Monthly Archives: November 2009

Born grave

The grown-ups pursued me, the just, caught me, beat me, hounded me back into the round, the game, the jollity. For I was already in the toils of earnestness. That has been my disease. I was born grave as others syphilitic. And gravely I struggled to be grave no more, to live, to invent, I know what I mean. But at each fresh attempt I lost my head, fled to my shadows as to sanctuary, to his lap who can neither live nor suffer the sight of others living.

— Beckett, Malone Dies

If this continues

If this continues it is myself I shall lose and the thousand ways that lead there. And I shall resemble the wretches famed in fable, crushed beneath the weight of their wish come true. And I even feel a wish come over me, the desire to know what I am doing, and why. So I near the goal I set myself in my young days and which prevented me from living. And on the threshold of being no more I succeed in being another. Very pretty.

— Beckett, Malone Dies

The desert trace

Your very something
must become nothing,
drive all something, all nothing away!
Leave place, leave time,
and images as well!
Go without way
On the narrow path,
Thus you will come to the desert trace.

— Master Eckhart (tr. W. Franke)

I could see the road ahead of me

I could see the road ahead of me. I was poor and I was going to stay poor. But I didn’t particularly want money. I didn’t know what I wanted. Yes, I did. I wanted someplace to hide out, someplace where one didn’t have to do anything. The thought of being something didn’t only appal me, it sickened me. The thought of being a lawyer or a councilman or an engineer, anything like that, seemed impossible to me. To get married, to have children. To get trapped in the family structure. To go someplace to work every day and return. It was impossible. To do things, simple things, to be part of family picnics, Christmas, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Mother’s Day… was a man born just to endure these things and then die? I would rather be a dishwasher, return alone to a tiny room and drink myself to sleep.

— Bukowski

Q. How did you get into philosophy in the first place?

A. Failure.

Simon Critchley

Comedy and tragedy

Comedy is much more tragic than tragedy, I always think, and much more about death. Tragedy is about making death meaningful – with some exceptions: you could say that in Sophocles’s Oedipus at Colonus there’s a different relationship to death. But conventionally the tragic hero takes death into him- or herself and it becomes meaningful; we experience catharsis in relation to that and we all go away happily. Comedy is about the inability to achieve that catharsis. So either you can’t die in comedy, which is why Waiting for Godot’s a tragi-comedy: nobody can hang themselves and it’s funny. Or if they do die they pop back up to life, like in Tom and Jerry cartoons. Now what’s the more tragic thought: life coming to an end or life going on forever? The latter’s much more tragic. Swift explores this in Book Three of Gulliver’s Travels: there are the Immortals, the Struldbrugs, who are marked with a red circle in the middle of their foreheads, and lie around in corners having lost all interest in life and not even speaking the language they grew up with. They’re tragic figures. The worst thing would be not death but life carrying on forever, and comedy’s about that. It’s also linked to depression and all sorts of things like that.

— Simon Critchley (via A Piece of Monologue)


The refusal

In all important matters, however, the citizens can always count on a refusal. And now the strange fact is that without this refusal one simply cannot get along, yet at the same time these official occasions designed to receive the refusal are by no means a formality.

— Kafka, ‘The Refusal’ (tr. T. and J. Stern)


I was not at all certain whether I had any advocates, I could not find out anything definite about it, every face was unfriendly, most people who came toward me and whom I kept meeting in the corridors looked like fat old women; they had huge blue-and-white striped aprons covering their entire bodies, kept stroking their stomachs and swaying awkwardly to and fro. I could not even find out whether we were in a law court. Some facts spoke for it, others against. What reminded me of a law court more than all the details was a droning noise which could be heard incessantly in the distance; one could not tell from which direction it came, it filled every room to such an extent that one had to assume it came from everywhere, or, what seemed more likely, that just the place where one happened to be standing was the very place where the droning originated. But this was probably an illusion, for it came from a distance.


But back I cannot go, this waste of time, this admission of having been on the wrong track would be unbearable for me. What? Run downstairs in this brief, hurried life accompanied as it is by that impatient droning? Impossible. The time allotted to you is so short that if you lose one second you have already lost your whole life, for it is no longer, it is always just as long as the time you lose. So if you have started out on a walk, continue it whatever happens; you can only gain, you run no risk, in the end you may fall over a precipice perhaps, but had you turned back after the first steps and run downstairs you would have fallen at once – and not perhaps, but for certain. So if you find nothing in the corridors open the doors, and if you find nothing behind these doors there are more floors, and if you find nothing up there, don’t worry, just leap up another flight of stairs. As long as you don’t stop climbing, the stairs won’t end, under your climbing feet they will go on growing upwards.

— Kafka, ‘Advocates’ (tr. T. and J. Stern)

The aim of art is to prepare a person for death.

— Tarkovsky

‘Have you come to pray for a baby too? Or to be spared them?’
‘I’m just looking.’
‘If there are any casual onlookers who aren’t supplicants, then nothing happens.’
‘What is supposed to happen?’
‘Whatever you like, whatever you need most. But you should at least kneel down.’

— Tarkovsky, Nostalgia