the unknown is at stake; on condition, however, that it be explicitly stated that this research relates to the unknown as unknown. A phrase all the same disconcerting, since it proposes to ‘relate’ the unknown inasmuch as it is unknown. In other words, we are supposing a relation in which the unknown world would be affirmed, made manifest, even exhibited: disclosed – and under what aspect? – precisely in that which keeps it unknown. In this relation, then, the unknown would be disclosed in that which leaves it under cover. Is this a contradiction? In effect.

– Blanchot, ‘René Char and the Thought of the Neutral’ (in The Infinite Conversation, tr. S. Hanson)

Dialogue with a Carmelite

Our purpose here is to relate an experience honestly lived and honestly transcended. Unless we are willing to limit our role as purveyors of information, we cannot refuse to relate one kind of experience because we would rather talk about another. There is no special audience for this kind of truth. Truth is not aristocratic or exclusive but belongs to everyone, and the most homely item of local news is as unfathomable as anything that happens anywhere in the province of heart and mind. Heart and mind, we believe, are the world’s most widely shared possessions, and even though we expect to be attacked in any number of contradictory ways for printing this story, we think it our duty to do so.

Q. Do you think that the ‘truth’ about the Carmelite convent in which you lived for fifteen months is of such a special kind that not everyone will be able to understand it?

A. I don’t think so. Anyone who is open to an honest account of a sincere experience will agree, I think, and will not claim to understand more than can be understood. Continue reading

Longing to think

Long periods of unthinking impotence. Or of thinking that is only the longing to think. Too busy feeling dispersed by everything and nothing to be of any use, especially to yourself. In such moods concentration is a dream, a cell deep under ground.

– Frenet

Shadows

 

Brushing the dust from your clothes, you make your way into the town, as if it has been waiting for you all your life, but the town knows nothing of your existence, even after you have spent years wandering its streets. Footsteps clump past your tiny room each night. The same door slams shut at the end of the corridor. Someone calls your name. The voice is always behind you, no matter how many times you turn around.

– Ian Seed, Anonymous Intruder