Monthly Archives: November 2011

Where did I take refuge?

I fell into a complex state of mental indiscipline and general indifference. Where did I take refuge? My impression is that I didn’t take refuge anywhere. I abandoned myself to I don’t know what.

— Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet (tr. Zenith)

One writes for the disadjusted… that is to say, for one’s friends, and less for the friends one has than for the innumerable unknown people who have the same life as us, who roughly and crudely understand the same things, are able to accept or must refuse the same, and who are in the same state of powerlessness and official silence.

— Dionys Mascolo, via here

Down to the most grotesque details, beyond our strength

I feel myself moving away from ideas of poverty and bareness. They are still superlatives. […] There is not having and there is not being able to, perhaps too much of a tendency to think of them as standing together. The poor are able to, rather. Not even poor, that is what we have to bear, not even poor and yet not able to. If there were even one specific thing that we were not able to do, but we do not know what there is that could be done. But you are only too familiar with these elaborations; old no doubt as sadness. And that we cannot follow either, from weakness of mind. How weak it must be, not to be able to follow that! Treasures of poverty, maybe; but of impotence, no, we shall do without treasures. We shall always have enough to keep living, in ignorance and weakness, really without pride, enough to keep living, right down to the most grotesque details, beyond our strength. Not without joy, this observation that every effort is the story of a collapse, it is really restful. That there are superior minds (no irony) which know and are able to, I can readily grant. But when one is not gifted, really stupid and clumsy, what is one to go in for? Cunning? Art? Keeping quiet? Silence will come soon enough, not from pride, but from weariness of speech.

— Beckett, letter to Georges Duthuit, 1950

Vladimir: The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said?

— Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Forget everything. Open the windows. Clear the room. The wind blows through it. You see only its emptiness, you search in every corner and don’t find yourself.

— Kafka, Diaries (tr. Greenberg)

La Soufrière

On that day we found a man who had refused to leave the district. We had to wake him up first.
‘What’s going on here?’
‘You’ve refused to leave the district, haven’t you?’
‘Yes. I’m here because it’s God’s will. I’m waiting for my death. And I wouldn’t know where to go anyway. I haven’t a cent, I’m poor.’
‘You’re waiting for death?’
‘Yes, and no one knows when it’ll come. It is as God has commanded. He will not only take me to his bosom but everyone else. Like life, death is forever, I haven’t the slightest fear.’
‘Are you afraid?’
‘Not one bit.’
‘Why not?’
‘God takes everyone to his bosom, not just one, not just me. He has ordained this for us.’
‘Why don’t you move out?’
‘Where should I go? Death waits forever, it is eternal. I’m not afraid of dying.’

— From Herzog’s La Soufrière

23 September. This story, “The Judgment,” I wrote at one sitting during the night of the 22nd-23rd, from ten o’clock at night to six o’clock in the morning. I was hardly able to pull my legs out from under the desk, they had got so stiff from sitting. The fearful strain and joy, how the story developed before me, as if I were advancing over water. Several times during this night I heaved my own weight on my back. How everything can be said, how for everything, for the strangest fancies, there waits a great fire in which they perish and rise up again. How it turned blue outside the window. A wagon rolled by. Two men walked across the bridge. At two I looked at the clock for the last time. As the maid walked through the anteroom for the first time I wrote the last sentence. Turning out the light and the light of day. The slight pains around my heart. The weariness that disappeared in the middle of the night. The trembling entrance into my sisters’ room. Reading aloud. Before that, stretching in the presence of the maid and saying, “I’ve been writing until now.” The appearance of the undisturbed bed, as though it had just been brought in. The conviction verified that with my novel-writing I am in the shameful lowlands of writing. Only in this way can writing be done, only with such coherence, with such a complete opening out of the body and the soul. Morning in bed. The always clear eyes.

— Kafka, Diaries (tr. Greenberg)


Monks of certain orders are said to have slept in their coffins. Some sadhus are known to have allowed themselves to be buried alive for up to forty days. St James’ forehead and knees were hard as camel’s hoofs from praying. Origen castrated himself. John of the Cross prayed to ‘suffer and be despised’. St Rose of Lima disfigured her beautiful face with pepper and lye. You get drunk and watch sitcoms.

I went in; I closed the door. I sat down on the bed. Blackest space extended before me. I was not in this blackness, but at the edge of it, and I confess that it is terrifying. It is terrifying because there is something in it which scorns man and which man cannot endure without losing himself. But he must lose himself; and whoever resists will founder, and whoever goes toward it will become this very blackness, this cold and dead and scornful thing in the very heart of which lives the infinite. This blackness stayed next to me, probably because of my fear: this fear was not the fear people know about, it did not break me, it did not pay any attention to me, but wandered around the room the way human things do.

— Blanchot, ‘Death Sentence’

Then I started to go and as I went I heard her singing another song, or perhaps more verses of the same, fainter and fainter the further I went, then no more, either because she had come to an end or because I was gone too far to hear her. To have to harbour such a doubt was something I preferred to avoid, at that period. I lived of course in doubt, on doubt, but such trivial doubts as this, purely somatic as some say, were best cleared up without delay, they could nag at me like gnats for weeks on end. So I retraced my steps a little way and stopped. At first I heard nothing, then the voice again, but only just, so faintly did it carry. First I didn’t hear it, then I did, I must therefore have begun hearing it, at a certain point, but no, there was no beginning, the sound emerged so softly from the silence and so resembled it. When the voice ceased at last I approached a little nearer, to make sure it had really ceased and not merely been lowered. Then in despair, saying, No knowing, no knowing, short of being beside her, bent over her, I turned on my heel and went, for good, full of doubt.

— Beckett, ‘First Love