Monthly Archives: August 2012

Writing that writes itself

These notes my go-betweens to no one. In lieu of a line to God.

I send them out, offer them up, let them fall from my hands.

I dream of a form of writing that would write itself. Of writing without writing. Absolution.

— Frenet, Journal

All is confusion

There are strange lucid mornings when everything around me seems new and unfamiliar, like when you move into a new home. An uncanny silence descends on everything, like an interruption… I drink my tea, leave the flat and the world’s white noise returns, the town’s sounds and signs sweep over me, sweep me away, sweep away the silence which now seems an illusion. All is confusion.

– Frenet, Journal

The life I lived wasn’t my own

I put the glass back on the table and stubbed out the cigarette. There was nothing left of all the feelings for the people I’d just spent several hours with. The whole lot of them could have burnt to death without my feeling anything for them. That was a constant in my life. When I was with other people I was bound to them, I felt an incredible intimacy and empathy, so much so that their wellbeing was always more important than my own. I subordinated myself almost to the point of self-effacement: I put whatever they might feel or think before my own thoughts and feelings based on some uncontrollable inner mechanism. But the moment I was alone the others meant nothing to me. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them or found them repugnant, on the contrary, I liked most of them and always found something valuable in the ones I didn’t like at first, some characteristic I could sympathise with or at least find interesting, something that could occupy my thoughts while I was with them. But the fact that I liked them wasn’t the same as being concerned about them. It was the social situation that bound me, not the people. Between those two perspectives there was nothing. There was the small and self-effacing and there was the large and distancing. And in between the two, well, that was where the everyday unfolded. Maybe that was why I had a hard time living in it. The everyday with its chores and routines was something I endured, not something I enjoyed, not something that gave me a sense of meaning or made me happy. It wasn’t a question of not wanting to wash the floor or change nappies, but of something more basic, namely that I didn’t experience the value of daily life but always longed to escape and always had. The life I lived wasn’t my own. I tried to make it mine, that was the struggle I was engaged in, because of course that was what I wanted, but I failed, the longing for something else completely hollowed out everything I did.

What was the problem?

– Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 2 (my trans.)

To stay alive

The adolescent years are important. Once you have developed a sufficiently ideal, noble, and perfect sense of love, you are done for. Nothing, henceforth, will suffice.


Life is a series of destruction tests. Pass the first of them, and fail the later ones.


When you provoke in others a mixture of horrified pity and contempt, you will know that you are on the right track. You can begin to write.


Do not try too hard to have a coherent personality; this personality exists, whether you like it or not.


You will never really know the part of yourself which compels you to write. You will know it only through contradictory forms which merely approach it. Egotism or devotion? Cruelty or compassion? Any of these possibilities could be argued for. Proof that, ultimately, you know nothing about it; thus, do not behave as if you did.


One could consider adopting what could be called Pessoa’s strategy: find a little job, publish nothing, and await death peacefully.


Do not forget psychiatrists, who have at their disposal the power to grant sick-leave.


Have no fear of happiness; it does not exist.


Belong to nothing. Or else belong, and then immediately betray. No theoretical engagement should hold you up for very long.


Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.

– Houellebecq, ‘To Stay Alive’ (tr. Davis)

The breakdown came on Monday morning

The breakdown came on Monday morning. I was sitting at home in the big room on the first floor, reading a book and listening to music. Ingrid had gone to a meeting with the lawyers. I felt nothing. I was quite collected but somewhat dopey from sleeping pills, which at that time I was not in the habit of using. The music ceased and the tape stopped with a small bang. It was absolutely quiet, the roofs on the opposite side of the street white and the snow falling slowly. I stopped reading. Anyhow, I was finding it hard to take anything in. The light in the room was sharp, with no shadows. A clock struck a few times. Perhaps I was asleep, perhaps I had taken that short step from the accepted reality of the senses into the other reality. I didn’t know and now I was deep down in a motionless vacuum, painless and free of emotions. I closed my eyes. I thought I had closed my eyes, then sensed there was someone in the room and opened my eyes. In the sharp light, a few metres away, I myself was standing looking at myself. The experience was concrete and incontestable. I was standing on the yellow rug looking at myself sitting in the chair. I was sitting in the chair looking at myself standing on the yellow rug. So far, the I who was sitting in the chair was the one in charge of reactions. This was the end, there was no return. I could hear myself wailing. I have once or twice in my life toyed with the idea of committing suicide and at one time in my youth I staged a fumbling attempt, but I have never taken these games seriously. My curiosity has been too great, my love of life too robust and my fear of death too childishly solid. My attitude to life, however, presupposed a proper and continuous control of my relation to reality, imaginings and dreams. When that control did not function – something which had never happened to me before, not even in my early childhood – the machinery exploded and my identity was threatened. I could hear my whining voice. I sounded like an injured dog. I got up out of my chair to leave through the window. What I didn’t know was that Ingrid had come home. Suddenly Sture Helander, my best friend and doctor, was there. An hour later I found myself in KarolinskaHospital psychiatric clinic. I was put by myself into a large room with four other beds in it. A professor doing his rounds spoke kindly to me and I said something about the shame, drawing on my favourite quote about fear manifesting what is feared, petrified by grief. I was given an injection and fell asleep. The three weeks in that ward passed pleasantly. We were a meek collection of drugged zombies following an undemanding daily routine without protest. I was given five blue Valiums a day and two Mogadons at night. If I felt in the slightest uneasy, I went at once to the nurse and was given an extra dose. I slept heavily and dreamlessly at night and dozed off for several hours a day. In between times, with what remained of my professional curiosity I explored my surroundings. I was living behind a screen in my large empty room, mostly reading without registering what I was reading. Meals were taken in a small dining room, the conversation polite, putting one under no obligation. No emotional outbursts were obvious, the only exception being a famous sculptor who became disturbed one evening and almost ground his teeth to pieces. Otherwise I can remember a sad girl who continually felt the need to wash her hands, a gentle six-foot young man who had jaundice and was on Methadone. He was taken once a week to UllerakerMental Hospital where much-discussed research was being carried out. There was also a silent older man who had tried to commit suicide by sawing at his wrists with a handsaw. A middle-aged woman with a stern lovely face was suffering from motor-anxiety and walked in silence for miles and miles through the corridors. In the evening, we assembled in front of the television and watched the World Ice Skating Championships on a ramshackle old black-and-white set with fuzzy pictures and bad sound, but that didn’t matter, nor did it give rise to any comment. Ingrid visited me a couple of times a day and we talked calmly in a friendly way. Sometimes we went to a matinee at the cinema, sometimes Sandrews arranged a showing in their screening room. The young man on Methadone was allowed to come to that. I read no papers, and neither saw nor heard any news programmes. Slowly and imperceptibly, my anxiety disappeared – my life’s most faithful companion, inherited from both my mother and my father, placed in the very centre of my identity, my demon but also my friend spurring me on. Not only the torment, the anguish and the feeling of irreparable humiliation faded, but the driving force of my creativity was also eclipsed and fell away. I imagine I could easily have become a ward case for the rest of my life, as my existence was so woefully pleasant, so undemanding, so lovingly protected. Nothing was either real or urgent any longer, nothing worrying or painful. I moved with caution, all my reactions delayed or non-existent; sexuality ceased, life became an elegy sung by a madrigal choir far inside under some echoing arch, the rose windows glowing and telling fairy tales no longer any concern of mine. One afternoon, I asked the friendly professor if he had ever in his life cured anyone. He thought seriously and replied, ‘Cure is a big word.’ Then he shook his head and smiled encouragingly. Minutes, days and weeks went by. I don’t know what made me break out of this hermetically sealed security. I asked the professor if I could move to Sophiahemmet, on trial. He gave me permission, at the same time warning me insistently not to break off my Valium cure too abruptly. I thanked him for all his kindness, said goodbye to my fellow patients and donated a colour television to our day room. One day at the end of February, I found myself in a quiet comfortable room at Sophiahemmet. The window faced out onto the garden. I could see the yellow parsonage, my childhood home, up there on the hill. Every morning, I walked for an hour in the park, the shadow of an eight-year-old beside me; it was both stimulating and uncanny. Otherwise this was a time of violent torment. In protest against the professor’s instructions, I stopped taking both Valium and Mogadon and the effect was immediate. My suppressed anxiety shot up like the flame of a blowlamp, insomnia was total, my demons raging. I thought I would be torn apart by internal detonations. I started reading the papers, involving myself in all that had happened in my absence, reading kind and unkind letters that had piled up, talking to lawyers and making contact with friends. This was neither bravery nor desperation, but the instinct for self-preservation which, despite or rather thanks to being unconscious at the psychiatric clinic, had had time to collect itself into some resistance. I went on to the attack against the demons with a method that had worked well in previous crises. I divided the day and the night into definite units of time, each of which was filled with activities organized beforehand, alternated with periods of rest. Only by rigidly following my day and night programme could I maintain my sanity against torments so violent that they became interesting. To put it briefly, I returned to planning and staging my life with great care.

– Bergman, The Magic Lantern (tr. J. Tate)

A feeling of boundlessness

Drinking was good for me; it set things in motion. And I was thrust into something, a feeling of… not infinity exactly, but of, well, something unlimited. Something I could go into, deeper and deeper. The feeling was so sharp and distinct. No bounds. That was what it was, a feeling of boundlessness.

– Knausgaard, A Death in the Family/My Struggle (tr. Bartlett)

The mystery of encounter

The poem is lonely. It is lonely and en route. Its author stays with it. Does this very fact not place the poem already here, at its inception, in the encounter, in the mystery of encounter?

The poem intends another, needs this other, needs an opposite. It goes toward it, bespeaks it. For the poem, everything and everybody is a figure of this other toward which it is heading.


The poem becomes conversation – often desperate conversation.

— Celan, The Meridian (tr. Waldrop)


Sometimes I sense a cocooned world of feeling inside me that would connect me to others for good if only I could release it: that would make the world come alive with meaning. But when others get too close, I want to float off into the world of words and images that continually passes through my head, into the void from which they arise, and never return: to subtract myself from the world until nothing is left and I’m free.

– Frenet, Journal

Walking in circles

A few months ago, out of a kind of desperation, I started walking. In the beginning I’d walk one or two hours a day, later whole afternoons, sweat running down my head. I walked all over the city, through parks, forests, industrial estates where lorries with advertisements on their sides rumbled by me. I walked myself into the ground, day after day. I’m slowly getting stronger, my pace grows lighter and faster. Our bodies are built to walk, I’ve discovered, built to find their natural rhythms in the steady pace of a long walk. I let my shoulders relax and my limbs move in loose counterpoint until I’m just a body moving through space. There’s always something missing, some goal out of reach, which is why I started walking in the first place. I’m walking in circles. Walk then, I tell myself, walk your circles.

— Frenet, Journal

It’s too late, I said to myself, it’s over, there’s nothing for it but to start to live. To wrench something into these sinkholes of time, these gaps between self and others, self and self.

But I’m too far away – or too close. The border between self and world either recedes out of sight or dissolves and lets the whole world in.

– Frenet, Journal