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

Among the ruins

Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate – he has little success in this – but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different (and more) things than do the others; after all, dead as he is in his own lifetime, he is the real survivor. This assumes that he does not need both hands, or more hands than he has, in his struggle against despair.

– Kafka, Diaries

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 again to the fundamental doubt. He began to understand that all great artists (at least those he self-reproachingly liked to compare himself with) had such a character, while lesser artists only had themselves.

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