Monthly Archives: July 2010

What happens when we sit down in the silence of that early morning and start to draw the fruit? We begin to discover its otherness. We begin to learn, in our bodies, through our fingers, what its breath is, we begin to feel the stream of life in which it floats. We begin to experience that stream as other than ours, and yet by the activity of hand and eye and mind and body we begin to partake of that stream. And as we do so we are more possessed by the melon than possessing it. And in that state we start to discover something about ourselves, about the stream of life in which we float. We start to experience ourselves not, as we ordinarily do, from the inside, but from some point outside ourselves, we start to sense ourselves as having no more but also no less right to exist than the melon before us, the cat lying asleep on the table beside it, the tree that can be seen through the window.


Proust conveys miraculously both the sense of pleasure Marcel takes in the world about him and his intense desire to transmute that pleasure into something permanent by writing about it; but he also conveys the failure of such attempts. I cannot tell you how exhilarating I found this. Instead of feeling that the failure I was encountering daily was a purely personal one, I now saw that it had to do with the nature of the project itself. And, if that was so, then it was something that could be lived with and, by being accepted, be overcome. Overcome not by being left behind but by being incorporated into whatever had to be said.


The risus purus

Of all the laughs that strictly speaking are not laughs, but modes of ululation, only three I think need detain us, I mean the bitter, the hollow and the mirthless. They correspond to successive… how shall I say successive… suc… successive excoriations of the understanding, and the passage from the one to the other is the passage from the lesser to the greater, from the lower to the higher, from the outer to the inner, from the gross to the fine, from the matter to the form. The laugh that now is mirthless once was hollow, the laugh that once was hollow once was bitter. And the laugh that once was bitter? Eyewater, Mr. Watt, eyewater. But do not let us waste our time with that. . . . The bitter, the hollow and—Haw! Haw!— the mirthless. The bitter laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethical laugh. The hollow laugh laughs at that which is not true, it is the intellectual laugh. Not good! Not true! Well well. But the mirthless laugh is the dianoetic laugh, down the snout—Haw!—so. It is the laugh of laughs, the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs—silence please—at that which is unhappy.

— Beckett, Watt

‘It may have been what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis’, he said. ‘It was just feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false. And there was nothing, and you were nothing – it was all a delusion. But you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn’t function.’

‘When that happens to you,’ David said, smiling, ‘you get unprecedentedly willing to examine other alternatives for how to live.’

‘The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace’

They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it — a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.


Kafka and the sickness of tradition (via here).

Vocation and life

Direct intercourse with the authorities was not particularly difficult then, for well organized as they might be, all they did was to guard the distant and invisible interests of distant and invisible masters, while K. fought for something vitally near to him, for himself, and moreover, at least at the very beginning, on his own initiative, for he was the attacker; and besides he fought not only for himself, but clearly for other powers as well which he did not know, but in which, without infringing the regulations of the authorities, he was permitted to believe. But now by the fact that they had at once amply met his wishes in all unimportant matters – and hitherto only unimportant matters had come up – they had robbed him of the possibility of light and easy victories, and with that of the satisfaction which must accompany them and the well-grounded confidence for further and greater struggles which must result from them. Instead, they let K. go anywhere he liked – of course only within the village – and thus pampered and enervated him, ruled out all possibility of conflict, and transported him to an unofficial, totally unrecognized, troubled, and alien existence. In this life it might easily happen, if he were not always on his guard, that one day or other, in spite of the amiability of the authorities and the scrupulous fulfilment of all his exaggeratedly light duties, he might – deceived by the apparent favour shown him – conduct himself so imprudently that he might get a fall; and the authorities, still ever mild and friendly, and as it were against their will, but in the name of some public regulation unknown to him, might have to come and clear him out of the way. And what was it, this other life to which he was consigned? Never yet had K. seen vocation and life so interlaced as here, so interlaced sometimes one might think that they had exchanged places. What importance, for example, had the power, merely formal up till now, which Klamm exercised over K.’s services, compared with the very real power which Klamm possessed in K.’s bedroom? So it came about that while a light and frivolous bearing, a certain deliberate carelessness was sufficient when one came in direct contact with the authorities, one needed in everything else the greatest caution, and had to look round on every side before one made a single step.

— Kafka, The Castle (tr. W. and E. Muir)

Kafka quotes 2

From the Diary:

Since people lack a sense of context, their literary activities are out of context too.

The metaphysical urge is only the urge toward death.

Discoveries have forced themselves on people.

Uncertainty, aridity, peace – all things will resolve themselves into these and pass away.

What an effort to keep alive! Erecting a monument does not require the expenditure of so much strength.

The life of society moves in a circle. Only those burdened with a common affliction understand each other.

We are permitted to crack that whip, the will, over us with our own hand.

Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point has to be reached.

There is a goal, but no way; but what we call a way is hesitation.

Knowledge of oneself is something only Evil has.

We were expelled from Paradise, but Paradise was not destroyed. In a sense our expulsion from Paradise was a stroke of luck, for had we not been expelled, Paradise would have had to be destroyed.

Religions get lost as people do.

From ‘He’:

Some deny the existence of misery by pointing to the sun; he denies the existence of the sun by pointing to misery.

He has found Archimedes’ fulcrum, but he has turned it to account against himself, clearly he was permitted to find it only on this condition.

From letters:

God doesn’t want me to write, but I – I must.
– To Oskar Pollak

I usually solve problems by letting them devour me.
– To Max Brod

I am away from home and must always write home, even if any home of mine has long since floated away into eternity.
– To Max Brod

Silence, I believe, avoids me, as water on the beach avoids stranded fish.
– To Felice Bauer

I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.
– To Ottla (sister)

Man is an immense swamp. If he is seized with enthusiasm, the effect in the general picture is as though somewhere in a corner of this swamp a little frog had flopped into the green water.

Quotes from friends:

The look in Kafka’s eyes was always a little puzzled, full of the wisdom of children and of melancholy slightly counterpointed by an enigmatic smile. He always seemed to be somewhat embarrassed.
– John Urzidil, The Kafka Problem

The fact is we all seem capable of living, because at some time or other we have taken refuge in a lie, in blindness, in enthusiasm, in optimism, in some conviction, in pessimism or something of the sort. He has never taken refuge in anything. He is absolutely incapable of lying, just as he is incapable of getting drunk.
– Milena Jesenská

He marvels at everything, including typewriters and women. He will never understand.
–Milena Jesenská


Waiting for the Miracle

I don’t believe you’d like it,
You wouldn’t like it here.
There ain’t no entertainment
and the judgements are severe.
The Maestro says it’s Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

Waiting for the miracle
There’s nothing left to do.
I haven’t been this happy
since the end of World War II.

Nothing left to do
when you know that you’ve been taken.
Nothing left to do
when you’re begging for a crumb
Nothing left to do
when you’ve got to go on waiting
waiting for the miracle to come.
When you’ve fallen on the highway
and you’re lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you’re doing
of course you’ll say you can’t complain —
If you’re squeezed for information,
that’s when you’ve got to play it dumb:
You just say you’re out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.

— Leonard Cohen, from ‘Waiting for the Miracle’

Just about

‘I was just about able to go on. What did this “just about” amount to? An infinity, far beyond my comprehension, like a child’s first word.’