Monthly Archives: July 2020

A feeling for flatness

I realised that people really, really hate flat landscapes. Or they pretend they hate them. Flat landscapes scare people, or bore them. They feel they have to apologise for them: tourist boards praise the Cambridge fens and the Norfolk broads by saying things like: you may think this landscape is flat, but really there’s lots to see! Fair enough. But what if we accepted the fact that a space might be primarily flat? How do we look at it, and appreciate it, and enjoy it, without trying to deny its flatness?

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There are so many beautiful flat spaces in Britain, and in the world. They demand a special way of looking: a way, I realise, that might not necessarily come instinctively. Flat spaces need a gaze which is patient and steady and open, not enforcing expectations about what counts as ‘interesting’ or ‘important’. It’s that special way of looking that interests me. I think it might help us understand other things or people which seem inscrutable or blank or reserved. Above all that’s what I’d like listeners to ask themselves after my broadcasts: how do I use my attention? What do I give it to and why and how?

Noreen Masud

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Astonishment

In astonishment, we hold ourselves back (être en arrêt). We step back, as it were, from beings, [astonished] that they are rather than are not. And astonishment is not exhausted in this stepping back before the Being of beings; but as this stepping back and holding oneself back, it is at the same time enraptured by and, as it were, held fast by that from which it steps back.

— Heidegger, ‘What is Philosophy?’ (tr. Capobianco)

Psalm

Veritas sequitur . . .

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Let this thing deal with you

God’s gift of contemplation is such that when it is present the soul can both practise it and know it is doing so. It is impossible to come by otherwise. Capacity for contemplation is one with contemplation itself, so that only he who feels he can contemplate is able to do so. No one else can. Without this prior working of God, a soul is as it were dead, unable to covet or desire it. Since you will it, and desire it, obviously you already have it, yet it is not your will or desire that moves you, but something you are completely ignorant of, stirring you to will and desire you know not what. Please do not worry if you never know more than this, but go on ever more and more, so that you will keep advancing.

In a word, let this thing deal with you, and lead you as it will. Let it be active, and you passive. Watch it if you like, but let it alone. Do not interfere with it, as though you would help, for fear that you should spoil it all. Be the tree: let it be the carpenter.

— The Cloud of Unknowing (tr. Wolters)

The only essential thing for life is forgoing smugness, moving into the house instead of admiring it and hanging garlands around it.

Kafka

Astral Weeks

Two kingdoms

If I imagined two kingdoms adjoining one another, with one of which I was fairly well acquainted, and altogether unfamiliar with the other, and I was not allowed to enter the unknown realm, however much I desired to do so, I should still be able to form some conception of its nature. I could go to the limits of the kingdom with which I was acquainted and follow its boundaries, and as I did so, I should in this way describe the boundaries of this unknown country, and thus without ever having set foot in it, obtain a general conception of it. And if this was a task that engrossed my energies, and if I was indefatigable in my desire to be accurate, it would doubtless sometimes happen, that as I stood sadly at my country’s boundary and looked longingly into the unknown country, which was so near me and yet so far away, that some little revelation might be vouchsafed to me.

— Kierkegaard, Either/Or (tr. Hong)

Strata

When I stand in the road that passes through Port William, I am standing on the strata of my history that go down through the known past into the unknown; the blacktop rests on state gravel, which rests on county gravel, which rests on the creek rock and cinders laid down by the town when it was still mostly beyond the reach of the county; and under the creek rock and cinders is the dirt track of the town’s beginning, the buffalo trace that was the way we came. You work your way down, or not so much down as within, into the interior of the present, until finally you come to that beginning in which all things, the world and the light itself, at a Word welled up into being out of their absence. And, nothing is here that we are beyond the reach of merely because we do not know about it.

— Wendell Berry, ‘Pray Without Ceasing’

Chance

The beings I love are creatures. They were born by chance. My meeting with them was also by chance. They will die. What they think, do, and say is limited and is a mixture of good and evil. I have to know this with all my soul and not love them less. I have to imitate God who infinitely loves finite things in that they are finite things. We want everything which has value to be eternal. Now everything which has a value is a product of a meeting, lasts throughout this meeting and ceases when those things which met are separated. That is the central idea of Buddhism (the thought of Heraclitus). It leads straight to God. Meditation on chance which led to the meeting of my father and mother is even more salutary than meditation on death. Is there a single thing in me of which the origin is not to be found in that meeting? Only God. And yet again, my thought of God had its origin in that meeting. Stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity. The theories about progress and the ‘genius which always pierces through’ arise from the fact that it is intolerable to suppose that what is most precious in the world should be given over to chance. It is because it is intolerable that it ought to be contemplated. Creation is this very thing. The only good which is not subject to chance is that which is outside the world.

— Simone Weil, via here

A real writer

‘Oh, and there’s something I want to speak to you about, Mrs Jansen. I’m afraid Samuel didn’t like the last story you wrote.’ Oh God, this awful sinking of the heart — like going down in a lift. I knew this job was too good to be true. ‘Didn’t he? I’m sorry. What didn’t he like about it?’ ‘Well, I’m afraid he doesn’t like the way you write. What he actually said was that, considering the cost of these stories, he thinks it strange that you should write them in words of one syllable. He says it gets monotonous, and don’t you know any long words, and if you do, would you please use them?….Madame Holmberg is most anxious to collaborate with me. And she’s a real writer — she’s just finished the third volume of her Life of Napoleon.’

— Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight