Monthly Archives: September 2009

An anonymous cause

 But images of this kind the will cannot revive without doing them violence. Much of what they had it takes away, much they never had it foists upon them. And the Molloy I brought to light, that memorable August Sunday, was certainly not the true denizen of my dark places, for it was not his hour. But so far as the essential features were concerned, I was easy in my mind, the likeness was there. And the discrepancy could have been still greater for all I cared. For what I was doing I was doing neither for Molloy, who mattered nothing to me, nor for myself, of whom I despaired, but on behalf of a cause which, while having need of us to be accomplished, was in its essence anonymous, and would subsist, haunting the minds of men, when its miserable artisans should be no more. It will not be said, I think, that I did not take my work to heart. But rather, tenderly, Ah those old craftsmen, their race is extinct and the mould broken.

— Beckett, Molloy


The writer’s mastery

The writer’s mastery is not in the hand that writes, the ‘sick’ hand that never lets the pencil go – that can’t let it go because what it holds it doesn’t really hold; what it holds belongs to the realm of shadows, and it is itself a shade. Mastery always characterises the other hand, the one that doesn’t write and is capable of intervening at the right moment to seize the pencil and put it aside. Thus mastery consists in the power to stop writing, to interrupt what is being written, thereby restoring to the present instant its rights, its decisive trenchancy.

— Blanchot, The Space of Literature (trans. A. Smock)

Marvellous impossibility

The evening after she goes, you tell the story of the affair in a bar. At first you tell it as if it were possible to do so, then you give up. Then you tell it laughingly, as if it were impossible for it to have happened or possible for you to have invented it.
The next day, suddenly, perhaps you’d notice her absence in the room. The next day, you’d perhaps feel a desire to see her there again, in the strangeness of your solitude, as a stranger herself.
Perhaps you’d look for her outside your room, on the beaches, outside cafés, in the streets. But you wouldn’t be able to find her, because in the light of day you can’t recognize anyone. You wouldn’t recognize her. All you know of her is her sleeping body beneath her shut or half-shut eyes. The penetration of one body by another – that you can’t recognize, ever. You couldn’t ever.
When you wept it was just over yourself and not because of the marvelous impossibility of reaching her through the difference that separates you.

— Duras, ‘The Malady of Death’ (trans. B. Bray)

William Bronk

There Is Ignorant Silence in the Center of Things

What am I saying? What have I got to say?
As though I knew. But I don’t. I look around
almost in a sort of despair for anything
I know. For anything. Some mislaid bit.
I must have had it somewhere, somewhere here.
Nothing. There is silence here. Were there people, once?
They must have all gone off. No, there are still
people, still a few. But the sound is off.
If we could talk, could hear each other speak
could we piece something, could we learn and teach,
could we know?
Hopeless. Off in the distance, busyness.
Something building or coming down. Cries.
Clamor. Fuss at the edges. What? Here,
at the center — it is the center? — only the sound
of silence, that mocking sound. Awful. Once,
before this, I stood in an actual ruin, a street
no longer a street, in a town no longer a town,
and felt the central, strong suck of it, not
understanding what I felt: the heart of things.
This nothing. This full silence. To not know.


Metonymy as an Approach to a Real World

Whether what we sense of this world
is the what of this world only, or the what
of which of several possible worlds
– which what? – something of what we sense
may be true, may be the world, what it is, what we sense.
For the rest, a truce is possible, the tolerance
of travelers, eating foreign foods, trying words
that twist the tongue, to feel that time and place,
not thinking that this is the real world.

Conceded, that all the clocks tell local time;
conceded, that “here” is anywhere we bound
and fill a space; conceded, we make a world:
is something caught there, contained there,
something real, something which we can sense?
Once in a city blocked and filled, I saw
the light lie in the deep chasm of a street,
palpable and blue, as though it had drifted in
from say, the sea, a purity of space.


World, world, I am scared
and waver in awe before the wilderness
of raw consciousness, because it is all
dark and formlessness; and it is real
this passion that we feel for forms. But the forms
are never real. Are not really there. Are not.

(from ‘Light and Dark’)

— William Bronk

Home truths

‘You talked about *home truths*,’ he wrote, ‘which itself was a turn of phrase that made me hate you. I hated its easy abundance, the idea that anything in life could be so simple and clear-cut. All these years later, I am writing now to say that you were right; the things you said then I now recognise to be true. But I recognise their truth with this codicil, which isn’t a part of me, but which comes from elsewhere: this recognition is like a very small and temporary chink in a well-fitted armour, and I know that I shall re-read this and find that what I say is false. I shall believe and know it to be false, just as it was false in the past. Yet it will be true, if I can adequately command this moment of opportunity to set the record straight…’

No Answers

The tragic denouement

It’s ended, X tells me, it’s all finished, once again. It’s swallowed me up, covered me with soil, I’m done, he says. This is it, the third act, when the gun comes out, it’s the tragic denouement, every time I wake up. How do people figure out how to live, where do they get the energy? But of course you wouldn’t know, he says.


The world should never have been created, X tells me, it was a cosmic miscarriage. God must’ve felt a moment of horror when he saw what he’d done and what would happen, then withdrawn from his creation forever. Maybe the Gnostics are right, he says, and the world really was created by an evil demiurge. Or maybe the Jainists are right, maybe we need to get rid of all this filthy matter so we can float up into God.

The stranger

As usual he discriminated between the throbbing man and the one that looked on: looked on with concern, with sympathy, with a sigh, or with bland surprise… The stranger quietly watching the torrents of local grief from an abstract bank. A familiar figure, albeit anonymous and aloof. He saw me crying when I was ten and led me to a looking glass in an unused room (with an empty parrot cage in a corner) so that I might study my dissolving face. He has listened to me with raised eyebrows when I said things which I had no business to say. In every mask I tried on, there were slits for his eyes. Even at the very moment when I was rocked by the convulsion men value most. My saviour. My witness.

— Nabokov, Bend Sinister

Borges and I

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
I do not know which of us has written this page.

— Borges, ‘Borges and I’ (trans. J. Irby)


Because [the Daimon] is simple, the man heterogeneous and confused, they are but knit together when the man has found a mask whose lineaments permit the expression of all the man most lacks, and it may be dreads, and of that only.

— Yeats, ‘Per Amica Silentia Lunae’