Monthly Archives: November 2012


Besides my large circle of friends I have another intimate confidant: my melancholy. In the midst of my joy, in the midst of my work, he waves to me, calls me aside, although physically I stay in place. My melancholy is the most loyal mistress I’ve known; what wonder, then, that I love her back.


I feel like a chess piece must feel when the opponent says of it: ‘That piece is untouchable’.


I have, I think, the courage to doubt everything; I have, I think, the courage to fight everything; but I do not have the courage to know anything, to possess, to own anything. Most people complain that the world is trivial, that life isn’t like a romantic novel, full of favourable opportunities; I complain that life isn’t like a novel in which there are hardhearted fathers and goblins and trolls to battle and spellbound princesses to free. What are all such enemies combined compared to the pale, bloodless, dogged nocturnal forms with which I fight and to which I myself give life and being.


How barren are my soul and thoughts, and yet how perpetually tormented by vacuous and voluptuous birth pangs! Will my spirit forever be tongue-tied, must I always babble? What I need is a voice as piercing as the glance of Lynceus, as frightening as the groan of the giants, as persistent as a sound made by nature, as mocking as a gust of icy wind, as cruel as Echo’s taunting, ranging from the deepest bass to the most melting high notes, modulated from a solemn whisper to the energy of rage. That’s what I need to be able to breathe, to express what’s on my mind, to shake the depths of my anger and my sympathy. – But my voice is as hoarse as the cry of a gull, or dies away like a blessing on the lips of a mute.


What is to come? What will the future bring? I don’t know, I have no idea. When a spider plunges down from a fixed point, as is its nature, it always sees before it an empty space in which it cannot find a foothold however much it twitches. That is how it is with me: always an empty space before me, what drives me on is a result that lies behind me. This life is back-to-front and horrible, unendurable.


Time passes, they say, life is a stream, etc. I can’t feel it, time stands still and I with it. All the plans I form fly straight back at me, when I want to spit, I spit in my own face.


My soul is so heavy that no thought can sustain it any longer, no wingbeat lift it up into the aether. If it moves, it only sweeps along the ground like the low flight of birds when a thunderstorm approaches. Over my inner being broods an unease, an anxiety that senses an earthquake.


A fire once broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded; he repeated his warning; they cheered even more. This is how I imagine the world will end: to general applause by clever people who think it’s a joke.


What philosophers say about reality is often as disappointing as when you see a sign in a second-hand shop that reads Pressing Done Here. If you went in with your clothes to have them pressed, you’d be fooled: it’s the sign that’s for sale.


I have only one friend, Echo. And why is Echo my friend? Because I love my sorrow, and Echo doesn’t take it away from me. I have only one confidant, the silence of the night. And why is it my confidant? Because it is silent.


What is it that binds me? Of what was the fetter that bound the Fenris wolf made? It was made from the noise a cat’s paws make when it walks, women’s beards, the roots of mountains, the sinews of bears, the breath of fishes and the spittle of birds. So too am I bound by a chain formed of dark delusions, of disturbing dreams, of restless thoughts, of forebodings and inexplicable anxieties. This chain is ‘very supple, soft as silk, resilient even to the strongest strain, and cannot be torn in two’.


How horrible boredom is – how horribly boring. I know no stronger expression, none truer, for only like knows like. If only there were a higher expression, a stronger one, then at least there would still be another movement. I lie stretched out, inert; all I see is emptiness, all I live on is emptiness, all I move in is emptiness. I don’t even suffer pain. At least the vulture kept pecking at Prometheus’s liver; at least the poison kept dropping on Loki; there were interruptions, however monotonous. Even pain has lost its power to refresh me. If I were offered all the world’s glories or all its torments, I’d be equally indifferent, I wouldn’t turn over either to reach for them or escape from them. I die death itself. What could possibly divert me? If I saw a loyalty that outlasted every trial, an enthusiasm that bore everything, a faith that moved mountains; if I sensed a thought that bound together the finite and the infinite. But my soul’s poisonous doubt consumes everything. My soul is like the Dead Sea, over which no bird can fly: when it gets halfway, it drops down, spent, to its death.


My sorrow is my castle, which lies like an eagle’s nest high up on the mountain peaks among the clouds; no one can storm it. From it I fly down into reality and seize my prey; but I don’t remain there, I bring my prey home, and this prey is a picture I weave into the tapestries in my castle. Then I live as a dead man. In a baptism of forgetfulness I plunge all experiences into the eternity of remembrance. All that’s finite and random is forgotten, wiped out. Then I sit like a hoary, thoughtful old man, and explain the pictures in a soft voice, almost a whisper, and by my side sits a child and listens, although he remembers everything before I tell it.

— Kierkegaard, ‘Diapsalmata’, Either/Or (my tr.)

I pass by

I don’t read, I skim. I’m not read, I’m skimmed. I pass by, am passed by.

— Frenet, Journal

Casting off

I learned their methods too easily: it took me years to cast them off. How easy to learn, how hard to unlearn!

— Frenet, Journal

I would fly away and be at rest

I said, if I had wings of a dove I would fly away and be at rest.
I would go far away and take refuge in the desert.
I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.
For I have seen misery and wickedness on Earth.

The universe is pregnant with inertia
and has given birth to time.

Where would I escape from your face?
And where would I go from your presence?

— Forugh Farrokhzad, The House is Black

I don’t know what time is

I don’t know what time is. I don’t know what its real measure is, presuming it has one. I know that the clock’s measure is false, as it divides time spatially, from the outside. I know that our emotions’ way of measuring is just as false, dividing not time but our sensation of it. The way our dreams measure it is erroneous, for in dreams we only brush against time, now leisurely, now hurriedly, and what we live in them is fast or slow, depending on something in their flowing that I can’t grasp.

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

A model prisoner

At that time I was living on rue Froidevaux, across from the Montparnasse cemetery, on the sixth floor of a building in danger of falling down. From where I was I had unrestricted view of the graves. For more than fifteen years, rue Froidevaux had been my prison. I was a model prisoner. If I often bemoaned my station, I never rebelled. I didn’t try to escape. To tell the truth, I didn’t want much. My rule of conduct was simple: live as little as possible so as to suffer as little as possible. Maybe not very exhilarating as far as precepts go, but very effective. Try it, you’ll see. What I liked most was to go unnoticed. I’d have gladly given everything I had to be an invisible man or a ghost.


Froidevaux! Oh, how cold your streets are, messieurs, and how slowly one dies there, over a low flame, a little at a time, from boredom and grief! How heavy one’s heart grows in your deserts! You could spend a lifetime wandering there in exile. Strange winter journey.

— Martinet, ‘The High Life’ (tr. Vale)

This world we must leave

Scene 1

‘We were not able to chose the mess we have to live in – this collapse of a whole society – but we can choose our way out.’ – C. L. R. James

There is nothing outside. There is nothing outside this world. Once, society said that this was as good as it can get. Now it just says that this is what there is. It can be good or bad, but there is nothing else. Capitalist society is what there is. It is endless. Capitalist society is endless. There is nothing else. Nothing but the huge body of capitalism, of which we are a tiny part. Which we reproduce every day. Again and again. Every day we recreate this enor- mous, indisputable, impenetrable body of control, oppression and dominance, from which it is impossible to distance ourselves. We are the body, it is us. Now and tomorrow. It is within us, we cannot get away from it, it has penetrated into us. There is no ‘us’ outside, there is no ‘me’ separate from capital. I am the image, the image is me.

Every day we recreate a totality that we cannot understand. We are all quite aware that the totality to which we are subjected only exists because we create it, and yet it appears to be beyond our reach, as if we were not helping to recreate it every single day. We have lost perspective.

I see myself lying flat on my belly, closing my eyes and falling asleep. And waking up and opening my mouth, and my tongue comes out. But I don’t wake up. I can’t wake up again. We all sleep the same sleep, from which we cannot wake up. We lie moving back and forth in the bed, but our bodies get more and more tired and slowly decompose, decay and wither. For sleep gives us no rest, we only become more afraid and completely desperate in order to finally fall asleep properly; sleeping and on our way to somewhere else. But there is nothing outside. The bad dream of modernism has become reality. Any kind of outside has been swallowed up and folded into the flicker of the spectacle.

This World We Must Leave

Sometimes we have to wait for years

Dreams, like memories, are shores we row toward to escape the ever same tomorrows and their cruel futility. Days which cannot express themselves are grey and cold. Mute days whose untidy gestures tear us apart.

I have the impression of moving in the shadow of syllables, in regions before secrets, where language cannot yet answer the call of thought, in swamps where you risk sinking with every breath.

“Sometimes we have to wait for years,” said Red Tain, “before the minute which marked us finds its voice again. But then it speaks, and we cannot stop the flow of words.”

— Jabès, The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (tr. Waldrop)

Marvellously desolate

One can reflect on this situation. It can happen that someone is very close to us, not close: the walls have fallen. Sometimes still very close, but without relation: the walls have fallen, those that separate and also those that serve to transmit signals, the language of prisons. Then one must again raise a wall, ask for a little indifference, that calm distance by which lives find equilibrium. A naive desire that takes form after having already been realized. But from such an astonishing approach to an other, one retains the impression that there was a brief moment of luck; a moment bound not to the favor of the look that may have been exchanged, but to something like a movement that may have preceded us both, just before our encounter. At this instant it seems that he was truly our companion in an infinite and infinitely deserted space where, by a marvelous chance, he had suddenly appeared at our side; so it was and so it was going to be, inexplicable, certain, and marvelous. But who was he? Only the desert, perhaps? The desert become our companion? Marvelous, this remains marvelously desolate, and then the companion has once again disappeared – there is nothing but desert. But in its harsh truth and arid presence it is suddenly close to us, familiar, a friend. A proximity that at the same time says to us: “the desert is growing.”

— Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (tr. Hanson)

A double movement

For my part I can see […] that I must always respond to a double movement, both aspects of which are necessary but nevertheless irreconcilable. One (to express myself in an extremely crude and simplistic fashion) is passion, the realization and the expression of totality, in a dialectical process; the other is essentially non-dialectical, does not concern itself at all with unity and does not tend towards power (towards the possible). This double movement necessitates a double language in response, and, as for any language, a double intensity: the first is a language of confrontation, of opposition, of negation, so as to reduce any opposition and so as to affirm the truth in the end, in its generality, as a silent measure (through which the demand of thought passes). But the other is a language which above all *speaks*, which speaks above all else and outside anything else; it is a language which comes first, is without agreement, without confrontation, and ready to welcome the unknown, the stranger (the poetic demand passes through this language). The first names the possible and wants the possible. The other responds to the impossible. Between these two movements, which are at the same time necessary and incompatible, there is a constant tension often very difficult to sustain and, in truth, it is unsustainable. But one cannot give up, through prejudice, on one or the other, nor on the unmeasurable search that necessity, and the necessity of uniting the incompatible, demands of men.