Monthly Archives: June 2009

Giacometti quotes

 Life is only an abyss.

I no longer understand anything about life, about death, about anything.

Art is only a way of seeing. Whatever I may look at, everything is beyond me, everything surprises me. I don’t exactly know what I am seeing. It’s too complex.

It’s impossible to do a thing the way I see it because the closer I get the more differently I see it.

The human face is as strange to me as a countenance which, the more one looks at it, the more it closes itself off and escapes by the steps of unknown stairways.

I paint and sculpt to get a grip on reality… to protect myself.

The more I work the more I see things differently, that is, everything gains in grandeur every day, becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is.

Artistically I am still a child with a whole life ahead of me to discover and create. I want something, but I won’t know what it is until I succeed in doing it.

All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see and my success will always be less than my failure or perhaps equal to the failure.

It was always disappointing to see that what I could really master in terms of form boiled down to so little. 

Basically, I no longer work for anything but the sensation I have while working.

Only reality interests me now and I know I could spend the rest of my life copying a chair.

— Giacometti

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The summer of death

We are at the heart of creation, absent from the All, in the marrow and moire of Absence, with the Void for recourse, for a means to be and to survive. So that, in the creative act, we are and even surpass the Void facing the restoring All.
   Book rejected and reclaimed by the book. The word, for which I was pain and meditation, discovers that its true place is the non-place where God lives resplendent with not being, with never having been.
[…]
   Death is of this world. It is on our planet that we will live death, along with plants and days.
   Where I go, night overtakes me.
[…]
   Ah, the sun will catch me, in my disturbing transparency.
   What am I but an awareness of the dark, forever?
   And yet
   I am certain I exist in the crystal of writings whose luster I could keep in check if I wanted. The world is within me, and I exist through the world.
   Did I know, when I let the first sentences of the book invade me, did I know that it would lead me from threshold to threshold to the summer of death?

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)

Blanchot on translation

In an essay which he has not included in his book, but which is a continuation of its project, La demoiselle aux mirrors [The Young lady of the Mirrors], Paulhan notes that a proper study of the strictest and most faithful kind of translation would provide a method for gaining access to authentic thought. For such a translation would show what transformation, proper to language, expression brings to bear on thought; all one would have to do would be to work out what kind of change the translator necessarily imposes on the text he is translating, and then to imagine within the original text analogous changes in order to work back, ideally, to a thought deprived of language and saved from reflection. Now, as is often pointed out, it seems that the almost inevitable effect on any translation is to make the translated text richer in its imagery and more concrete than the language into which it is translated. The translator dissociates the text’s stereotypes, interprets them as expressive metaphors and, so as not to replace them with simple, abstract words (which would be a further deformation), he translates them as concrete, picturesque images. This is also how all reflection becomes a travesty of ineffable original thought. Immediate thought, the kind perceived for us by consciousness with a look that decomposed it, is deprived of what we might call its stereotypes, its commonplaces, its abstract rhythm. It is false and arbitrary, impure and conventional. All we recognise in it is our own look. But if, on the other hand, we submit it to the rules of rhetoric, if our attention is surprised by rhythm, rhyme and numerical arrangement, we can hope to see the mind restored to its stereotypes and its commonplaces, reunited with the soul from which it was separated. Thought will become pure, it will become a virginal, innocent contact once again, not when it is set apart from words, but within the intimacy of what is said, through the operation of clichés, which alone are capable of rescuing it from the anamorphoses of reflection.
   One might imagine this thought which is revealed in conventions, which both escapes and is kept safe [se sauve] within constraints. But that is language’s secret, as it is Paulhan’s too. All we have to do is imagine that true commonplace expressions are words torn apart by lightning and that the rigours of law found the absolute world of expressions, outside which there is nothing but sleep and chance.

— Blanchot, ‘How is Literature Possible?’ (trans. M. Syrotinski)

Last News About The Little Box

The little box which contains the world
Fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another little box

The little box of the little box
Also fell in love with herself
And conceived
Still another little box

And so it went on forever

The world from the little box
Ought to be inside
The last offspring of the little box

But not one of the little boxes
Inside the little box in love with herself
Is the last one

Let’s see you find the world now

— Vasko Popa

The word

And Yukel said:

‘One evening I found myself facing death: a young girl with fascinating eyes. By and by (perhaps because I was thinking of a white rose while looking at her) she took the shape of my dreams and her perfume upset me even more. I suggested exchanging her for the rose of life which is red. –- To whom did I suggest this trade? I do not remember. In our last moments everything around us becomes blurred. –- I touched the white rose to my already cold lips. The red rose disappeared. At a distance I thought I saw a mouth and I distinctly heard it say goodbye to me.
   ‘I was never, through summit or scythe, so close to who we were.
   ‘Never, love, did we come so near the truth of the word.’

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)

Earth, earth, where all is simple

God reveals Himself: an imagination prey to the loss of its image.

I know you, Lord, in the measure that I do not know you. For you are He who comes.

My God, I am reduced to you. I have exiled the word.

*

Try to kill Him with your spears, and you will learn that He is the order of all resistance.

*

God is a questioning of God.

Severed hand,
my five-fingered cup.
I drink what you hold
and am drunk.

*

You live in spite of life. You are more stubborn than death.

*

To doubt means perhaps to abolish limits, to circle the dice.
Earth, earth where all is simple.
God is doubt.

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R Waldrop)

Writing

I have a difficult relationship with writing. […] I find the whole thing very tiring. I am at my happiest when the writing is finished. Though, there is something in the build-up to writing: when it springs from the depths, the darkness, up into the conscious mind, where it remains, swimming around there day in day out, at night in my dreams, when I awake, sitting on the bus, or walking down the street . . . and that beautiful urge to write it all down consumes me. Because if I don’t I might lose this urge, these things might sink back down, never to resurface. And it’s that which compels me, the fear of losing this explosion within me. I feel I need to try and capture it as best I can. I like that part. But the physical act, this, the typing, the stringing the words together, moving the black lines across the page, fills me with a kind of terror that is hard to describe. The terror induced by the slide, the fear of things slipping back down to where they came from.
   All this, of course, means that I have to write, that writing is me, more than just part of me. I suppose I write because I have been given a system, a method of doing this, something that isn’t mine and never will be: language. So, from wherever this all springs from these given words have to be written.
   But, this doesn’t mean that writing is the most important thing in my life. It’s not. It couldn’t be. How can it be? There is so much more to life than this.

— Lee Rourke, Scarecrow Comment

The Emperor’s message

There is a parable that describes this situation very well: The Emperor, so it runs, has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distance before the imperial sun; the Emperor from his deathbed has sent a message to you alone. He has commanded the messenger to kneel down by the bed, and has whispered the message to him; so much store did he lay on it that he ordered the messenger to whisper it back into his ear again. Then by a nod of the head he has confirmed that it is right. Yes, before the assembled spectators of his death — all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and on the spacious and loftily mounting open staircases stand in a ring the great princes of the Empire — before all these he has delivered his message. The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, an indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng; if he encounters resistance he points to his breast, where the symbol of the sun glitters; the way is made easier for him than it would be for any other man. But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly, and soon doubtless you would hear the welcome hammering of his fists on your door. But instead how vainly does he wear out his strength; still he his only making his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he get to the end of them; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; he must next fight his way down the stair; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; the courts would still have to crossed; and after the courts the second outer palace; and once more stairs and courts; and once more another palace; and so on for thousands of years; and if at last he should burst through the outermost gate — but never, never can that happen — the imperial capital would lie before him, the centre of the world, crammed to bursting with its own sediment. Nobody could fight his way through here even with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself.

— Kafka, ‘The Great Wall of China’ (trans. T. and J. Stern)

The Tower of Babel

First, then, it must be said that in those days things were achieved scarcely inferior to the construction of the Tower of Babel, although as regards divine approval, at least according to human reckoning, strongly at variance with that work. I say this because during the early days of building a scholar wrote a book in which he drew the comparison in the most exhaustive way. In it he tried to prove that the Tower of Babel failed to reach its goal, not because of the reasons universally advanced, or at least that among those recognised reasons the most important of all was not to be found. His proofs were drawn not merely from written documents and reports; he also claimed to have made inquiries on the spot, and to have discovered that the tower failed and was bound to fail because of the weakness of the foundation. In this respect at any rate our age was vastly superior to that ancient one. Almost every educated man of our time was a mason by profession and infallible in the matter of laying foundations. That, however, was a not what our scholar was concerned to prove; for he maintained that the Great Wall alone would provide for the first time in the history of mankind a secure foundation for a new Tower of Babel. First the wall, therefore, and then the tower. His book was in everybody’s hands at that time, but I admit that even today I cannot quite make out how he conceived this tower. How could the wall, which did not form even a circle, but only a sort of quarter- or half-circle, provide the foundation for a tower? That could obviously be meant only in a spiritual sense. But in that case why build the actual wall, which after all was something concrete, the result of the lifelong labour of multitudes of people? And why were there in the book plans, somewhat nebulous plans, it must be admitted, of the tower, and proposals worked out in detail for mobilising the people’s energies for the stupendous new work?

— Kafka, ‘The Great Wall of China’ (trans. T. and J. Stern)

Finishing

I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. But I get distracted and start doing something. What I achieve is not the product of an act of my will but of my will’s surrender. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have the courage to quit. 

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