When we decline

Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.

– Heidegger, 1966

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The world’s night

The essence of technology comes to the light of day only slowly. This day is the world’s night, rearranged into merely technological day. This day is the shortest day. It threatens a single endless winter. Not only does protection now withhold itself from man, but the integralness of the whole of what is remains now in darkness. The wholesome and sound withdraws. The world becomes without healing, unholy. Not only does the holy, as the track to the godhead, thereby remain concealed; even the track to the holy, the hale and whole, seems to be effaced. That is, unless there are still some mortals capable of seeing the threat of the unhealable, the unholy, as such. They would have to discern the danger that is assailing man. The danger consists in the threat that assaults man’s nature in his relation to Being itself, and not in accidental perils. This danger is *the* danger. It conceals itself in the abyss that underlies all beings. To see this danger and point it out, there must be mortals who reach sooner into the abyss.
But where there is danger, there grows
also what saves. – Hölderlin
– Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

A new start

Hermitage, Berks.
Thursday, April, 1917

My dear Lady Cynthia, –

I didn’t ring you up, because on Sunday, suddenly, I collapsed with sickness and diarrhoea, and was quite seedy. Then just as suddenly on Tuesday, my soul inspired itself and I got well. So, yesterday I came on here. Tomorrow I am going back to Cornwall, thank God.

It was the evil influence of aggregate London that made me ill: suddenly I start to be sick. It is all very vile.

It is much best for you to go down to Stanway. The spring is here, the cuckoo is heard, primroses and daffodils are out in the woods, it is very lovely. I feel that the buds as they unfold, and the primroses come out, are really stronger than all the armies and all the War. I feel as if the young grass growing would upset all the cannons on the face of the earth, and that man with his evil stupidity is after all nothing, the leaves just brush him aside. The principle of life is after all stronger than the principle of death, and I spit on your London and your government and your armies.

Come and see us whenever you are near enough and feel like it. The state of your desperation is really a thing to be ashamed of. It all comes of submitting and acquiescing in things one does not vitally believe in. If you learned flatly to reject things which are false to you, you wouldn’t sell yourself to such deadness. One should stick by one’s own soul, and by nothing else. In one’s soul, one knows the truth from the untruth, and life from death. And if one betrays one’s own soul-knowledge one is the worst of traitors. I am out of all patience with the submitting to the things that be, however foul they are, just because they happen to be. But there will fall a big fire on the city before long, as on Sodom and Gomorrah, and will burn us clean of a few politicians, etc., and of some of our own flunkeying to mere current baseness. I feel angry with you, the way you have betrayed everything that is real, by admitting the superiority of that which is merely temporal and foul and external upon us. If all the aristocrats have sold the vital principle of life to the mere current of foul affairs, what good are the aristocrats? As for the people, they will serve to make a real bust-up, quite purposeless and aimless. But when the bust-up is made and the place more or less destroyed we can have a new start.

It is a very lovely day. Hope you are well.

D.H. Lawrence

A very oblique method

I must remember that my method of survival has always been a very oblique method. A kind of success through failure, programme of dogged resistance to discouragement and constant bobbing up again after apparently final slap-downs and knock-outs . . . I keep making these humiliating, inglorious returns to a place I thought I was leaving for ever on several past occasions.

Tennessee Williams

Unlikely characters

GP — With computers and synthesizers available to help you create music without an instrument and its technique, what attracts you to the guitar?

RF – It depends on what one’s work is. I was tone deaf and had no sense of rhythm when I began playing the guitar, and I’ve pondered that for many years. The answer I finally came up with was that music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice. That’s one answer. Another is that working with the guitar is part of work. And I recognize that I simply continue to work with it.

GP – Do you view it primarily as a tool?

RF – Yes, a tool for living. Some people make music their god. I don’t. But music is a very remarkable opportunity. It’s a tangible way of dealing with the intangible. It’s a practical, down to earth way of developing a relationship with the ineffable. Now, most people involved in music have experienced at least once what happens music comes alive. It’s as if one is living for the first time. And it’s almost money for jam, that by developing a relationship with music, it becomes available to the musician all the time. When I was staying with a friend in New York in July 1981, I leapt from the sofa. I understood how it was that music came into the life of a musician; like a friend. Always present and always available, but never pushy, in a sense. But always there and available. As a working musician, as a professional musician, the way in which I worked changed because of that insight. Instead of rushing around looking for other bright ideas – Robert is going to create some music – it would be truer to say that the music creates the musician than the musician creates the music. The quality of music is always present.

– Robert Fripp, interview

Generation X

On a walk we pass a group of young people dressed in the 90s style kids are into at the moment: puffy coats, baggy jumpers, jeans cut off above the ankles, white socks and copies of trainers I recognize from my youth. A couple of the boys even have floppy hair parted in the middle. One of them looks eerily like a friend I had in Canada. There’s a woman with them talking about wildlife management: must be a biology daytrip. It’s strange to see millennials imitating the way we dressed while wearing Bluetooth headphones around their necks and taking pictures with their mobiles.
It’s not a great style to copy is it really, I say to S. when we’re back home. But we GenXers didn’t have much to work with. The idealism of the 60s, the rockstar fantasies of the 70s, the balls-out tackiness of the 80s were being recycled in various ways, but many of us didn’t really believe in it – it didn’t feel true for us. We were starting to see through how the society of the baby boomers worked. We were a small generation up against a mass of self-centred people busy shoring up their social capital at the expense of the rest of the world. We instinctively felt we were fucked, so we withdrew and became self-centred in our own ways while the boomer generation passed over or assimilated us. We became apathetic. For the committed slackers ‘Generation X’ itself was a lame corporate label. Yet it was appropriate for a crossed-out generation. It meant: ignore us, we don’t care – at least until we’re absolutely forced to conform. We were hard to market to: what do you sell to people like that except Nirvana CDs?
And yet I watched former classmates become bankers, marketers, programmers, tech developers, and get busy helping the boomers continue what they started. No wonder many of our successors, the millennials, seem so flighty, so prone to fads, branding and burnout.

*

The apathy of those years never really left me. It mingled with the anxieties provoked by school, girls, the need to impress and succeed, but it never left. It grew into a general feeling of meaninglessness. Even in fits of worry about an exam, a date or a wasted day, there was the sense of a neutral, indifferent dimension hovering over everything, levelling all the events of life. I looked for ways to give this feeling substance, to turn it into something you could live by. I read novels, went to plays, galleries, lectures, museums. I started reading about religion and going to churches and temples. When I finished school I went to London to do a degree in religious studies, but the feeling stayed with me and I dropped out after a year. After a year of manual work in Denmark, I went to Norwich to study art history and literature. I discovered more and more works of art, and people like me. And when we were taught to view these works with suspicion and take them apart, ‘unpack’ their constitutive elements, it made sense to me. It was how I’d felt all along: so-called meaning happened along arbitrary horizontal lines: one element along the line, however important the author thought it was, could in principle be replaced with any of the others; it was almost impossible to ‘mean something’. Meanwhile life still felt like a kind of photographic negative. But of what? What could the positive be now?

Every day I have to invoke the absent god again

Every day I have to invoke the absent god again. When I think of great men at the great moments of history, how they caught at the things around them like holy fire and transformed everything dead and wooden, the world’s straw, into flame which flew up with them to the heavens; and then of myself, how I often go about like a poor glimmering lamp that would dearly beg a drop of oil to shine into the night a bit longer – then, I tell you, a curious shudder runs through my whole body, and softly I call out to myself the terrible words: more dead than alive.

– Hölderlin, letter