Monthly Archives: March 2009

The battleground

Today I woke up very early, with a sudden a confused start, and I slowly got out of bed, suffocating from an inexplicable tedium. No dream had caused it; no reality could have created it. It was a complete and absolute tedium, but founded on something. The obscure depths of my soul had been the battleground where unknown forces had invisibly waged war, and I shook all over from the hidden conflict. A physical nausea, prompted by all of life, was born in the moment I woke up. A horror at the prospect of having to live got up with me out of bed. Everything seemed hollow, and I had the chilling impression that there is no solution for whatever the problem may be.
   An extreme nervousness made my slightest gestures tremble. I was afraid I might go mad — not from insanity but from simply being there. My body was a latent shout. My heart pounded as if it were talking.
   Taking wide, false steps that I vainly tried to take differently, I walked barefoot across the short length of the room and diagonally through the emptiness of the inner room, where in a corner there’s a door to the hallway. With jerky and incoherent movements, I hit the brushes on top of the dresser, I knocked a chair out of place, and at a certain point my swinging hand struck one of the hard iron posts of my English bed. I lit a cigarette, which I smoked subconsciously, and only when I saw that ashes had fallen on the headboard — how, if I hadn’t leaned against it? — did I understand that I was possessed, or something of the sort, in fact if not in name, and that my normal, everyday self-awareness had intermingled with the abyss.
   I received the announcement of morning — the cold faint light that confers a vague whitish blue on the unveiled horizon — like a grateful kiss from creation. Because this light, this true day, freed me — freed me from I don’t know what. It gave an arm to my as-yet-unrevealed old age, it cuddled my false childhood, it helped my overwrought sensibility find the repose it was desperately begging for.
   Ah, what a morning this is, awakening me to life’s stupidity, and to its great tenderness! I almost cry when I see the old narrow street come into view down below, and when the shutters of the corner grocer reveal their dirty brown in the slowly growing light, my heart is soothed, as if by a real-life fairy tale, and it begins to have the security of not feeling itself.
   What a morning this grief is! And what shadows are retreating? What mysteries have taken place? None. There’s just the sound of the first tram, like a match to light up the soul’s darkness, and the loud steps of my first pedestrian, which are concrete reality telling me in a friendly voice not to be this way.

— Pessoa , The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

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The first human listeners

… WHEN WILL, when will, when will they let it suffice,
the complaining, explaining? Have we not had masters to splice
human words, compose them? Why all this new endeavour?

Do not, do not, do not books for ever
hammer at people like perpetual bells?
When, between two books, silent sky appears: be glad…
or a patch of plain earth in the evening.

Louder than gale, louder than sea swell, men
have roared and yelled… what preponderance of stillness
must reside in the cosmic spaces, when
the cricket is audible still to yelling mankind.
When stars, the silent, shine for us in the yelled-at heavens!

Oh, if they spoke to us, the remotest, ancient, most ancient forbears!
And we: listeners at last. The first human listeners.

— Rilke (trans. M. Hamburger)

The world will offer to unmask itself for you

6.52 We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched. Of course there are then no questions left, and this itself is the answer.

6.521 The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem. (Is not this the reason why those who have found after a long period of doubt that the sense of life became clear to them have then been unable to say what constituted that sense?)

6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

6.53 The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science — i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy — and then, whenever someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his propositions. Although it would not be satisfying to the other person — he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy — this method would be the only strictly correct one.

6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)

7 What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

— Wittgenstein

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You have no need to go out of the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, just be completely still and alone. The world will offer to unmask itself for you, it cannot do otherwise, it will disport itself before you ecstatically.

— Kafka

Belief

Q: That holiness you speak of, we seem bereft of it. It’s not in vogue to have that sense of spirituality anymore. Do you still cultivate it for yourself?

LC: I’m aware that I’m embraced by the absolute, as we are all embraced by the absolute. I feel that the technology for experiencing the absolute has been lost. But all the great religions have this experience, this information, this data, this technology which can [give you] this experience. I’ve always wondered why religions emphasise this idea of ‘belief’. Why should you believe in these matters? But experiencing these matters is available to all of us, experiencing the absolute is available. To be tyrannical or to be in some way oppressive about belief… I think it’s not fair to ask people to believe [when] they don’t experience. But we have the technology to experience the absolute, and I would just invite everybody to investigate their own religions. It’s not necessary to find a new one.

Leonard Cohen

A great opportunity

When you consider the fact of our little journey on the crust of this star, and the number of bridges, barriers, differentiations, diversions that we manage to construct for ourselves, to have an opportunity to dissolve them is really… a great opportunity. Because that moment is precisely there to dissolve those distinctions. If you don’t have moments when the distinctions are dissolved, then you become a very narrow, bitter, prejudiced, dogmatic kind of individual. Like I am most of the time. But from time to time I am permitted to dissolve these things.

Leonard Cohen

Perfection

We worship perfection because we can’t have it; if we had it, we would reject it. Perfection is inhuman, because humanity is imperfect.
   To achieve perfection would require a coldness foreign to man, and he would lose the human heart that makes him love perfection.
   In awe we worship the impulse to perfection of great artists. We love their approximation to perfection, but we love it because it is only an approximation.
   How tragic to believe in human perfectibility!
   How tragic not to believe in it!

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event

To think of our greatest anxiety as an insignificant event, not only in the life of the universe but also in the life of our own soul, is the beginning of wisdom. While we’re actually suffering, our human pain seems infinite. But human pain isn’t infinite, because nothing human is infinite, and our pain has no value beyond its being a pain we feel.
   How often, oppressed by a tedium that seems like insanity or by an anxiety that seems to surpass it, I stop, hesitating, before I revolt, I hesitate, stopping, before I deify myself. From among the pains there are — the pain of not grasping the mystery of the world, the pain of not being loved, the pain of being treated unjustly, the pain of life oppressing us, suffocating and restraining us, the pain of a toothache, the pain of shoes that pinch — who can say which is the worse for himself, let alone for someone else, or for the generality of those who exist?

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (trans. R. Zenith)