Monthly Archives: February 2011

The true and only virtue, then, is to hate self (for we are hateful on account of lust) and to seek a truly lovable being to love. But as we cannot love what is outside ourselves, we must love a being who is in us and is not ourselves; and that is true of each and all men. Now, only the Universal Being is such. The kingdom of God is within us; the universal good is within us, is ourselves — and not ourselves.

Pascal, Pensées (tr. Trotter)

Man cannot live without a permanent trust in something indestructible in himself, though both the indestructible element and the trust may remain permanently hidden from him. One of the ways in which this hiddenness can express itself is through faith in a personal god.

— Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)

The ghostly element

How on earth did anyone get the idea that people can communicate with one another by letter! Of a distant person one can think, and of a person who is near one can catch hold – all else goes beyond human strength. Writing letters, however, means to denude oneself before the ghosts, something for which they greedily wait. Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts. It is on this ample nourishment that they multiply so enormously. Humanity senses this and fights against it and in order to eliminate as far as possible the ghostly element between people and to create a natural communication, the peace of souls, it has invented the railway, the motor car, the aeroplane. But it’s no longer any good, these are evidently inventions being made at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and stronger; after the postal service it has invented the telegraph, the telephone, the radiograph. The ghosts won’t starve, but we will perish.

— Kafka, quoted here

Where would I go, if I could go, who would I be, if I could be, what would I say, if I had a voice, who says this, saying it’s me? Answer simply, someone answer simply. It’s the same old stranger as ever, for whom alone accusative I exist, in the pit of my inexistence, of his, of ours, there’s a simple answer. It’s not with thinking he’ll find me, but what is he to do, living and bewildered, yes, living, say what he may. Forget me, know me not, yes, that would be the wisest, none better able than he.

— Becket, Texts for Nothing 4

A roaring nothing

To die would mean nothing else than to surrender a nothing to the nothing, but that would be impossible to conceive, for how could a person, even only as a nothing, consciously surrender himself to the nothing, and not merely to an empty nothing but rather to a roaring nothing whose nothingness consists only in its incomprehensibility.

— Kafka, Diaries


The decisively characteristic thing about this world is its transience. In this sense centuries have no advantage over the present moment. Thus the continuity of transience cannot give any consolation; the fact that new life blossoms among the ruins proves not so much the tenacity of life as that of death. If I wish to fight against this world, I must fight against its decisively characteristic element, that is, against its transience. Can I do that in this life, and, what is more, really and not only by means of hope and faith?

And so you want to fight against the world and, what is more, with weapons that are more real than hope and faith. There probably are such weapons, but they can be recognized and used only by those who have certain definite qualifications; I want to see first whether you have these qualifications.

Look into it. But if I have not got them, perhaps I can get them.

Certainly, but that is a matter in which I could not help you.

And so you can only help me if I already have the qualifications.

Yes. To put it more precisely, I cannot help you at all, for if you had these qualifications, you would have everything.

– Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)

The commandment of eternity

I should welcome eternity, and when I do find it I am sad. I should feel myself perfect by virtue of eternity – and feel myself depressed?

You say: I should – feel. In saying this do you express a commandment that is within yourself?

That is what I mean.

Now, it is impossible that only a commandment is implanted in you, in such a way that you only hear that commandment and that nothing more happens. Is it a continual or only an occasional commandment?

As to that, I cannot be sure. I believe, however, it is a continual commandment, but that I hear it only occasionally.

From what do you draw that conclusion?

From the fact that I hear it, as it were, even when I do not hear it, in such a way that, although it is not audible itself, it muffles or embitters the voice bidding me do the other thing: that is to say, the voice that makes me ill at ease with eternity.

And do you hear the other voice in a similar way when the commandment of eternity is speaking?

Yes, then too, indeed sometimes I believe I hear nothing but the other voice and everything else seems to be only a dream and it is as though I were just letting the dream go on talking at random.

Why do you compare the inner commandment to a dream? Does it seem senseless as a dream, incoherent, inevitable, unique, making you happy or frightening you equally without cause, not wholly communicable, but demanding to be communicated?

All that – senseless; for only if I do not obey it can I maintain myself here; incoherent, for I don’t know whose command it is and what he is aiming at; inevitable, for it finds me unprepared, descending upon me as surprisingly as dreams descend upon the sleeper, who, after all, since he lay down to sleep, must have been prepared for dreams. It is unique, or at least seems to be so, for I cannot obey it, it does not mingle with reality, and so it keeps its immaculate uniqueness; it makes me happy or frightens me, both without cause, though admittedly it does the first much more rarely than the second; it is not communicable, because it is not intelligible, and for the same reason it demands to be communicated.

— Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)

Job interviews

Job interviews, X tells me, that’s what we need! The more important and professional the better. A round table of influential men and women in business suits, severity and seriousness, that’s what we need. Job interviews every day! Or maybe we could get them to install some kind of CCTV system, he says, then we could just stay at home, then they could see it for themselves, without our bullshit. To live in the public eye, he says, twenty-four hours a day, like they used to live under God’s eye, that’ll teach us, that’ll straighten us up. Or we could go on one of those shows, he says, imagine us trying to present a serious business proposal!


So I kind of put myself in a trance, and nobody could get through to me for hours on end. I’d just sit there staring into the distance and they gave me a Seconal and put me in a private cell that night, and the next day I was transferred to the neuro-psychiatric ward. So it was kind of a tricky business, trying to keep from getting the shock treatment and at the same time getting what I wanted, which was out.

Chet Baker

Life-giving death

Will I have to have the courage to use an undefended heart and go on speaking to nothing and no one? as when a child thinks about nothingness. And to run the risk of being crushed by chance. I don’t understand what I saw. I don’t even know if I saw it, since my eyes ended up not being separate from what I saw. Only in an unexpected rippling of the lines, only in an anomaly of in the uninterrupted continuity of my culture did I for an instant experience life-giving death. That purified death that made me sort through the forbidden weft of life. Saying the name of life is forbidden. And I almost said it. I almost couldn’t disentangle myself from its weft, which would have been the destruction of my age inside me.

— Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. (tr. Sousa)

Do you really hate your own novels?

Q. Do you really hate your own novels?

A. Yes! I hate them. I mean that. Nobody believes me, but it’s true. They’re an embarrassment and a deep source of shame. They’re better than everybody else’s, of course, but not good enough for me. There is a great deal more pain than pleasure in writing fiction. It’s only now and then, maybe once every three or four days, that I manage to write a sentence in which I hear that wonderful harmonic chime that you get when, say, you flick the edge of a wine glass with a fingernail.

John Banville