Monthly Archives: February 2021

The point of marriage

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvellous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
― Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

A new ear for things

All of a sudden, then, this self-­evident truth presents itself: on the one hand, I have no time left to try out several different lives: I have to choose my last life, my new life, Vita Nova (Dante) or Vita Nuova (Michelet). And, on the other, I have to get out of this gloomy state of mind that the wearing effects of repetitive work and mourning have disposed me to → This running aground, this slow entrenchment in the quicksand (= which isn’t quick!), this drawn-­out death of staying in the same place, this fate that makes it impossible to “enter death alive” can be diagnosed in the following way: a generalized and overwhelming accumulation of “disinvestments,” the inability to invest anew → In the Middle Ages, a word: acedy. It can immediately be clarified that, if said and conceived of in a certain way, and despite the overuse of the word, acedy (a theme we’ll encounter again) is irreplaceable: the inability to love (someone, other people, the world) → Unhappiness often translates as the impossibility of giving to others.


Thus, what I’m waiting for (as I said) is a trigger, a chance event, a mutation: a new ear for things → I quote Nietz­sche (still without comparing myself to, but identifying myself with on a practical level); Nietz­sche conceived of Zarathustra in 1881 while strolling though the woods that border Lake Silvaplana; resting beside an enormous block of stone = the idea of the Eternal Return. But (and this is what interests us), premonitory sign: sudden and radical modification of his taste in music: “Rebirth of the art of hearing” → The New Work (new with respect to yourself: this is the postulation of the Work to be written) will probably only be possible, probably only get going in real terms when an old liking is transformed and a new one emerges → Perhaps what I’m waiting for, then, is for my Hearing to be transformed—­and perhaps that will happen to me, unmeta­phor­ical­ly, through music, which I’m so fond of → Then I might achieve the real dialectical becoming: “To become what I am”; Nietz­sche’s saying: “Become what you are,” and Kafka’s saying: “Destroy yourself . . . ​in order to make yourself into that which you are” → In this way, the distinction between the Old and the New would quite naturally be abolished, the path of the spiral marked out, and these words from Schönberg, who founded contemporary music and reinvigorated the music of the past, honored: it’s still possible to write music in C major. There, to bring things to a close, you have the object of my desire: to write a work in C Major.

–Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel (via here)

When I was asked to do this exhibition, they took me down to basement of the Munch museum, which has I think a thousand paintings, and they pulled out these huge plates with different paintings on them. And it was shocking to me, because everything was kept when he died, he donated these paintings, so it’s like a work in progress that’s kind of frozen. And the way you saw it was like masterpieces, terrible paintings, sketches, unfinished things. It was like everything was there, and the energy in that was great because you could almost see him working.

Knausgaard on Edvard Munch

The third act

A: Nothing’s over till it’s over, but I find myself in a graceful moment. More or less relaxed.

Q: So you can really experience a big difference in how you tackle things now compared to earlier?

A: I read somewhere that as you get older the brain cells associated with anxiety begin to die. I think if that’s true – in my case it seems to be true – you can take it all a little more lightly.

Q: So the depressions that you had in your earlier days?

A: They’ve lifted. They’ve lifted completely.

Q: So ageing is quite nice?

A: In my case it’s been a great blessing.

Q: But there must be some hard part of it?

A: I think the collapse of the body is an aspect of it. And I’m not in old age, you know. I think I’m in that good period before the onset of the diseases that eventually kill you. I think it was Tennessee Williams said, ‘Life is a fairly well written play, except for the third act’. It’s a very bad third act.

Q: But for you it’s the best so far?

A: Beginning the third act is fine. I don’t know how the third act will unfold, but it doesn’t unfold very well for anybody. So I’m probably in the most graceful period that I’ve ever experienced, before the onset of this unpleasant destruction of the body, which is inevitable.

— Leonard Cohen, interview


Q: When people speak about your poems and when you read them, it can seem like they contain a certain portion of depression, paranoia, pessimism. But you seem to have decided to be happy over the years. Is that true?

A: I don’t know what happened. I wish I could tell you. It just got to feel better after a while. But I think that what we call seriousness is sometimes confused with depression. So much of this popular culture is devoted to pretending that nobody has any deep feelings and nobody sweats and nobody is in trouble. And the truth is that we’re all in trouble. Every single person is in trouble, with themselves, with their loves, with their work. So I think it’s a great privilege to be serious. I think it’s a great gift to be serious sometimes, and to be deeply serious about ourselves, about our lives, about our friends. That seriousness is often confused with depression. But to tell you the truth I’ve often felt bad. I was depressed, I wasn’t just serious.

Q: When did you last have a breakdown?

A: I tend to break down when I make a record. And I think you have to. If you’re going to destroy the versions of yourself that provide too easy a solution. So you know, someone comes along in yourself and he has a slogan, he has a view on love, he has a position on the world. Those kinds of persons that arise make very boring songs, so you have to annihilate them. You have to murder them. And to murder all those false persons that arise and try to tell you what the song is, to get to that place where you can defend every word, that takes a slaughter. And you really gotta break down.

Q: You write to murder. Or you murder by writing?

A: I write to murder the selves that whisper untruths to me.

Interview with Leonard Cohen

Wars. So many wars.

What’s happening to me, you may wonder? Is this a case of midlife crisis? No, alas, I passed middle age quite a long time ago. Is this a patrician spite for the popularization of critique? As if critique should be reserved for the elite and remain difficult and strenuous, like mountain climbing or yachting, and is no longer worth the trouble if everyone can do it for a nickel? What would be so bad about critique for the people? We have been complaining so much about the gullible masses swallowing naturalized facts, would it be really unfair to now discredit the same masses for their, what should I call it, gullible criticism? Or could this be a case of radicalism gone mad, as when a revolution swallows its progeny? Or, rather, have we behaved like mad scientists who have let the virus of critique out of the confines of their laboratories and cannot do anything now to limit its deleterious effects; it mutates now, gnawing everything up, even the vessels in which it is contained? Or is it another case of the famed power of capitalism for recycling everything aimed at its destruction?

— Bruno Latour, Why Has Critique Run out of Steam?

Via Anthologia: extracts from Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton.

September 15th

BEGIN here. It is raining. I look out on the maple, where a few leaves have turned yellow, and listen to Punch, the parrot, talking to himself and to the rain ticking gently against the windows. I am here alone for the first time in weeks, to take up my “real” life again at last. That is what is strange—that friends, even passionate love, are not my real life unless there is time alone in which to explore and to discover what is happening or has happened. Without the interruptions, nourishing and maddening, this life would become arid. Yet I taste it fully only when I am alone here and “the house and I resume old conversations.”

On my desk, small pink roses. Strange how often the autumn roses look sad, fade quickly, frost-browned at the edges! But these are lovely, bright, singing pink. On the mantel, in the Japanese jar, two sprays of white lilies, recurved, maroon pollen on the stamens, and a branch of peony leaves turned a strange pinkish-brown. It is an elegant bouquet; shibui, the Japanese would call it. When I am alone the flowers are really seen; I can pay attention to them. They are felt as presences. Without them I would die. Why do I say that? Partly because they change before my eyes. They live and die in a few days; they keep me closely in touch with process, with growth, and also with dying. I am floated on their moments.

The ambience here is order and beauty. That is what frightens me when I am first alone again. I feel inadequate. I have made an open place, a place for meditation. What if I cannot find myself inside it?

I think of these pages as a way of doing that. For a long time now, every meeting with another human being has been a collision. I feel too much, sense too much, am exhausted by the reverberations after even the simplest conversation. But the deep collision is and has been with my unregenerate, tormenting, and tormented self. I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand. I am unable to become what I see. I feel like an inadequate machine, a machine that breaks down at crucial moments, grinds to a dreadful halt, “won’t go,” or, even worse, explodes in some innocent person’s face.

Plant Dreaming Deep has brought me many friends of the work (and also, harder to respond to, people who think they have found in me an intimate friend). But I have begun to realize that, without my own intention, that book gives a false view. The anguish of my life here—its rages—is hardly mentioned. Now I hope to break through into the rough rocky depths, to the matrix itself. There is violence there and anger never resolved. I live alone, perhaps for no good reason, for the reason that I am an impossible creature, set apart by a temperament I have never learned to use as it could be used, thrown off by a word, a glance, a rainy day, or one drink too many.

My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence if I cannot find support there. I go up to Heaven and down to Hell in an hour, and keep alive only by imposing upon myself inexorable routines. I write too many letters and too few poems. It may be outwardly silent here but in the back of my mind is a clamor of human voices, too many needs, hopes, fears. I hardly ever sit still without being haunted by the “undone” and the “unsent.” I often feel exhausted, but it is not my work that tires (work is a rest); it is the effort of pushing away the lives and needs of others before I can come to the work with any freshness and zest.

September 17th

CRACKING OPEN the inner world again, writing even a couple of pages, threw me back into depression, not made easier by the weather, two gloomy days of darkness and rain. I was attacked by a storm of tears, those tears that appear to be related to frustration, to buried anger, and come upon me without warning. I woke yesterday so depressed that I did not get up till after eight.


September 18th

THE VALUE of solitude — one of its values — is, of course, that there is nothing to cushion against attacks from within, just as there is nothing to help balance at times of particular stress or depression. A few moments of desultory conversation with dear Arnold Miner, when he comes to take the trash, may calm an inner storm. But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.

The reasons for depression are not so interesting as the way one handles it, simply to stay alive. This morning I woke at four and lay awake for an hour or so in a bad state. It is raining again. I got up finally and went about the daily chores, waiting for the sense of doom to lift — and what did it was watering the house plants. Suddenly joy came back because I was fulfilling a simple need, a living one. Dusting never has this effect (and that may be why I am such a poor housekeeper!), but feeding the cats when they are hungry, giving Punch clean water, makes me suddenly feel calm and happy.

Whatever peace I know rests in the natural world, in feeling myself a part of it, even in a small way. Maybe the gaiety of the Warner family, their wisdom, comes from this, that they work close to nature all the time. As simple as that? But it is not simple. Their life requires patient understanding, imagination, the power to endure constant adversity—the weather, for example! To go with, not against the elements, an inexhaustible vitality summoned back each day to do the same tasks, to feed the animals, clean out barns and pens, keep that complex world alive.

Continue reading

We look at children playing in a world of things, sensations, perceptions. We try to teach them language. Language estranges them from what is to be known. Do we do it because we envy their total immersion in this actual world? Or do we yearn to give them language so they can talk to us, tell us, remind us of what we lost, forgot? And the cost to them of such messages we receive, it’s terrible but scarcely noticed in the busyness of things: the loss of their own immersion.

Martin Trauben-Ritter

From The Moment:

I move between the bedroom and bathroom, the study and living room, the cottage and the Co-op, day in, day out. I grow too used to the world again. I make it too familiar, let the moment veil itself in the everyday. I become a burden to myself.

Sometimes the nearest things are the hardest to see. We see them too often to see them fresh, and understandably seek to escape them when they seem to have lost all mystery, all presence. Too much home and home becomes opaque, flat. I’m a body walking through the same rooms and fields and shops. No mountain peaks on this plain, no vantage point. The same, the same. The impulse is to look for a quick escape into the new and exciting, or a slow escape into resignation and resentment.

But doesn’t the commonplace hold its own secrets? Perhaps only our impatience obscures them. If we had the endurance of animals we might be better able to accept the familiar and simply wait, day after undistinguished day, until the day, unmasked, surrendered.

Doesn’t being lurk most mysteriously—nearest and furthest—among the things we move around every day, in the fact of their being here at all? Now on my walks I sometimes stop and look at one thing for as long as I can, a squirrel, say, or a flowering bush, until I see its strangeness again, the essential strangeness of its being, to which I’m somehow linked.

Attention is a bit like the air we breathe. It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce. If that’s the case — to extend a tortured metaphor — it feels as if our attention has become polluted. We subsist on it, but the quality has been diminished. This is certainly true in my life, where I’ve become so reliant on the constant stimuli of our connected world that I find myself frequently out of control of my attention. I give it to others too willingly — often to those who will abuse the privilege.

Charlie Warzel