Monthly Archives: January 2019

No longer natural

Flaubert was in a sense the forerunner of writing scruples. I do believe that in the eighteenth century, say, Voltaire or Rousseau wrote much more naturally than people did from the nineteenth century onwards. Flaubert sensed this more than any other writer. If you look at Rousseau’s letters, for instance, they’re beautifully written. He dashed off 23 in a day if necessary, and they’re all balanced, they’re all beautiful prose. Flaubert’s letters are already quite haphazard; they’re no longer literary in that sense. He swears, he makes exclamations, sometimes they’re very funny. But he was one of the first to realise that there was appearing in front of him some form of impasse. And I think nowadays it’s getting increasingly difficult because writing is no longer a natural thing for us.

– Sebald (via here)

Why did blogs die?

Why did blogs die? If, that is, it can even still be remembered that once they were alive […] Back when blogging still seemed comparatively healthy, I remember resenting terribly the little ‘Share This’ buttons that all my colleagues in blogging began to place at the end of each post. There was one little button for Facebook, then another for Twitter, then another for Stumble Upon, then one for Reddit, et cetera until every post in the blogosphere seemed to be staggering under a Lilliputian colony of parasitic buttons, like an immune-compromised deer studded with ticks. The blackmail was straightforward: If you didn’t add the little buttons to your posts, then fewer people would share your posts, and fewer people come to your blog. If you did add them, however, you were giving free advertising to the big social media sites, which some day, everyone knew, were going to ingest into themselves, macrophagically, the impulse for self-expression that had once gone into blogging, where at least it seemed to have some independence.

The poisoned bait of social-media traffic weakened the herd of bloggers, but it didn’t quite constitute a cull. The cull came as a reflected blow. Since the dawn of blogging, even Luddite bloggers like me had had little hit counters, where we could track how many visitors came to our site. One week […] I watched my hit counter as the daily population of visitors to this blog drained away, steadily. Google had adjusted its algorithm, I soon discovered. Previously, when you had searched Google for, say, “does television impair academic performance,” the results had been ranked according to how many times your website was linked to by other websites concerned with the same topic, and this ranking had been more or less independent of time. On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, however, the newest information was always at the top, and people seemed to prefer seeing newer content first, even if older content was more pertinent to their interest, or more rich in information and context. Under the pressure of competition, Google rejiggered its ranking, and overnight, it, too, began to discount heavily for time. A blogger who only posted a few times a month was doomed.

The fullness of time

The wisdom of certain everyday phrases (which writers sniff at). We speak of being in the moment and of pregnant moments. We speak of the fullness of time, of a time that’s ripe.

Beautiful phrase: the fullness of time. What does it mean? In everyday language, when something happens in the fullness of time it happens at a time that has finally come, a time of fulfilment of some event. Something comes into its own, something time has ripened. For Paul it had to do with the first and second coming of Christ and the fulfilment of God’s plan at decisive moments in history. But what if it were taken to refer not to a past or future event, but to time itself? What if the fullness of time referred not to a time that’s ripe for something but to a time that’s ripe with itself, that fulfils itself in the moment?

If the moment is the revelation of the fullness of time, it can’t be part of everyday clock time. It can’t simply be one of a series of separate nows, but rather the felt instant that opens your present out to the future and gives your past meaning; that shows you the breadth and depth and height of time, only to withdraw. How to hold this moment as it emerges, as it lets you emerge with it? It’s bigger than you, once reached can’t be commanded. How to find it? How to remain in it? Endure it?

The giant night

A sleepless night, rarer now. The giant night and the same slow dawn. The sound of the binmen tipping our recycling bin into their lorry, interrupting the birds’ chorus. This same sense of final emptiness. It makes the thoughts I formulate in the day – in front of my computer with my books at hand – seem forced, imposed onto something almost helpless: what Gombrowicz called a ‘furtive childhood, a concealed degradation’.

Completely unacceptable, I think, like the wronged consumer I am: why should anyone be made to deal with this day after day? There’s something to it, I tell myself, the old idea that despair is a seductive sin, a sickness unto death. That’s one thing the Christians always understood, that there are feelings we indulge at our own risk. But when the feeling is this long-lived, this unshakeable?

Later I get caught in a thunderstorm biking back from the shops and curse this backwoods shithole while getting splattered with mud. Of course it stops just after I get home and have peeled off all my clothes and put them in the washing machine. I rummage for washing powder under the sink and mutter fuck off as I realize we’re out. S. says something as I walk to the bathroom but I don’t answer. When I’ve showered and calmed down I ask her what she said. She says she asked me whether I wanted an omelette or porkchops for dinner. I tell her sorry, you chill and I’ll make the porkchops with potatoes and red cabbage, Danish style – comfort food, like my grandmother used to make.

A balloon with ballast

I write this diary reluctantly. Its dishonest honesty wearies me. For whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, then why is it being published? If for the reader, why do I pretend that I am talking to myself? Are you talking to yourself so that others will hear you?
How far I am from the certitude and vigour that hum in me when I am, pardon me, ‘creating’. Here, on these pages, I feel as if I were emerging from a blessed night into the hard light of dawn, which fills me with yawning and drags my shortcomings out into the open. The duplicity inherent in keeping a diary makes me timid, so forgive, oh forgive me (perhaps these last words are dispensable, perhaps they are already pretentious?).
Yet I realize that one must be oneself at all levels of writing, which is to say, that I ought to be able to express myself not only in a poem or drama, but also in everyday prose — in an article or in a diary — and the flight of art has to find its counterpart in the domain of regular life, just as the shadow of the condor is cast onto the ground. What’s more, this passage into an everyday world from an area that is backed into the most remote depths, practically in the underground, is a matter of great importance to me. I want to be a balloon, but one with ballast; an antenna, but one that is grounded.

— Gombrowicz, Diary (tr. Vallee)

Alien and identical

Once I was explaining to someone that in order to feel the real cosmic significance of man for man, he should imagine the following:

I am completely alone in a desert. I have never seen people nor do I imagine that another man is even possible. At that very moment an analogous creature appears in my field of vision, which, while not being me, is nevertheless the same principle in an alien body. Someone identical but alien nevertheless. And suddenly I experience, at precisely the same moment, a wondrous fulfilment and a painful division. Yet one revelation stands out above all the rest: I have become boundless, unpredictable to myself, multiple in possibilities through this alien, fresh but identical power, which approaches me as if I were approaching myself from the outside.

– Witold Gombrowicz

To be human is to be among those whose thoughts we don’t know; to be in the dark. Perhaps this condition is the source of our urge to speak. Language, born of absence, filling a lack, generating light. To be human is to be alone, and also to know that we are in thrall to thoughts we call our own, yet are barely aware of. Perhaps this very unknowingness is the source of writing. Writing from out of a void, to fill a void. Both speaking and writing, then, veil ignorance of ourselves and of others even as they display it, even as they ameliorate it.

– Mark Thwaite

Like an act of fate

The moment behind beneath and beyond everyday time. It waits to give you back your past, like an event long prepared without your knowledge, like an act of fate in the fullness of time. It needs you: your shabby past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard of words. It waits for you to step into the light of the day, where it can find you and let you come into your own.