Monthly Archives: October 2021

This side of pessimism and optimism

The turning of the age does not take place by some new god, or the old one renewed, bursting into the world from ambush at some time or other. Where would he turn on his return if men had not first prepared an abode for him? How could there ever be for the god an abode fit for a god, if a divine radiance did not first begin to shine in everything that is?

The gods who “were once there,” “return” only at the “right time”—that is, when there has been a turn among men in the right place, in the right way. For this reason Holderlin writes:

. . . The heavenly powers

Cannot do all things. It is the mortals

Who reach sooner into the abyss. So the turn is

With these. Long is

The time, but the true comes into

Its own.

Long is the destitute time of the world’s night. To begin with, this requires a long time to reach to its middle. At this night’s midnight, the destitution of the time is greatest. Then the destitute time is no longer able even to experience its own destitution. That inability, by which even the destitution of the destitute state is obscured, is the time’s absolutely destitute character. The destitution is wholly obscured, in that it now appears as nothing more than the need that wants to be met. Yet we must think of the world’s night as a destiny that takes place this side of pessimism and optimism. Perhaps the world’s night is now approaching its midnight. Perhaps the world’s time is now becoming the completely destitute time. But also perhaps not, not yet, not even yet, despite the immeasurable need, despite all suffering, despite nameless sorrow, despite the growing and spreading peacelessness, despite the mounting confusion. Long is the time because even terror, taken by itself as a ground for turning, is powerless as long as there is no turn with mortal men. But there is a turn with mortals when these find the way to their own nature. That nature lies in this, that mortals reach into the abyss sooner than the heavenly powers. Mortals, when we think of their nature, remain closer to that absence because they are touched by presence, the ancient name of Being. But because presence conceals itself at the same time, it is itself already absence. Thus the abyss holds and remarks everything.

— Heidegger, ‘What are Poets For?’ (tr. Hofstadter)

How to name this land?

There are two paths, said early mystical writers, the via positiva and the via negativa, the way of light and the way of darkness. Affirmative theology, the way of light, is an understanding of the divine nature as it is exposed in the intelligible orders of being; one declares, tracking the divinity in ekstasis, that the source of being is good, intelligent, beautiful and so on. In negative theology, however, they said, a richer knowledge of the divine nature comes, the intimate knowledge of human ecstasy, a no-knowledge […] This theology is a path of disorientation, muting and appetite ending in conjunction with being’s apex. On it, all names for the divinity are rejected as inadequate: God is not good if by this one would constrain the divine in images of human beneficence, not just if one has in mind mere human justice. God is supra-goodness, beauty beyond beauty, No-thing. Some of the same cancellations occur as one edges toward the brome grass head, the porcupine faced at the foot of the drive in grey false dawn, in their unknowable otherness […]

I walk in the hills in winter. A sharptail grouse explodes from drift-fold where she’s hidden from the cold, her faeces bunched around her. I am going into the hills where the deer in February browse juniper. Lost place, the original grass cover has never been broken. The snow would come to mid-thigh if I stepped from my snowshoes. The ground is blank except for some fox or coyote tracks; once, last winter, I saw an ermine out this way. I walk through heavy poplar, each grove rhizoming from the first tree of the bush, ghost wood, smelling like stale bread when you cut through it. I come over the rise and there are the deer, standing in the pits they’ve hoofed into the snow to get at juniper tips. They do not see me. I look beyond them, further south, more poplar bush, hills, an old fence line, willow in the hollows, still: nothing. How to name this land? It’s a skellig, black rock in the Atlantic. It’s a half-scraped hide. What does it speak in memory? What titles to give it in praise-singing? Language again and again springs at the essence, reaching for clarity, the exact fit between the look of the slow hills, occultly breathing and their feel, then denies each time what it comes up with.


The thisness of the nearest doe bent over the juniper, her transfixing oddness, is the littling of language, mortification of the desire for clarity, yet an occasion of the love which is one shape of contemplative attention.

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