But the clearing remains, and doesn’t feel guilty. It doesn’t feel anything. You are the clearing, yet it’s not you, exactly. It’s the fact of your being here, your having fallen into your life. That’s the source of your indifference.
And beyond the clearing that you are, if you dare to face it? It doesn’t bear thinking about, the beyond.
I was a clearing in my childhood, I was a clearing in my adolescence, I’m a clearing for being now. That was always what I was afraid of, the clearing that leaves you too open.
You have one life, they say: use it. Obscure the clearing. I see people using their lives all the time, using everyone and everything around them. I do it myself, walking around the posh part of town, completely focused on my own needs. How guilty should I feel, and for what, exactly?
I couldn’t take it any longer, so we transferred the flat into my name and I sold it. I can’t go to that part of the city anymore, even seeing the name in the Metro depresses me. We moved my father to a care home, where I visit him once in a while.
Since then, what have I done? What have I read? Not much. Would it matter if I had? Would it have made me any wiser? Not much to show for my time, as our family accountant said. I live with my mother, beside the biggest park in the city. My parents were shrewd boomers, they knew how to invest their money. Here the streets are wider, it’s quieter.
Get over it, they say. Move on. To what, exactly? It’s a question of finding one’s way back. Not so you can work yourself into fulfilment and move on to bigger and better things, but so you can see who you were all along. Who were you? Not exactly yourself. But more than who you thought you were, and what others thought. You were a clearing.
You were a clearing, in your immense stupidity, your cowardice and your work. You were the shape that being took in you. All you are is something that being took hold in.
She broke up with me on the street outside the government office, after I’d got my residence permit. Even at that moment there was something indifferent in me. That was also being taking shape in me, which I couldn’t hide from. I called my mother, as one does when one is in trouble, and got lucky, in a sense. My parents had a flat in Copenhagen they were renting out, and they were about to renew the tenant’s contract. I had all my things shipped over from storage in England, went to the government office to register as a Dane again, sat in my new flat and drank.
Drinking dulls the call of the clearing, its urgency. You can sink into your own private world.
That year is hazy to me. It was almost funny: I ended up in a building full of students next to the North Harbour, a mini-Dubai that represents everything I hate. There was constant construction noise. My mother told me I should be grateful: those flats were sought after, people would kill to have one of those.
Cryptic lives we lead. We don’t even know ourselves. Paul says: ‘For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as I was fully known.’ V. found her in a dance club in a boat by the Danube. Did he seek her out? During lockdown he invited her to practise dancing with her in the Prater. I’d cycle over and watch them, then cycle home again. She’d come back with Russian tea and caviar. He was Russian, and her boss was the son of a Russian defector, funded by the American military. Who knows what they’re up to now.
What was I doing? Why had I come to this deeply foreign city in the first place? I didn’t have it in me to act – to bike to the park and take a bat to him, for example. What would that have achieved? The whole thing was already wrong. I wasn’t present enough for her, I wasn’t there. And there’s nothing worse for a woman than indifference.
It was a mistake. But anyone can say that, looking back.
I was sitting on a bench by a canal in Vienna, trying to read to read a novel. As usual I got stuck looking at the words and wondering how they might have been strung together differently, instead of following the plot. I read a couple of pages and looked up at the bats that flew out from under the bridge. When it got dark I finished my beer and went back to S.
She’d got a job in Vienna and found a beautiful flat in the Orthodox Jewish quarter, near a big temple that had been bombed by the Nazis. She’d ordered IKEA furniture that I assembled while she was at work.
The flat was owned by a world-weary painter around my age who told us, Do whatever you want, just don’t trash the place. There still seemed to be people like that around Vienna. Rent was cheap, I guess because there were so many big buildings left from the days of the empire. The big apartments had been split up. There were brass signs on the pavements listing the people who’d been brought to the camps. There were parks too, and the Danube, palaces on every corner of the Altstadt.
On the façade of the building opposite, above a supermarket, workers on scaffolding were putting up a plaque that said Strauss lived there. Who cares, I said. That was when I felt something finally break between us. She wanted to see some enthusiasm in me that I could no longer give her. She’d already met V. in any case. It didn’t help that I’d quoted Kafka to her the day before: ‘Today I looked at a map of Vienna. For a moment it seemed incomprehensible to me that they would build such a huge city when you only need one room.’
Perhaps philosophy shows most clearly and persistently that human beings are beginners. Philosophising ultimately means nothing other than being a beginner.
But the message of the pathway speaks only as long as there are people (born in its breeze) who can hear it. They are hearers of their origin, not servants of their production. Humans try in vain with their plans to bring order to their globe if they don’t heed the message of the pathway. The danger looms that today’s people can’t hear its language. They have ears only for the noise of media, which they consider to be almost the voice of God. So man becomes distracted and pathless. The Simple seems monotonous to the distracted. The monotonous brings weariness. The annoyed find only the uniform. The Simple has fled. Its quiet power is exhausted. There are fewer and fewer people who still recognise the Simple as their hard-earned possession.
— Heidegger, ‘The Pathway’
The essence of the human being is admitted into being. Being is neither outside nor inside the human being. Admittance of the essence of the human being into being in the mode of the appropriation of the disposition. (Circle – midpoint.)
Heeding that ‘we’ can never not think being.
Attending to the question-worthiness of that which we heed in such heeding.
Attentiveness to this simplicity and to the pain of enduring the difference.
— Heidegger, The Event
This not quite knowing what the earth requires:
earthiness, earthliness, or things ethereal;
whether spiritus mundi notices bad faith
or if it cares; defraudings at the source;
the bare usury of the species. In the end
one is as broken as the vows and tatters,
petitions with blood on them, the charred prayers
spiralling godwards on intense thermals.
No decent modicum, agreed. I’d claim
the actual is at once cruder and finer,
without fuss carrying its own weight. Still
I think of poetry as it was said
of Alanbrooke’s war diary: a work done
to gain, or regain, possession of himself,
as a means of survival and, in that sense,
a mode of moral life.
— Geoffrey Hill