Kafka on Kierkegaard’s books: ‘They are not unambiguous and even when later he develops himself into a kind of unambiguousness, this is also just part of his chaos of spirit, mourning, and faith.’

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Flowerville on The Moment:

shielded by time

peter holm jensen – the moment (splice)

you had been meaning to write about this book since you finished reading it and you didn’t know how. this is a book in which we accompany the author through a couple of years living in rural norfolk; his ideas on writing, reflections on kafka and rilke; his partner; his neighbour who is a farmer who later on dies, the farm being sold, what this means when old farms are being sold; then there are his friends, some struggling to make ends meet; there are trips to surrounding villages; trips to the pub; his life as freelance translator and how this is brutalized by nasty old capitalism. alienation. misfortunes. grace. life going on, seasons. animals. vegetables. it is a kind of journal although it doesn’t feel this way.

you thought about it all and you thought it is very much a book about after, say, after something happened and somehow this had led to life being reduced to the essentials. not as a form of impoverishment, but as in all pretentiousness is gone, things are as they are, life is as it is, what is the nature of writing and what can be said, about everything. after all has been said and done. perhaps, as in: what if there’s nothing between you and the world anymore. 

it’s really the stage after irony, after deconstruction and so on.

A power that made everything you are both meaningless and meaningful. Room to breathe, a sense of dignity. As long as you were shielded by time, held in the perfect stillness of the moment. How carefully it has to be approached. But maybe that’s not the right word. Questioned, perhaps. Or undergone.

it’s a book one can’t argue with. not that you would want that. 

it’s been one of the most beautiful things you’ve read in a long time. 

and it seems to you that this non-shallow beauty of this book lies in the acceptance of existence, of its difficulties and trials and also of the complicated and not always forthcoming beauty (but nevertheless existing) of life.  it’s about holding on to that thread of being, a book of maturity and the occasional overcoming of alienation. 

What seems clear to me now is that something goes wrong for everyone. One way or another, suddenly or slowly, of our own will or by force, we go astray. We lose sight of some essential part of ourselves; hide from being. But we can never close ourselves off from it completely, never lose our link to the unity we spring from. How could we? Michael Haar writes: ‘We are held in being, and no matter how tenuous the thread attaching us to presence – for example in fainting or dreamless sleep – we are never, as long as we are, released into pure nothingness.’ Never released from the link to being that lets us become our more or less divided selves and live on the same ground as all other beings, no matter how different from us.

Turning knowledge inside out

“The time has come for us to be able to write and send messages within our mind,” as a friend tells Renouard. But the future may be even more efficient than that. “We will do a Google search exactly as we go looking through our memories, by a simple act of the mind which, like memory, will require neither the hand nor the eye as intermediary,” he writes. “We will use this inner Google to look up words and phrases in a foreign language,” he writes. “The memory of which our brain is the organ will no longer be an individual memory.” Renouard’s vision of the internet is one that is capable of doing a lot of our feeling and knowledge-gathering for us, and it’s persuasive because we can all cite examples where we’ve felt that happen, from auto-completes to self-driving cars.

*

The internet is a canny repository of many false sensations. Friends aren’t friends, followers don’t follow, links are digressions not connections, truth is a partisan cudgel in the hands of countless memelords. […] The internet, he writes, has turned knowledge inside out: Books, once our chief repository of wisdom, are now walled-off and inaccessible, “a distant and secret refuge protected from the curiosity of readers.” Information gives us more things to contemplate but hardly lets us think about them: “The last fortress of our involuntary memory will have been conquered by the recollection machine.” The internet will wreck our privacy, but our morality will simply adapt to it. The internet never forgets, but we’re now free not to think.

*

At one point Renouard himself sounds a skeptical note about all this. He asks, “What is there of a person in his traces, even if we reach a totality, a saturation, in the Great Downloading?” The internet tempts us into thinking it’s everything because it gives so much. It confounds our senses because it mimics them so well; it conflates truth and fact by making both seem porous. And it demands we still live with it. We’ll need tools to better navigate this, and one more irony about the internet is that that the internet is unlikely to provide such tools. To that end, Renouard makes a statement that’s indisputably true: “We aren’t mature enough for this invention.”

Mark Athitakis

Dead moods

‘Dead’ moods – yes, all his life he had had ‘dead’ moods, but in those days he had slowly slipped into and out of them – they had not been so frequent, so sudden, so dead, so completely dividing him from his other life. They did not arrive with this extraordinary ‘snap’ – that had only been happening in the last year or so. At first he had been somewhat disturbed about it; had thought at moments of consulting a doctor even. But he had never done so, and now he knew he never would. He was well enough; the thing did not seriously inconvenience him; and there were too many other things to worry about – my God, there were too many other things to worry about!

And now he was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton, on Christmas afternoon, and the thing had happened again. He had had Christmas dinner with his aunt, and he had gone out, as he had told her, to ‘walk it off’. He wore a light raincoat. He was thirty-four, and had a tall, strong, beefy, ungainly figure. He had a fresh, red complexion and a small moustache. His eyes were big and blue and sad and slightly bloodshot with beer and smoke. He looked as though he had been to an inferior public school and would be pleased to sell you a second-hand car. Just as certain people look unmistakably ‘horsey’, bear the stamp of Newmarket, he bore the stamp of Great Portland Street. He made you think of road houses, and there are thousands of his sort frequenting the saloon bars of public-houses all over England. His full mouth was weak, however, rather than cruel. His name was George Harvey Bone.

It was, actually, only in the few moments following the sudden transition – the breaking down of the sound-track, the change from the talkie to the silent film – that he now ever thought about, or indeed was conscious of – this extraordinary change which took place in his mind. Soon enough he was watching the silent film – the silent film without music – as though there had never been any talkie – as though what he saw had always been like this.

A silent film without music – he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning – he was mentally deaf to them. They moved and looked like passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning – he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without motive, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or what he was saying in return. Therefore, though they spoke it was as though they had not spoken, as though they had moved their lips but remained silent. They had no valid existence; they were not creatures experiencing pleasure or pain. There was, in fact, no sensation, no pleasure or pain at all in this world: there was only himself – his dreary, numbed, dead self.

There was no sensation, but there was something to be done. Emphatically, most emphatically there was something to be done. So soon as he had recovered from the surprise – but nowadays it was hardly a surprise – of that snap in his head, that break in the sound-track, that sudden burst into a new, silent world – so soon as he had recovered from this he was aware that something had to be done. He could not think what it was at first, but this did not worry him. He could never think of it at first, but it would come: if he didn’t nag at it, but relaxed mentally, it would come.

— Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square

Indrawn and dormant

From The Moment:

Bleak fields. Branches glistening with hoar frost on the way down to the river. I think of Wallace Stevens’ mind of winter. Does that help? I can’t decide, it’s too cold to think. A boat chugs by, leaving a dense wobbling wake in the near-freezing water. The path is ridged with hard mud. On the surface of the willow pond, the freshwater forms shapes that look like oil slicks as the brackish water sinks and starts to freeze. I spot a snipe at the edge of the pond, blended into the reeds and puffed up against the cold, its long beak sticking out from under its wing. Everything here seems indrawn and dormant: waiting, conserving energy, secretly growing. On the way back, black ice slicks the road and frost feathers on car windshields spread out in unique, intricate patterns.

Morston

From The Moment:

S. and I go to Morston to see the grey seals, which have started breeding on the Point formed of sand and shingle drifting up from the eroding eastern shore. The sky opens up beautifully when we reach the coast on the bus. Most of the passengers are looking at their phones.

Morston and its neighbouring village, Blakeney, used to be big seaports, but the harbours and river valley have silted up, in part due to the reclamation of the salt marshes, leaving room only for small boats. The seal tours are the main business now.

Quay sounds. Ropes creaking against poles, halyards clinking against masts, sea-spray spattering the staithe—a local word from the Norse for wharf. Our boatman, a retired lobster fisher, tells me he’s seen the spit lengthen in his lifetime and the fishermen move to wider harbours to the west. The tides transform the coast here daily: the sea is drawn far out then surges back in, sometimes flooding the quay and the car park. At low tide you can walk all the way to the Point, where the seals feast on exposed sand eels.

Back on land, we walk to Stiffkey through green, brown, and grey saltmarshes broken up by pools and streams. The path is lined by tough, weather-beaten gorse with delicate yellow flowers. You can eat the flowers, says S., here, try. It tastes like coconut. Hundreds of stub-faced geese, newly arrived from the tundra, have gathered on the marshes to honk about who knows what.
We stop and look out over the spit through S.’s binoculars. Once you would have been able to walk here from Denmark. This coast was connected to the continent by a land mass, Doggerland, a rich habitat of wetland and wooded valleys navigated by nomadic hunter-gatherers who followed game and fish in seasonal patterns. If you’d stood on this spot with binoculars in that deep Mesolithic past, I imagine, you might have seen smoke from their fires here and there on the horizon. As temperatures rose and melted the northern glaciers, Doggerland flooded and Britain was cut off from mainland Europe. The people who were left on this island continued their nomadic way of life, burning scrubland and felling trees with flint tools to make temporary settlements, from which they tracked and hunted animals. In the Neolithic era they were displaced by migrants from the continent who brought wheat, barley, sheep, and goats, and who began to root themselves in the region, building enclosures and burial mounds. In the Bronze and Iron Ages, farming intensified. More forests were cleared by the Celts. Norfolk was settled by the Iceni, who surrendered to and then rebelled against the invading Romans. The collapse of the Roman Empire led to even more movement and migration: Germanic people from Anglia, on the shore of Jutland, arrived and built villages with open field systems, integrated with the Romanised Britons, and founded the kingdom of East Anglia. When the Danish Vikings invaded in the ninth century and themselves intermingled with the East Angles, they may have started digging for peat as they had done at home. Under Norman rule, Norfolk became the most populous and most farmed place in the country. It developed overseas trade links and later took in thousands of refugees from the Low Countries, the so-called Strangers, from whom many contemporary locals descend. By this time the rising sea had flooded the vast peat pits dug throughout the Middle Ages and was slowly shaping the landscape that became known as the Broads.

Years ago, when I first started exploring the Norfolk countryside, I recognised many of the village names. The county is dotted with Danish place names from the time of the Danelaw, many mixed with Old English words. They made me feel less of a stranger. But whose home is this in any case? Flora, fauna, history, and geology: all seem as provisional here as the shifting sands of the coast itself.

Corvids

From The Moment:

In the evenings the rooks and crows congregate in the air, split apart and come together, then suddenly settle in the trees as night falls. Who knows what they’re saying to each other as they fill the sky with their raucous calls? Are they gossiping, fighting, finding mates? Yet they can also talk like us, mimic our speech. They can recognise our faces, bring us gifts or take revenge on us, even through generations. They’re social, cunning, adaptable.

Early humans, it’s said, learned about their surroundings from corvids. Interactions between hunter-gatherers and corvids may even have led to a kind of cultural coevolution: the birds may have changed their behaviour to lead people to large prey in hope of a meal of leftovers, and people in turn may have changed their behaviour to understand and follow the birds. Our close association with them, and the need to defend our food from them, may have refined our own co-operation and communication. Later cultures saw them as living symbols of natural and divine forces—sometimes light, sometimes primal darkness. Crows and ravens carried messages from the gods or had sacred ties to the sun. They were bearers of meaning in the world. The negative connotations of corvids largely came about with the rise of industrial agriculture and the sight of crows picking at corpses on battlefields. They became seen as threats to profit and birds of ill omen—to us. But these kinds of physical and symbolic links between people and animals have long since broken. Animals are now mostly products or sources of entertainment, to be used and segregated, or only let into our world as pets. Even so, they’re still essentially the same: both like and unlike man, as John Berger wrote. They still gaze at us from afar, from the silence of the day, and before their gazes we’re more alone than ever. We look to them to find the secret of our origins but they don’t answer us. Maybe their non-answer is the answer: find the secret for yourself.

My own sort of conversion

The act of believing is a selfish one, I muttered, as I would like to have muttered to Sarah, no matter that it was far too late to talk to her. I wanted to be a writer and in order to do this I’d had to renounce everything else; I’d made a deal with God – a deal that I had worked so it was entirely beneficial to my interests; it was weighted towards me (I have to face this, I told myself – just keep remembering your self-justifications, and you might have a chance of facing this) – because I’d said to this God: I will believe in You so long as You make me a great, a famous writer, which surely only You have in Your power to confer – and so, of course, it suited me to keep to this deal, to hold up, to hold on to the conversion that everybody, to their greatest joy, as they had told me, witnessed that evening at the house party – the news of my religious conversion rippling outwards in the fellowship as glad and joyous tidings (oh Lord we really give you thanks that you have really shown Jenny who You are and that she has opened up her heart to You in Jesus’ name Amen). This was all that this grand belief was to me, Sarah, I muttered now, as I would like to have said to my one-time friend – this ridiculous situation of my brain, this scrambling of thoughts into the word belief, into this clichéd approximation of a conversion that was, in fact, my own sort of conversion, both the cliché and my selfish misreading becoming one large dreadful occasion – the celebrated conversion of Jenny at the house party – even as the offering of these thoughts to the impossible figment of a resurrected Sarah is just an excuse, I told myself as I walked away from the brewery site, this Park that wasn’t yet a park: this imagining that I might even be able to excuse myself from all those years that I had ignored (and in fact avoided) Sarah, even though I also remember the relief that I’d felt, after the house party – the relief of being shielded from the intensity of tedious Sarah, as I had once put it to a schoolfriend – shielded from Sarah, I was thinking as I continued walking away from the Park and towards the icing-covered building, by the luxury of this grand and noble conversion that gave me a reason for a time, so long as I held on to the terms of the conversion, to keep away from unbelievers for the sake of fellowship with God, my renunciation being little more than what I might have done, I thought as I ran across Regent Street while a single small blue car seemed to burn up the lane towards me, if I had emptied all my worldly possessions onto the Black Jack table at the casino that was yet to be built in Sydney, hoping to win not only the triple of my bet that evening but also the sure demeanour of the glamorous men and women who would be dealing out the cards – their collective glamorous demeanour. Believing in this kind of belief, I could have said to my old friend Sarah – believing in this kind of belief is also an indulgence in vertigo: the belief as a sugary giving-in to the melodrama of a fall, a jump into the idea of jumping into nothing (but only the nothing that someone else has already described). All right, I could well have said to her, I then mumbled as I passed the small shop that sold bus tickets and articulated umbrella guards, I had been lured into the thrall of a grand belief – and it was a mind-spinning headiness, a wide, smug feeling of falling into a fragrant void – a breathlessness, a readiness for something great that I’d always wanted and always hoped could be mine – and this is the ambience that you have evoked for me in that manuscript you wrote and left behind you, Panthers and the Museum of Fire, because there is something in it, something, which must have reminded me on Saturday, if not of the grand belief itself, which was remote then, unbelievable even – and confined to a time that has long ago passed – but of the moments that immediately followed it: that sweet, sweet falling into something large.

— Jen Craig, Panthers & the Museum of Fire

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