The wisdom of certain everyday phrases (which writers sniff at). We speak of being in the moment and of pregnant moments. We speak of the fullness of time, of a time that’s ripe.
Beautiful phrase: the fullness of time. What does it mean? In everyday language, when something happens in the fullness of time it happens at a time that has finally come, a time of fulfilment of some event. Something comes into its own, something time has ripened. For Paul it had to do with the first and second coming of Christ and the fulfilment of God’s plan at decisive moments in history. But what if it were taken to refer not to a past or future event, but to time itself? What if the fullness of time weren’t a time that’s ripe for something but time that’s ripe with itself, that fulfils itself in every moment?
If the moment is the fullness of time, it can’t be part of
everyday time. It can’t simply be a series of nows between past and future, but
rather the instant in which time itself is revealed to you, only to withdraw.
How to hold this moment as it emerges, as it lets you emerge with it? It’s
bigger than you, once reached can’t be commanded. How to find it? How to remain
in it? Endure it?
A sleepless night, rarer now. The giant night and the same slow dawn. The sound of the binmen tipping our recycling bin into their lorry, interrupting the birds’ chorus. This same sense of final emptiness. It makes the thoughts I formulate in the day – in front of my computer with my books at hand – seem forced, imposed onto something almost helpless: what Gombrowicz called a ‘furtive childhood, a concealed degradation’.
Completely unacceptable, I think, like the wronged consumer I am: why should anyone be made to deal with this day after day? There’s something to it, I tell myself, the old idea that despair is a seductive sin, a sickness unto death. That’s one thing the Christians always understood, that there are feelings we indulge at our own risk. But when the feeling is this long-lived, this unshakeable?
Later I get caught in a thunderstorm biking back from the shops and curse this backwoods shithole while getting splattered with mud. Of course it stops just after I get home and have peeled off all my clothes and put them in the washing machine. I rummage for washing powder under the sink and mutter fuck off as I realize we’re out. S. says something as I walk to the bathroom but I don’t answer. When I’ve showered and calmed down I ask her what she said. She says she asked me whether I wanted an omelette or porkchops for dinner. I tell her sorry, you chill and I’ll make the porkchops with potatoes and red cabbage, Danish style – comfort food, like my grandmother used to make.
I write this diary reluctantly. Its dishonest honesty wearies me. For whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, then why is it being published? If for the reader, why do I pretend that I am talking to myself? Are you talking to yourself so that others will hear you?
How far I am from the certitude and vigour that hum in me when I am, pardon me, ‘creating’. Here, on these pages, I feel as if I were emerging from a blessed night into the hard light of dawn, which fills me with yawning and drags my shortcomings out into the open. The duplicity inherent in keeping a diary makes me timid, so forgive, oh forgive me (perhaps these last words are dispensable, perhaps they are already pretentious?).
Yet I realize that one must be oneself at all levels of writing, which is to say, that I ought to be able to express myself not only in a poem or drama, but also in everyday prose — in an article or in a diary — and the flight of art has to find its counterpart in the domain of regular life, just as the shadow of the condor is cast onto the ground. What’s more, this passage into an everyday world from an area that is backed into the most remote depths, practically in the underground, is a matter of great importance to me. I want to be a balloon, but one with ballast; an antenna, but one that is grounded.
— Gombrowicz, Diary (tr. Vallee)
Once I was explaining to someone that in order to feel the real cosmic significance of man for man, he should imagine the following:
I am completely alone in a desert. I have never seen people nor do I imagine that another man is even possible. At that very moment an analogous creature appears in my field of vision, which, while not being me, is nevertheless the same principle in an alien body. Someone identical but alien nevertheless. And suddenly I experience, at precisely the same moment, a wondrous fulfilment and a painful division. Yet one revelation stands out above all the rest: I have become boundless, unpredictable to myself, multiple in possibilities through this alien, fresh but identical power, which approaches me as if I were approaching myself from the outside.
– Witold Gombrowicz
To be human is to be among those whose thoughts we don’t know; to be in the dark. Perhaps this condition is the source of our urge to speak. Language, born of absence, filling a lack, generating light. To be human is to be alone, and also to know that we are in thrall to thoughts we call our own, yet are barely aware of. Perhaps this very unknowingness is the source of writing. Writing from out of a void, to fill a void. Both speaking and writing, then, veil ignorance of ourselves and of others even as they display it, even as they ameliorate it.
– Mark Thwaite
The moment behind beneath and beyond everyday time. It waits
to give you back your past, like an event long prepared without your knowledge:
an act of fate in the fullness of time. It needs
you: your shabby past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard
of words. It waits for you to step into the light of the day, where it can find
you and let you come into your own.
Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time
– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.
– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
I must organize myself. I must, as they say, pull myself together, dump this cat from my lap, stir—yes, resolve, move, do. But do what? My will is like the rosy dustlike light in this room: soft, diffuse, and gently comforting. It lets me do . . . anything . . . nothing.
My ears hear what they happen to; I eat what’s put before me; my eyes see what blunders into them; my thoughts are not thoughts, they are dreams. I’m empty or I’m full . . . depending; and I cannot choose. I sink my claws in Tick’s fur and scratch the bones of his back until his rear rises amorously. Mr. Tick, I murmur, I must organize myself. I must pull myself together. And Mr. Tick rolls over on his belly, all ooze.
I spill Mr. Tick when I’ve rubbed his stomach. Shoo. He steps away slowly, his long tail rhyming with his paws. How beautifully he moves, I think; how beautifully, like you, he commands his loving, how beautifully he accepts. So I rise and wander from room to room, up and down, gazing through most of my forty-one windows. How well this house receives its loving too. Let out like Mr. Tick, my eyes sink in the shrubbery. I am not here; I’ve passed the glass, passed second-story spaces, flown by branches, brilliant berries, to the ground, grass high in seed and leafage every season; and it is the same as when I passed above you in my aged, ardent body; it’s, in short, a kind of love; and I am learning to restore myself, my house, my body, by paying court to gardens, cats, and running water, and with neighbors keeping company.
– William Gass, ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’
North, to the Lancashire uplands to spend Christmas with S.’s family. N. picks up Rookie in a carboard box, along with a box of cat food. The next morning we get a taxi before sunrise, then three trains. The passengers get chattier as the landscape gets hillier. I manage to sleep a little. It’s dark and rainy when we get to the final station, where S.’s father is waiting for us in the car.
It seems as though every available space has been paved over and built up except for the great dark moors that loom over the cities and villages – many of which are themselves manmade, the results of deforestation by ancient people… Nothing but motorways, roundabouts, malls, petrol stations, business parks, offices, terraced houses… all so grey hard and cramped. I can’t help but think of those lines by Hopkins. Is there anywhere that isn’t seared with trade, smeared with toil, degraded by capital? Is there any escape?
S.’s family is large and fun, and we eat, drink and laugh all night.
It’s the home of the industrial revolution after all, S. tells me when we’ve gone to bed and I’ve revealed my thoughts about the journey. You know how you get when you travel. Don’t judge it just yet, you’ll see.
The next morning is brighter and gives us a fine view of hills on both sides of the house dotted with spray-painted sheep and crowned with mist. I go outside to smoke, feeling pleasantly small. There’s a different quality to the silence here when there’s no traffic on the road. Something to do with the topography maybe. I can hear a stream now. A horse whinnies somewhere, calling for a response as horses do, and it’s as if being itself has briefly been given voice.
S. borrows the car and drives us to Pendle Hill. We walk along the ridge through ribbons of fog to an ancient burial site she wants to see. Not a soul about, at last. As we climb the rocky path, dodging sheep droppings and sodden moss, we relax, stop chatting and fall into a rhythm. Our minds relax and expand as the horizon widens. We stop to look out over a spread of fields, hills, reservoirs and houses all around. This is more like it, I tell S., you need a horizon to think. I love the dun colours, the reddish iron-rich streams, the sheep that bound away when we get too close, the total indifference of the place. It moves us both, and it’s worth a day of rumbling through damp, littered suburbs in crowded, dirty trains.
Mr. Tick, you do me honor. You not only lie in my lap, but you remain alive there, coiled like a fetus. Through your deep nap, I feel you hum. You are, and are not, a machine. You are alive, alive exactly, and it means nothing to you—much to me. You are a cat—you cannot understand—you are a cat so easily. Your nature is not something you must rise to. You, not I, live in: in house, in skin, in shrubbery.
– William Gass, ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’