Dialogue with a Carmelite

Our purpose here is to relate an experience honestly lived and honestly transcended. Unless we are willing to limit our role as purveyors of information, we cannot refuse to relate one kind of experience because we would rather talk about another. There is no special audience for this kind of truth. Truth is not aristocratic or exclusive but belongs to everyone, and the most homely item of local news is as unfathomable as anything that happens anywhere in the province of heart and mind. Heart and mind, we believe, are the world’s most widely shared possessions, and even though we expect to be attacked in any number of contradictory ways for printing this story, we think it our duty to do so.

Q. Do you think that the ‘truth’ about the Carmelite convent in which you lived for fifteen months is of such a special kind that not everyone will be able to understand it?

A. I don’t think so. Anyone who is open to an honest account of a sincere experience will agree, I think, and will not claim to understand more than can be understood. Continue reading

Longing to think

Long periods of unthinking impotence. Or of thinking that is only the longing to think. Too busy feeling dispersed by everything and nothing to be of any use, especially to yourself. In such moods concentration is a dream, a cell deep under ground.

– Frenet

Shadows

 

Brushing the dust from your clothes, you make your way into the town, as if it has been waiting for you all your life, but the town knows nothing of your existence, even after you have spent years wandering its streets. Footsteps clump past your tiny room each night. The same door slams shut at the end of the corridor. Someone calls your name. The voice is always behind you, no matter how many times you turn around.

– Ian Seed, Anonymous Intruder

Among the ruins

Anyone who cannot come to terms with his life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate – he has little success in this – but with his other hand he can note down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different (and more) things than do the others; after all, dead as he is in his own lifetime, he is the real survivor. This assumes that he does not need both hands, or more hands than he has, in his struggle against despair.

– Kafka, Diaries

Little theory on doubt

For a long time he had felt uncertain, without belief in himself as an artist. When he spoke with someone about art, an uncertainty whispered in him. Little by little this uncertainty became a theory, which he discovered he was not alone in holding, and whose premise was that it was no longer possible to create art. The only thing the theory meant, he eventually understood, was: it’s no longer possible for me to create art. When his disillusionment was greatest, he invented a character who was an exaggeration of everything he valued most about his talent. He kept saying to this character: it’s you who has to do it, it’s you who has to think of something! This only made the character withdraw from him, but in the space between its exaggerations and his uncertainty a work began to ricochet like a steel ball: forward to draw strength from the exaggeration and back again to the fundamental doubt. He began to understand that all great artists (at least those he self-reproachingly liked to compare himself with) had such a character, while lesser artists only had themselves.

– Niels Frank, Livet i Troperne (Life in the Tropics), my trans.

A possible book

Finding yourself in a hole, at the bottom of a hole, in almost total solitude, and discovering that only writing can save you. To be without the slightest subject for a book, the slightest idea for a book, is to find yourself, once again, before a book. A vast emptiness. A possible book. Before nothing. Before something like living, naked writing, like something terrible, terrible to overcome. I believe that the person who writes does not have any ideas for a book, that her hands are empty, her head is empty, and all that she knows of this adventure, this book, is dry, naked writing, without a future, without echo, distant, with only its elementary golden rules: spelling, meaning.

– Marguerite Duras, Writing (tr. Polizzotti)

Buoy

It’s easy to live with someone who buoys you up; then it’s easy to buoy them up too. But it’s disconcerting when they fall into a terrible mood, into the mood that you’ve always thought of as your domain; when they say openly that for them, too, everything’s already ended, that nothing can really begin. Then you find yourself clambering to the other side of life, as it were, without support, wishing you could live for the both of you.

  • Frenet, Journal