Monthly Archives: December 2020

He is a free and secure citizen of the world because he is on a chain that is long enough to allow him access to all parts of the earth, and yet not so long that he could be swept over the edge of it. At the same time he is also a free and secure citizen of heaven because he is also attached to a similar heavenly chain. If he wants to go to earth, the heavenly manacles will throttle him, if he wants to go to heaven, the earthly manacles will. But after all that, all possibilities are open to him, as he is well aware, yes, he even refuses to believe the whole thing is predicated on a mistake going back to the time of the first enchainment.

— Kafka, Zurau Aphorisms (tr. Kaiser and Wilkins)

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A chain around your neck

I think it started when I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, which is an exceptional book, quite different from Thomas Mann’s other books, because you sense that it came to him very easily. I’m a big admirer of Thomas Mann, but all the other books tend to get rather heavy. This one has a lightness. And it’s five volumes, so it’s a big bastard. But because he had an ‘obstruction’ in the form of ‘So says the Bible’, he was able to let his hair down. I’m convinced about the obstruction principle, because it makes it play rather than a duty. I remember Per Kirkeby hated the white canvas. So he had an assistant who’d paint on them. Anything. That gave him a point of departure and then it could become something completely different. It’s funny that total freedom isn’t all that artistically interesting, strangely enough. You also sometimes sense the political situation people have been in. Tarkovsky, for example, made by far his best movies in the Soviet Union, because he was in this strange oppressive situation, but he found a niche so he was returned to favour. As soon as he goes to Italy and Sweden, it doesn’t work for me anymore. Apparently you to have some sort of chain around your neck. It’s like athletes who make things harder for themselves, or circus performers who do something that’s a bit more difficult, which at least becomes a reward for themselves.

— Lars von Trier, 2020 interview

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

— T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Dear Lou, for a month I have been alone and this is my first attempt to regain consciousness — you see what a plight I am in. In the end something will have been learnt, — at present of course I realise only this : that once more I was not proportioned to a task that was pure and joyous, a task in which Life again stepped up to me, guilelessly, forgivingly, as though it had not had any ill experience of me at all. Now it is clear that this time too I have muffed my exam and that I make no progress and must still sit for another year in the same agonising class and day after day, right from the beginning, be given those same words on the blackboard whose accents I thought I had learnt from the very bottom of my heart.

— Rilke, letter, 1914 (tr. Hull)

At a certain moment, if you don’t decide to abandon a drawing in order to begin another, the looking involved in what you are measuring and summoning up changes.

At first you question the model (the seven irises) in order to discover lines, shapes, tones that you can trace on the paper. The drawing accumulates the answers. Also, of course, it accumulates corrections, after further questioning of the first answers. Drawing is correcting. I’m beginning now to use the Chinese papers; they turn the ink-lines into veins.

At a certain moment – if you’re lucky – the accumulation becomes an image – that’s to say it stops being a heap of signs and becomes a presence. Uncouth, but a presence. This is when your looking changes. You start questioning the presence as much as the model.

— John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook

I’ve done most of my reading in English. I find English a far finer language than Spanish. For many reasons. Firstly, English is both a Germanic and a Latin language. Those two registers. For example, any idea you take, you have two words. Those words won’t mean exactly the same. For example, if I say ‘regal’, it’s not the exactly the same thing as saying ‘kingly. And if I say ‘fraternal’ it’s not the same thing as saying ‘brotherly’. Or ‘dark’ and ‘obscure’. You’ll recall the difference between the ‘Holy Spirit’ and the ‘Holy Ghost’, since ‘ghost’ is a fine, dark Saxon word, whereas ‘spirit’ is a light, Latin word. And there’s another reason, which is that of all languages, English is the most physical of all languages. You can do almost anything with prepositions.

— Borges, interview

Most filmmakers want to defeat time, to saddle it like an old horse, and it seems to these directors that on this old horse, within this huge, unlimited space, they can exist as they want, they can tame this horse using modern tricks of editing, but it’s an illusion.

— Alexander Sokurov

But now, like a whispering in dark streets,
rumors of God run through your dark blood.

— Rilke (tr. Barrows and Macy)

Sketch of a Sketch of the World

A man had to realize his life’s work, a work built like a house. He began by erecting a scaffold.

To build the scaffold, he needed new preparations and other scaffolds.

Many of these preparations and those other scaffolds required their own long retrogressions, all kinds of constructions and demanding efforts.

Efforts that consumed his days, while time flew by.

Time flew by; already one could see the approach of death, and the work still distant.

Yes, now, the man was farther from the scaffolding of the work than he had been from the work itself at the beginning… And yet he had spent his entire life in ceaseless efforts.

Death was near, time was of the essence.

Then the man found, without knowing it, or merely suspecting it, a word; perhaps the word even uttered itself; and from the paths that the man had taken, on its own, the work was accomplished.

Was it a house?

Some, later, would call it a house.

And that was the only house there has ever been.

— Ludwig Hohl (tr. M. Tweed)

The Book of a Monastic Life

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there’s a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

*

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

I have many brothers in the South
who move, handsome in their vestments,
through cloister gardens.
The Madonnas they make are so human,
and I dream often of their Titians,
where God becomes an ardent flame.

But when I lean over the chasm of myself –
it seems
my God is dark
and like a web: a hundred roots
silently drinking.

This is the ferment I grow out of.

More I don’t know, because my branches
rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.

*

We must not portray you in king’s robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from our old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.

*

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
embrace:

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

*

You, god, who live next door –

If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking –
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I’m right here.

As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin. Why couldn’t a cry
from one of us
break it down?  It would crumble
easily,
it would barely make a sound.

*

If only for once it were still.
If the not quite right and the why this
could be muted, and the neighbor’s laughter,
and the static my senses make –
if all of it didn’t keep me from coming awake –

Then in one vast thousandfold thought
I could think you up to where thinking ends.

I could possess you,
even for the brevity of a smile,
to offer you
to all that lives,
in gladness.

— Rilke, from The Book of Hours (tr. Barrows and Macy)