‘Can’t you be quiet now?’ the doctor said. He had come in late one afternoon to find Nora writing a letter. ‘Can’t you be done now, can’t you give up? Now be still, now that you know what the world is about, knowing it’s about nothing?’
— Djuna Barnes, Nightwood
God is the answer, we agree, the only possible answer. But to even approach God we’d have to go beyond each other, beyond our constant warring. To be with God we’d have to become something quite different: we’d have to become God himself. But God for us can only be incomprehensibility. To be with God we’d have to burst out of our skin altogether, together. We can’t begin to do this on our own, we’d have to rely entirely on God. But for us God can only mean our lack of God, unless he were to pull us out of ourselves, out of our dying skin and into himself, something we prevent every minute of every day.
Your blind pale face below the surface, just beneath my reflection. Open your eyes, wake up. You’re asleep, submerged, your life is a dream. If it weren’t for me, for my gaze, you’d float away, your back to the sky, hair and limbs adrift in the current… And if it weren’t for you? I’d float off too, into the air, and take up with someone else, go and raise some other rootless semi-spirit.
Saturday. You sleep. You sit in front of the screen. Nothing, as usual. But the onus isn’t on you to insert yourself into the world, to make your mark. Don’t listen to me. But you have to, I’m the one who makes you. Open your notebook. Nothing. It’s laughable. But are we laughing? Sit up straight. You have to. But maybe there’s a kind of writing, or being, that exists with or alongside this nothingness that greets you every morning, in every room. Something out of nothing, nothing out of something.
To spare himself the trouble of organizing and publishing the richest part of his prose, Pessoa invented The Book of Disquiet, which never existed, strictly speaking, and can never exist. What we have here isn’t a book but its subversion and negation: the ingredients for a book whose recipe is to keep sifting, the mutant germ of a book and its weirdly lush ramifications, the rooms and windows to build a book but no floor plan and no floor, a compendium of many potential books and many others already in ruins.
–Richard Zenith, from his Introduction to The Book of Disquiet
Sleepy pubs in the afternoon. The world seems soft, like when you wake up from a good sleep. Unusual – a day to be quietly celebrated. Drafts through front and back doors, across bars and pool tables. Sunlight in the leaves outside, through the stained-glass windows, across the scarred tables. You sit among the regulars, the old-timers, the odd nutter. You seep out of yourself, float into the warm air. Workers in splattered overalls filter in, laughing. Soon the suits will arrive and it’ll be time to leave. But there comes a point, after a few pubs, when you can gather yourself in and sit still, in your skin, where you happen to be. And now you can sit for what seems like hours, in the slanting light, hardly moving, hardly thinking, against a background of muffled chatter, until I start to berate you.
‘If these gouaches live at all, it is because they are true, they derive from life. They are born of the unknown – and not of habit, or know-how, or intention, or of some recipe.’
Echoing what I have just told him about my work:
‘There comes a time when serious work is no longer an effort. When demanding work of that kind no longer tires you.
‘You just have to give back what you have received.
‘Sometimes, you work, you do your best, but there is no reward. The thing escapes you, you can’t get inside it.
‘Too many artists play it safe and keep within the bounds of the possible.
‘Above all, never affirm.
‘It’s important to see that my paintings are ultimately stimulating. They are not at all the kind of thing that inspires despair.’
— Bram van Velde, in Juliet’s Conversations with Samuel Becket and Bran van Velde