Monthly Archives: October 2011

If I read a book that interested me, I read it with vivid pleasure, but my very pleasure was behind a pane of glass and unavailable to me because of that, but also far away and in an eternal past. Yet where unimportant people and things were involved, life regained its ordinary meaning and actuality, so that though I preferred to keep life at a distance, I had to seek it in simple actions and everyday people.

— Blanchot, ‘Death Sentence’

From the other bank

When you were young and jobless, you’d leave your flat and walk the streets like a ghost: it was their world, you were just passing through. You’d walk from pub to pub having a drink in each, you’d walk yourself into the ground so you could sleep. Back home, you’d stand at your window while you waited for the shower to warm up. The window gave on a slant of the river that wound through the town. You often stood watching it carry its grimy load seaward. Sometimes a kind of mental mist would steal over you. As evening fell, your reflection would appear in the window, slowly replacing the river. The more you examined it – those empty unblinking eyes, those straight lips – the harder it was to feel it was yours. It was a thing among things, untenanted, like a face watching you from the other bank.

I’m reluctant to call [my work] poetry. I like your idea of footnotes, or notes or some other kind of activity, because I think there is an enterprise called poetry today and I don’t really feel part of it […] I don’t have that mind that seems to be valued today. I can’t understand a lot of the stuff that’s written.

Leonard Cohen, via here

Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, dummy life…. A house, in the American sense, an American apple or a grapevine over there, has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, the grape into which went the hopes and reflections of our forefathers … Live things, things that are alive — that are conscious of us — are running out and can no longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last to have known such things.

–- Rilke (via here)

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

— Wallace Stevens

“Are you as lonely as that?” I asked.
Kafka nodded.
“Like Kaspar Hauser?”
Kafka laughed.
“Much worse than Kaspar Hauser. I’m as lonely as… Franz Kafka.”

— Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka

I realize more and more that I am so constituted that I shall not succeed in realizing my ideals… Ordinarily, most people aim their ideals at the Great, the Extraordinary, which they never attain. I am far too melancholy to harbor such ideals. One would smile at my ideals… I aspire to be as little as possible; that is precisely the core of my melancholy. For that very reason I have been content to be regarded as half-mad, though this merely was a negative form of being something out of the ordinary. And this may quite possibly remain my essential form of existence, and I shall never attain the pleasant, becalmed existence of being something very small.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journals, via here

The everyday is not exact, it is a cliché; realism requires vertiginous originality. But how can one be exact about what is truly unspeakable? One can only write knowing that one approaches and approximates, and that language fails you the while; you run after exactness, but the world gets away and your words fail. Beckett taught us about this failure because he knew failure and writing were synonymous.


Black: How long you felt like this?

White: All my life.

Black: And that’s the truth.

White: It’s worse than that.

Black: I dont see what could be worse than that.

White: Rage is really only for the good days. The truth is there’s little of that left. The truth is that the forms I see have been slowly emptied out. They no longer have any content. They are shapes only. A train, a wall, a world. Or a man. A thing dangling in senseless articulation in a howling void. No meaning to its life. Its words. Why would I seek the company of such a thing? Why?

Black: Damn.

White: You see what it is you’ve saved.

Black: Tried to save. Am tryin. Tryin hard.

— Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited

Black: What is it you believe in?

White: A lot of things.

Black: All right.

White: All right what?

Black: All right what things.

White: I believe in things.

Black: You said that.

White: Probably I dont believe in a lot of things that I used to believe in but that doesnt mean I dont believe in anything.

Black: Well give me a for instance.

White: Mostly the value of things.

Black: Value of things.

White: Yes.

Black: Okay. What things.

White: Lots of things. Cultural things, for instance. Books and music and art. Things like that.

Black: All right.

White: Those are the kinds of things that have value to me. They’re the foundations of civilization. Or they used to have value. I suppose they dont have so much any more.

Black: What happened to em?

White: People stopped valuing them. I stopped valuing them. To a certain extent. I’m not sure I could tell you why. That world is largely gone. Soon it will be wholly gone.

Black: I aint sure I’m followin you, Professor.

White: There’s nothing to follow. It’s all right. The things that I loved were very frail. Very fragile. I didnt know that. I thought they were indestructible. They werent.

Black: And that’s what sent you off the edge of the platform. It wasnt nothing personal.

White: It is personal. That’s what an education does. It makes the world personal.

Black: Hm.

White: Hm what.

Black: Well. I was just thinkin that them is some pretty powerful words. I dont know that I got a answer about any of that and it might be that they aint no answer. But still I got to ask what is the use of notions such as them if it wont keep you glued down to the platform when the Sunset Limited comes through at eighty mile a hour.

White: Good question.

Black: I thought so.

White: I dont have an answer to any of that either. Maybe it’s not logical. I dont know. I dont care. I’ve been asked didnt I think it odd that I should be present to witness the death of everything and I do think it’s odd but that doesnt mean it’s not so. Someone has to be here.

— Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited