Monthly Archives: September 2021

Writing in the inner marketplace

You can find a profound home and a profound exile in language.

*

He is often tormented to find that text is not the one, single flame in which all the underbrush of desire can be incinerated. He wants to be text and nothing else. He is ashamed of every other lust. And how he dangles over the abyss when he’s at his text, creeping along, exhausted and bitter! It’s not that what he’s writing is bad, it’s that he feels it’s bad to write.

*

We do not write about something, we write it; we do not love someone, we love it (love). Love, steel-crowned with the desire for return, with its myth of remelding into one mass of personality. Writing defines the condition of absence. Where there is a single letter, everything is absent. Desire for lost things, the lost body, is the elemental eroticism of a human language that brings about understanding only through sense and symbol, instead of direct stimulation (recognizing, of course, that our cries and our speaking are subject to a behavioral paradigm similar to the one that governs songbirds as they mark off their territory, and stay in continuous vocal contact with one another).

Signs also have a physical reality, writings are also drawings, are – in part shriveled – things, slender strokes, traces of matter, jewels and secrets.

*

Each of us carries the mark of all that has ever been written.

*

The crumpled in us,

at night it flattens out, the discarded page with a

bad first line.

*

Octavio Paz: “A writer does not speak to us from the national palace, or the supreme court, or from the offices of the central committee; he does not speak in the name of the nation, the working class, the parties. He does not even speak in his own name: the first thing a true writer does is to question his own existence. Literature begins when you ask: who is that speaking inside me when I speak?”

[…]

We write only in the service of literature. We write under the auspices of everything that has already been written. But we also write to construct, little by little, a spiritual home for ourselves, where we no longer possess a natural one.

*

How are we to understand the fundamental triviality of writer and written words? Who are we compared to the mass media and the forces of irrelevance? Nothing now, and never have been. Only when I come to the point of saying, I do not exist and you, written word, only at the edges of a wavelike movement that causes me to dive, do I allot us our appropriate places. The bobbing head of a drunk in an unrushing current, gurgling at the threshold of a scream and sinking back into the waters – this is the fading of a work of art, and, what we seize as it escapes forms the core of its realism. Unimportant: in the meantime all books have lost mass. The realized, complex, enigmatic, insofar as the “inner marketplace” even allows it to emerge, has as little chance of finding fertile soil in which to take root as does the gentle and popular hit of the season. And opposing forces can hardly be maintained where nothing has been developed in the first place. Together, all of these works fall victim to the supreme rule of speed, increasing acceleration, and total passage. If Paul Virilio is right, in the dromocracy (a system based on forces of acceleration) in which we now live, or simply pass the time, it is against the laws of nature to endure.

Here, even the most fundamental truth is condemned to being nothing more than a passing “wave”. For example, even serious works on ecology (right along with the friendly, gushing alternative press) will soon be exiled from bookstore shelves to the special-interest corners, as were the tomes of scholarly leftist schools. Within the most minimal amount of time, the media get tired of all the croaking, the movement gets tired of itself before even the tiniest steps are taken toward improving the common weal. Weariness is the absolute sovereign of our culture. If there should ever be a so-called catastrophe, it will probably take place at a time when we just aren’t interested anymore, and we will allow ourselves the luxury of a yawning shock.

Paradoxically, just this moment would be the poet’s hour, at the high point of irrelevance in his existence. At this point, nothing could be more exemplary and useful than a talent for breaking with his time, bursting apart the chains of the present.

But in this society, aren’t we merely one minority among others, one group of cripples among others, who long ago gave up our claims to the universal validity of our speech? Haven’t the forces of diversity, the grand scrolls of a thousand fads and correctnesses made us incapable of taking an eccentric or avant-garde stance, opposite that of an albeit imaginary whole, thus giving it shape? I am not talking about the journalists who call themselves writers, and always know how to address the issues of “our times”. I am only talking about the difficult players, the heirs to the modernists, the uneasy traditionalists, the pompous mannerists, and all the others who in the eyes of the majority are nothing but useless crackpots. And of those there are only a few, a dwindling few. And now, of all times, where consumption has become total (and here, what the fringe groups are reading is no different from what the book-of-the-month club serves up), there is no new literature which, in rejecting this consumerism, might gain considerable strength, and bring about a current that would not in itself turn into a celebration of being late, being based on nothing but French dregs and Artaud’s anemic whispers. But in a time when literature itself has become an outsider in our culture, the outside in literature has been forced out of his eccentric role. The official business of fashions and trends has taken the place of the new, in other words, the latest news is now the new. and in general, the critical mind seems to be having an allergic reaction to the new in its broadest sense; in keeping with the times, it is just now learning to make more intensive use of what we already have. But an avant-garde that is not convinced that the general public, the mediocre retinue, will one day take over their positions and elevate them to the status of common property lacks the fighting energy needed for this task. But who could now be so blind to his calling as to believe in the indisputable destiny of literature in the same way, say, a Mallarme did, being convinced that the work of the world would be fulfilled in The Book. Today, to elevate the book to the status of metaphor for the universal archive of our culture would be nothing but a private pleasure, as harmless as it was obsolete. Supposedly, the work of the mind will end in eighty-seven television channels, and Mallarme’s book will become the cult object of a tiny secret society in the University of Wisconsin, and only there and nowhere else in the world will its memory be honored. Where writing itself vanishes from the center of culture, the outside among writers, the eccentric, will become a foolish figure – a radical reaching for roots on a continent that is simply slipping away.

— Botho Strauss, ‘Scribbles’, from Couples, Passersby (tr. Theobald) (1996)

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The deer’s stare into the world of things

Deer come out of the poplars just as day becomes night; they move in the blue air. Dropped grain near the house glistens in the hollow they’ve licked and stamped over the weeks into snow. Their bodies are dense with strangeness and are weightless, brief electric arcs on the eye, eloquent, two does faring well this winter, bow-sided, v-faced, coming down the slope through low willow and wild rose that holds the last of light. They stop repeatedly, their coloratura caution; their bodies seem the constant, quavering afterglow of this strained attention. Yet the gold of the grain pulls the goldenness of them. They come the last steps quickly along a path notched with their prints from nights before and bend to eat. Shadow soaks into them. One of them jerks up a look, then the other. They see me standing by the woodpile. They stare. I stare.

Consciousness walks across the land bridge of the deer’s stare into the world of things. This is knowing. It tastes of sorrow and towering appetite. Their look seems a bestowal; I feel more substantial, less apologetic as a physical thing from having been seen. The traded look goes on in the building dark. There is no intention here, noting of fairy tale or hagiography, animals lying down with the solitary, animals bearing messages, scrolls caught in the clefts of their hooves. There is only wild seeing, the feel of it unimaginable: I am seen straight through (of that, no doubt) but cannot say how I am seen. Travelling back through the conductor of this gaze, something of me, a slant I’d never guess, enters them. Their look has a particularity, an inexpressibility, so high-pitched it attracts myths. No wonder some say the darkness of the forest is a god.

— Tim Lilburn, Living in the World as if It Were Home