There are people who work out of a sense of great abundance. I’d love to be one of them but I’m not. You just work with what you’ve got.
When I speak of depression I speak of a clinical depression that is the background of your entire life, a background of anguish and anxiety, a sense that nothing goes well, that pleasure is unavailable and all your strategies collapse. I’m happy to report that, by imperceptible degrees and by the grace of good teachers and good luck, depression slowly dissolved and has never returned with the same ferocity that prevailed for most of my life. I read somewhere that as you grow older certain brain cells die that are associated with anxiety so it doesn’t really matter how much you apply yourself to the disciplines. You’re going to start feeling a lot better or a lot worse depending on the condition of your neurons.
Well, you know, we’re talking in a world where guys go down into the mines, chewing coca and spending all day in backbreaking labour. We’re in a world where there’s famine and hunger and people are dodging bullets and having their nails pulled out in dungeons so it’s very hard for me to place any high value on the work that I do to write a song. Yeah, I work hard but compared to what?
— Leonard Cohen, interview
‘Have contemporary philosophers had any influence on your thought?’
‘I never read philosophers.’
‘I never understand anything they write.’
‘All the same, people have wondered if the existentialists’ problem of being may afford a key to your works.’
‘There’s no key or problem. I wouldn’t have had any reason to write my novels if I could have expressed their subject in philosophic terms.’
‘What was your reason then?’
‘I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m no intellectual. All I am is feeling. Molloy and the others came to me the day I became aware of my own folly. Only then did I begin to write the things I feel.’
— Beckett, 1961 interview
What is more true than anything else? To swim is true, and to sink is true. One is not more true than the other. One cannot speak anymore of being, one must speak only of the mess. When Heidegger and Sartre speak of a contrast between being and existence, they may be right, I don’t know, but their language is too philosophical for me. I am not a philosopher. One can only speak of what is in front of him, and that now is simply the mess.
— Beckett, 1961 interview
Sometimes, it is necessary to abandon all hope. To be nothing. Simply nothing. To remain totally alone, defenseless, it’s horrifying. You need the courage of a madman. But this approach is obviously something sacred.
The most incredible thing is that so much happens outside of the will. You can’t will anything. Not even solitude is an act of will. You simply endure it. You must hold on until the very end, without weakening. You can do nothing else. But you must not believe that because you accept being nothing, you are anyone special.
There is a moment when the task is no longer an effort. When this exhausting work is no longer tiring.
Perhaps somewhere, there is also joy; somewhere, the satisfaction of not allowing oneself to be defeated.
It is terrible to be bound to life. Each second is a struggle.
— Bram van Velde (tr. Tweed and Roman, pensum press)
He goes for a walk. Why, he asks himself with a smile, why must it be he who has nothing to do, nothing to strike at, nothing to throw down? He feels the sap and the strength in his body softly complaining. His entire soul thrills for bodily exertion. Between high ancient walls he climbs, down over whose gray stone screes the dark green ivy passionately curls, up to the castle hill. In all the windows up here the evening light is aglow. Up on the edge of the rock face stands a delightful pavilion, he sits here, and lets his soul fly, out and down into the shining holy silent prospect. He would be surprised if he were to feel well now. Read a newspaper? How would that be? Conduct an idiotic political or generally useful debate with some respected official half-wit or other? Yes? He is not unhappy. Secretly he considers happy alone the man who is inconsolable: naturally and powerfully inconsolable. With him the position is one small faint shade worse. He is too sensitive to be happy, too haunted by all his irresolute, cautious, mistrusted feelings. He would like to scream aloud, to weep. God in heaven, what is wrong with me, and he rushes down the darkening hill. Night soothes him. Back in his room he sits down, determined to work till frenzy comes, at his writing table. The light of the lamp eliminates his image of his whereabouts, and clears his brain, and he writes now.
— Walser, ‘Kleist in Thun’ (tr. Middleton)