Monthly Archives: December 2018

The point of intersection


Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

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All is always now

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now.

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I am learning to restore myself

I must organize myself. I must, as they say, pull myself together, dump this cat from my lap, stir—yes, resolve, move, do. But do what? My will is like the rosy dustlike light in this room: soft, diffuse, and gently comforting. It lets me do . . . anything . . . nothing.
My ears hear what they happen to; I eat what’s put before me; my eyes see what blunders into them; my thoughts are not thoughts, they are dreams. I’m empty or I’m full . . . depending; and I cannot choose. I sink my claws in Tick’s fur and scratch the bones of his back until his rear rises amorously. Mr. Tick, I murmur, I must organize myself. I must pull myself together. And Mr. Tick rolls over on his belly, all ooze.
I spill Mr. Tick when I’ve rubbed his stomach. Shoo. He steps away slowly, his long tail rhyming with his paws. How beautifully he moves, I think; how beautifully, like you, he commands his loving, how beautifully he accepts. So I rise and wander from room to room, up and down, gazing through most of my forty-one windows. How well this house receives its loving too. Let out like Mr. Tick, my eyes sink in the shrubbery. I am not here; I’ve passed the glass, passed second-story spaces, flown by branches, brilliant berries, to the ground, grass high in seed and leafage every season; and it is the same as when I passed above you in my aged, ardent body; it’s, in short, a kind of love; and I am learning to restore myself, my house, my body, by paying court to gardens, cats, and running water, and with neighbors keeping company.

– William Gass, ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’

North

North, to the Lancashire uplands to spend Christmas with S.’s family. N. picks up Rookie in a carboard box, along with a box of cat food. The next morning we get a taxi before sunrise, then three trains. The passengers get chattier as the landscape gets hillier. I manage to sleep a little. It’s dark and rainy when we get to the final station, where S.’s father is waiting for us in the car.
It seems as though every available space has been paved over and built up except for the great dark moors that loom over the cities and villages – many of which are themselves manmade, the results of deforestation by ancient people… Nothing but motorways, roundabouts, malls, petrol stations, business parks, offices, terraced houses… all so grey hard and cramped. I can’t help but think of those lines by Hopkins. Is there anywhere that isn’t seared with trade, smeared with toil, degraded by capital? Is there any escape?
S.’s family is large and fun, and we eat, drink and laugh all night.
It’s the home of the industrial revolution after all, S. tells me when we’ve gone to bed and I’ve revealed my thoughts about the journey. You know how you get when you travel. Don’t judge it just yet, you’ll see.
The next morning is brighter and gives us a fine view of hills on both sides of the house dotted with spray-painted sheep and crowned with mist. I go outside to smoke, feeling pleasantly small. There’s a different quality to the silence here when there’s no traffic on the road. Something to do with the topography maybe. I can hear a stream now. A horse whinnies somewhere, calling for a response as horses do, and it’s as if being itself has briefly been given voice.
S. borrows the car and drives us to Pendle Hill. We walk along the ridge through ribbons of fog to an ancient burial site she wants to see. Not a soul about, at last. As we climb the rocky path, dodging sheep droppings and sodden moss, we relax, stop chatting and fall into a rhythm. Our minds relax and expand as the horizon widens. We stop to look out over a spread of fields, hills, reservoirs and houses all around. This is more like it, I tell S., you need a horizon to think. I love the dun colours, the reddish iron-rich streams, the sheep that bound away when we get too close, the total indifference of the place. It moves us both, and it’s worth a day of rumbling through damp, littered suburbs in crowded, dirty trains.

Mr Tick

Mr. Tick, you do me honor. You not only lie in my lap, but you remain alive there, coiled like a fetus. Through your deep nap, I feel you hum. You are, and are not, a machine. You are alive, alive exactly, and it means nothing to you—much to me. You are a cat—you cannot understand—you are a cat so easily. Your nature is not something you must rise to. You, not I, live in: in house, in skin, in shrubbery.

– William Gass, ‘In the Heart of the Heart of the Country’

The sudden flash

And yet – in all the disguising belonging to enframing, the bright open-space of world lights up, the truth of being flashes. At the instant, that is, when enframing lights up, in its coming to presence, as the danger, i.e., as the saving power. In enframing, moreover, as a destining of the coming to presence of being, there comes to presence a light from the flashing of being. Enframing is, though veiled, still glance, and no blind destiny in the sense of a completely ordained fate.
   Insight into that which is – thus do we name the sudden flash of the truth of being into truthless being.
   When insight comes disclosingly to pass, then men are the ones who are struck in their essence by the flashing of being. In insight, men are the ones who are caught sight of.

– Heidegger, ‘The Turning’ (tr. Lovitt)

The double

The construction work on the old farm is coming along. Having demolished the house, barn and cowshed and removed the rubble, they seem to be building a house that looks like a converted barn, as well as a double garage, and have started landscaping. I looked up the planning permission and managed to find the developer’s website, which says: ‘Many people aspire to live in barn conversions. However, the opportunities to convert or renovate an existing barn are limited – there are only so many of them. Moreover, the cost of renovation or restoration can be considerably more expensive than building from new. That’s why a barn-style house is becoming an increasingly popular option.’

*

Gide: ‘It seems to me sometimes that I do not really exist, but that I merely imagine I exist. The thing that I have the greatest difficulty in believing in is my own reality. I am constantly getting outside myself, and as I watch myself act I can’t understand how a person who acts is the same as the person who is watching him act, and who wonders in astonishment and doubt how he can be an actor and a watcher at the same moment.’

*

When did my double turn up? When was he born? There was a carpark and a concrete path between thistle bushes. I shook my father’s hand, turned away and started walking back to my room in the boarding school. A room in a corridor full of strangers speaking a strange language. In that moment it felt as if I split in two: a body walking down a path and an anonymous observer.
I’ve heard of similar experiences, of situations in which people felt as if they were leaving their bodies and looking down at what was happening to them. People who spend the rest of their lives trying to reverse that moment.
I was maladjusted – that’s what they told me years later when I asked why they sent me away. I’d taken up with the wrong crowd, was on my way to becoming a criminal. That was true in a sense. So this was what I needed, I supposed, it was good for me.
When I wasn’t in class I hid in my room or walked in the forest. I barely spoke. I’d forgotten most of my Danish in any case, still thought in English. I’d overhear people saying I was strange. In the weekends I escaped to my grandparents’ farm in the country and cycled to the coast on my grandfather’s old bike.

*

What seems clear to me now is that something goes wrong for everyone. One way or another – suddenly or slowly, of our own will or by force – we go astray. We lose sight of some essential part of ourselves. Hide from being. Yet we can never close ourselves off from it completely, never lose our link to the unity we spring from – how could we?
Michel Haar writes: ‘We are held in being, and no matter how tenuous the thread attaching us to presence – for example in fainting or dreamless sleep – we are never, as long as we are, released into pure nothingness.’
Never released from the impersonal thread of being that lets us become our more or less divided selves and live on the same ground as all other beings, no matter how different from us.

*

It’s freezing. On a walk we find the feathers of a pheasant a fox has savaged and carried away. S. collects the tail feathers and some branches and arranges them in a vase when we get home.

*

Woolf: ‘There was a spectator in me who, even while I squirmed and obeyed, remained observant, note taking for some future revision.’

*

What happened after the double turned up? Didn’t it instantly take the place of my father? One of Blanchot’s narrators talks of being ‘represented in my feelings by a double for whom each feeling was as absurd as for a dead person’. Every feeling: silly, kitschy.
On the path between the thistle bushes there was me, a double, and a haze that began to gather between us – between me and others. When I spoke to people, the words – mine and theirs – moved through the haze while the double stood by with a sceptical smirk. I sat in my room, scared by footsteps in the corridor, knocks on my door.
The haze stayed with me for a long time: when I went to live with my parents again and we pretended everything was all right, when I worked in the factories, asked girls out, went to university… all through a haze, watched over by a dead double.
Then after years of tunnelling through other people’s words, of the turning and returning of words, you found your own, the ones that called you into the service of the moment and drew the double back in, at least for a moment.

(From ‘The Moment’.)