Little theory on doubt

For a long time he had felt uncertain, without belief in himself as an artist. When he spoke with someone about art, an uncertainty whispered in him. Little by little this uncertainty became a theory, which he discovered he was not alone in holding, and whose premise was that it was no longer possible to create art. The only thing the theory meant, he eventually understood, was: it’s no longer possible for me to create art. When his disillusionment was greatest, he invented a character who was an exaggeration of everything he valued most about his talent. He kept saying to this character: it’s you who has to do it, it’s you who has to think of something! This only made the character withdraw from him, but in the space between its exaggerations and his uncertainty a work began to ricochet like a steel ball: forward to draw strength from the exaggeration and back to the fundamental doubt. He began to understand that all great artists (at least those with whom he, in amid his self-reproaches, liked to compare himself) had such a character, while lesser artists only had themselves.

– Niels Frank, Livet i Troperne (Life in the Tropics), my trans.

A possible book

Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and all that she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.

– Marguerite Duras, Writing (tr. Polizzotti)

Buoy

It’s easy to live with someone who buoys you up; then it’s easy to buoy them up too. But it’s disconcerting when they fall into a terrible mood, into the mood that you’ve always thought of as your domain; when they say openly that for them, too, everything’s already ended, that nothing can really begin. Then you find yourself clambering to the other side of life, as it were, without support, wishing you could live for the both of you.

  • Frenet, Journal

Today the gates have receded

Nowadays — it cannot be denied — there is no Alexander the Great. There are plenty of men who know how to murder people; the skill needed to reach over a banqueting table and pink a friend with a lance is not lacking; and for many Macedonia is too confining, so that they curse Philip, the father — but no one, no one at all, can blaze a trail to India. Even in his day the gates of India were beyond reach, yet the King’s sword pointed the way to them. Today the gates have receded to remoter and loftier places; no one points the way; many carry swords, but only to brandish them, and the eye that tries to follow them is confused.

  • Kafka, ‘The New Advocate’

The Trial was different. It had a beginning, where the lightning of the indictment had to strike, and an end, where the sentence had to be carried out. Hence there was a framework in which a series of loosely connected scenes followed inexorably from the idea of the whole. Kafka worked only on the scene that most preoccupied him at the moment, sometimes in one notebook, sometimes in another. If no empty notebook was available for additional drafts, he turned around a used one and continued writing from the back. He wrote the beginning and the end of the novel first and possibly even simultaneously.

— Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (tr. Frisch)

Night

It’s all right
Unless you’re either lonely or under attack.
That strange effortful
Repositioning of yourself. Laundry, shopping,
Hours, the telephone—unless misinformed—
Only ever ringing for you, if it ever does.
The night—yours to decide,
Among drink, or books, or lying there.
On your back, or curled up.

An embarrassment of poverty.

  • Michael Hofmann

The principle of shortsightedness

I now exist on the principle of shortsightedness, which demands enhanced attention to the moment. Late wisdom, but close to the wisdom of childhood. A lovely summer day. Color, taste, scent. A squirrel. Cherries. Good tiredness. Cauliflower for supper. Clean house. And always darkness, darkness that spreads around all of it. Everything submerged in awful darkness.

  • Anna Kamienska