Monthly Archives: July 2009

A hand which writes

Proust first of all speaks the language of La Bruyère, of Flaubert: this is the alienation of writing, from which he gradually frees himself by writing constantly, letters above all. It is, it seems, by writing ‘so many letters’ to ‘so many people’ that he edges towards the movement of writing which will become his own, revealing the form which nowadays we admire as marvellously Proustian and which naive scholars relate to its organic structure. But who is it that speaks here? Is it Proust, the worldly Proust, the one who has the vainest social ambitions and a hankering for the Académie Française, the one who admires Anatole France, the one who writes in the Figaro’s society column? Is it the Proust who has vices, who leads an abnormal life, who takes pleasure in torturing rats in a cage? Is it the Proust who is already dead, motionless, buried, the one whom his friends no longer recognize, a stranger to himself, nothing other than a hand which writes, which ‘writes every day, at every hour, all the time’ and as if outside time, a hand which no longer belongs to anyone? We say Proust, but we sense strongly that it is the wholly other which writes, not simply someone other, but the very demand to write, a demand which employs the name of Proust, but does not express Proust, which only expresses him by disappropriating him, by making him Other.

— Blanchot, ‘The Pursuit of the Zero Point’ (trans. I. Maclachlan)


The Noble Prize

In the obituaries respectfully delivered to mark his passing, the great works of the age have often been mentioned, Proust, Joyce, Musil and even Kafka, these finished-unfinished works, which nevertheless retain, in what one can barely call their failure, ‘a form of appearance of truth’, including, most of all, a concern to glorify, if not the author, then at least art itself by pushing traditional literature (even if one then calls it modern) to its furthest limit. But compare Sartre and Beckett, both having to contend with the false glory of the Nobel Prize for literature. This prize that, nobly, Sartre refused, one might say he did everything possible to be awarded it by the very act of writing Words, a book which, he believed, by the sublime power of its rhetoric, would henceforth make it impossible to hope for a finer work. The dream is a touching but childish one (entirely in keeping with Sartre’s own child-like nature). And the punishment for having wanted to write (and publish) a necessarily glorious text followed immediately, in the form of the award of the Nobel Prize, from which he derived additional glory by rejecting it. Nothing of the sort happened to Beckett: he had neither to accept nor refuse a prize that was for no particular work (there is no work in Beckett) but was simply an attempt to keep within the limits of literature that voice or rumble or murmur which is always under the threat of silence, ‘that undifferentiated speech, spaced without space, affirming beneath all affirmation, impossible to negate, too weak to be silenced, too docile to be constrained, not saying anything, only speaking, speaking without life, without voice, in a voice fainter than any voice: living among the dead, dead among the living, calling to die, to be resurrected in order to die, calling without call’ (and I quote — to end — these lines from Awaiting Oblivion because Beckett was willing to recognize himself in that text).

— Blanchot, ‘Oh All To End’ (trans. L. Hill)

In the pub

The pub is empty apart from a young couple sitting at the other end of the room. It’s a grey afternoon, boring beyond belief, I tell X. The publican stands behind the bar staring into space. It’s like being trapped in a Hopper painting, I say. I tell him he’s embarrassed for the young couple, and the publican too, for that matter, embarrassed by what awaits them, what already engulfs them. And for us too, I say, I’m embarrassed on behalf of all of us. I strain my ears to catch snatches of the couple’s conversation, and it’s as I thought, I say. It doesn’t inspire confidence. They’re talking about the girl’s parents, it seems the mother has a skin problem, but it doesn’t matter, I say, and it certainly doesn’t appear to matter to the young man. The girl looks flat-out bored now, and who can blame her? he says. They’ve stopped talking now, they’re looking down at their mobiles, which are lying on the table. She sits back and plays with her hair. He sips from his drink. They say a few words that make no difference to anything, I tell X. I say I hate it when people look bored, but even more when they say they’re bored, that’s when the embarrassment becomes most acute. People should have the decency not to mention it, I say. After all there’s nothing anyone can do about it, this embarrassing tedium. I hope she doesn’t mention it, I say, women are always saying embarrassing things. I can’t help her any more than her boyfriend can, I say, I have no reason to be here myself, I’m just trying to get drunk in peace, please don’t say it, I say, let’s just try to ignore it in peace. How will this young couple fight against what awaits them, I ask him, against what already surrounds them? They’ll try but they can’t, I say, that’s what’s so embarrassing and so sad, the tepid life that awaits them, that they’re already living, and the fact that there’s nothing I can or want to do about it, even if God forbid I were asked. I suddenly feel disgusted, I say, we have to leave. We have to go, I say, gulping my pint. Imagine if they started talking to us, I say, what if the publican comes over and wants to chat, he’s looking at us now as if he’s wondering why we’re here, I can’t stand it! Holidays are hard work, I say as we leave.

My idea of fun

I tell X I’ve taken everything I could get my hands on, from weed to ecstasy to antidepressants. I’ve worked, worked out, read, stayed in bed, isolated myself, distracted myself, socialised, philosophised, stayed drunk for months, travelled and taken courses. I even got laid once or twice, and still this feeling of desolation pursues me. Like it’s on a mission! I say. Like it was there before me and will be there after me. It lies in wait for me, I say, no, it stretches out before me, no, it surrounds me like a wasteland, no, it drops me in a hole. Is it you, I ask him, are you following me? Maybe I just need to get laid again, find a girlfriend, do some good in the world, start wearing a suit, get a chinchilla, chill out, get a life and have some fun I say.

Endings and beginnings

We have endings, X tells me, that much is clear, everything ends all the time, in fact his life seems like one long ending. But to end you have to begin, he says, there are no ends without beginnings. Thus we begin as often as we end, and end as we begin, which makes our despair meaningless. Or is my logic flawed? he asks. Probably, he says. We breathe the dust of the dead and living, he says. The corpses we plant become seeds and we’re the seeds of past and future corpses, hardly distinguishable from one another. Am I part of you or are you part of me? he asks. I come to you in my tiredness, he says, in my exhaustion, to renew myself in these words, in all the things I have to say to you, in all my questions. My questions unanswered, they begin again in new forms, so lightly here, like clouds that form and disperse. And yet it could be, he says, it could very well be that I just need to get laid.

Charlie Kaufman on Synecdoche

Q. Is there someone in charge of this movie in the same way [as in Adaption and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind]?

A. No, I think this movie is different than either of those movies you’re talking about, because it doesn’t… I think those movies ultimately have a safety valve, in that there’s a clever conceit that you come to understand, and that in a way is safe. And it’s also something you can go, ‘Oh yeah, oh God, that guy’s smart’, you know, which is ego-stroking for me. This movie, and the script, was intentionally not like that. I didn’t … there’s no clever ‘reveal’ in this movie, it doesn’t turn out that this is anything other than what you’re watching, it doesn’t give you any place to land, which feels to me more honest […] Things flying away, things flying off, things becoming unhinged, and things being … incomprehensible, seems to be … to be the process of existence, when you strip away the conceits you have in your own life. You know, to put it in a kind of framework that makes sense, which we do. And that seemed like a real and valid thing to explore, and I wanted to explore it in a real and valid way […] And what I’ve noticed with this movie in terms of the response is that people tend to have these responses a day after, or a week after, probably not with everybody, but with the people that respond to it, there seems to be a kind of growing response, kind of like it’s a virus, it’s multiplying inside them… which to me says that there’s something going on in the movie that’s worth thinking about.

Charlie Kaufman

The gods

The Greeks were right, X tells me, the gods are flawed. They laze around and bicker. The heavens aren’t serene, far from it, he says, they roar with laughter, earnest speech, drunken shouts, arguments about what to name us and what we’ve named them and how to interpret the events they’ve caused. Confusion reigns up there, he says, it’s a dysfunctional parliament of deities, and that’s the source of all our confusion, all our noise. If we’re weak imitations of the gods, imagine what it must be like up there, he says. If we’re the trailing off of their shouts, the ripples of their noise, at least we can rest sometimes in our limitation and our stupidity, at least we have the makings of silence, he says. And maybe that’s what they dream of, the gods, maybe that’s why they made us in their image, only infinitely weaker: to embody their wish for silence, like dying ripples, like shouts in the wind: to sacrifice us to silence. But they’re too noisy, X says, and they know that whatever they bring into being will be moved by their noise. Yet their hope is that as time moves into eternity, as we move into timelessness, their own noise will die out with us. That’s both their hope and our great mission, he says, that we can become silent even if they themselves can’t, that silence can exist in the world even if it’s only a silence of weakness, a silence that hears what can’t be silenced.