Category Archives: Writing

Vertical time

Bachelard described the poetic instant as a ‘simultaneity in which the most scattered and disunited being achieves unity’. He saw it as an ambivalent moment, both ‘astonishing and familiar’, that breaks up everyday time and gathers its contradictory events: an ecstatic ‘vertical time’ in which ‘being rises or descends without accepting world time, which would inevitably turn ambivalence back into antithesis, simultaneity into succession’. In the instant, he says, ‘flat horizontality suddenly vanishes. Time no longer flows. It spouts’. He also used the image of a sailboat held in balance by the opposing forces of the waves against its hull and the wind in its sail – when this happens, the hull is said to hum.

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The great horse

In amazement we beheld the great horse. It broke through the roof of our room. The cloudy sky was drifting faintly along its mighty outline, and its mane flew, rustling, in the wind.

– Kafka

The closer you look

The hot sun draws all the life out of the earth under a cloudless sky: every weed, grass, flower, insect… The closer you look at this quiet fold of country, the richer and more detailed in life and death it is. The other day S. told me even a biologist probably wouldn’t be able to catalogue in a lifetime all that’s happening even in a small patch of these woods.

The last God

Kierkegaard wrote of the moment (øjeblikket, literally ‘the glance of an eye’, that is, a moment of seeing) that it ‘is not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity … It is the first reflection of eternity in time, its first attempt, as it were, at stopping time … The moment is that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time … The fullness of time is the moment as the eternal, and yet this eternal is also the future and the past.’ For Kierkegaard, the moment as the convergence of time and the eternal leads back to the Cross.

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Isn’t Kierkegaard right that the eternal can only come into the world through the moment? But what do we know of the eternal?
The moment as both homecoming and new beginning. No matter how often you turn from it it’s there, at the heart of time. Isn’t it first of all the revelation of time itself?
And on the other side of the moment? Something infinitely greater, perhaps – a second homecoming and beginning – the coming of the last God and the freeing even of the moment from itself –
The moment as the world’s readying for God.

Heart of time

If the moment is the fullness of time, it can’t be in time. It can’t simply be a series of nows between past and future, but rather the instant in which time itself is revealed to us, only to withdraw. How to hold this moment as it emerges, as it lets us emerge with it? It’s bigger than us, holds itself in itself, can’t be commanded. How to find it then? How to remain in it? Endure it?

What they used to call faith

At last a sunny day. Boundless blue sky. The sun no longer ripening anything seems to shine for the sake of it. Quiet happiness again, like an advent.
Some days there seem to be hints of a hidden God everywhere. When I do the dishes, when I walk to the shops, even when I talk to S. A God of intimations, a last God which may or may not come, when all the other gods have passed away… It’s hard to write about.
We can talk about being with some boldness, even stake some claim in it, but how to dare talk about God? Beyond the word God, even beyond being, God withdraws – into God.
In Eckhart’s words: ‘Whatever one says that God is, he is not; he is what one does not say of him, rather than what one says he is.’ And: ‘God is a being beyond being and a nothingness beyond being. God is nothing. No thing. God is nothingness. And yet God is something.’
We can say nothing worthy of God – if we deign to believe – but we can try however clumsily with the words that are given to us.
I remember those summer afternoons in the dim musty chapel. The impersonal light through the stained-glass window. I felt an overfacing power and I felt it withdraw, and that gave me a strange hope. Something pointed me far beyond myself and returned me to myself.
What they used to call faith, blooming out of nothing.

Through the woods

I’ve found the patch in the woods where the muntjacs live; I guess they don’t move around much. I can usually find them if I’m careful, but I try to stem my desire to stalk them so they won’t get spooked and go away. I love to know they’re there, living their secret lives, and I think of them often. Their eyes when they see you are the opposite of a spaniel’s pleading eyes in a pub. There’s no bridge between us. Perhaps there never was. Find your own silence, they seem to say.

The silence of writing. What is it a sentence can do, even a banal one, when it’s brought back from contemplation and coupled to the world through the act of writing it? The reflexivity of writing isn’t a dead end as I once thought. Nor is it a game. It can be an event that moves you on, or back to where things silently happen with you. It can be a practical act in its own way – an act of faith that brings the chaotic, detached everyday self into a clearer awareness: not of a spiritual world lifted out of the material but of the two interwoven in every moment.

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The trees are letting their seeds fly in the wind. White catkin fluff catches to things like sheep’s wool on brambles. I picked some from my beard this morning. The scatter-approach to pollination: something’s bound to take in the earth and grow lasting and solid, as if it was always there.

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When I can’t write, when the building noise distracts me, or when I have nothing to say, I don’t recognize myself. I’m not at home. Writing is a house of being under construction. Sometimes you feel you’re living in rubble. But then the right sentence comes, the edifice rises up around you and the edifice is what was there all along. At the same time the sentence you’ve written stands as a witness to what it’s revealed, even made richer than it was, at least for you. When this happens the world lies open. You can get up from your desk and live in your home, kiss S., make plans with her.

I say these things again and again because every day they escape my grasp, or rather I escape theirs.

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When you think, you’re both thinking and describing your thoughts. Isn’t the act of writing – the blackening of the screen – just a way of shaping thought? And when you think, aren’t you already in writing, committed to building a house of being around you whether you like it or not? You move from thought to act and back again, trying to find your way through the words of others. What happens when you write a thought down? Often the subject eludes you. The words disperse. But doesn’t something happen nevertheless? No matter how unsure you are of what you’re saying, no matter how badly you fail to grasp it, doesn’t something take place in the saying itself?

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When we go through the woods, says Heidegger, we’re always already going through the word ‘woods’. Both the woods and the word were there before us. But it’s the going through them that brings them together. In a sense the saying of the word summons the thing. The word summons but doesn’t create. We don’t give being, but call and respond to it, help unveil it, enter it. And as we do, being at the same time withdraws from us.

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What is it that sometimes happens to you in the moment when word and thing come together? What light comes slanting in on your words? What glints on the other side of being? Celan once wrote that he saw God in a ray of light under his hotel door. Is it something like that – a ray of light under the door of a dark rented room?