It

If the painter or poet, the actor or archer, were asked how to express in a word what it is that gives life and breath to all living things, what sustains them in the “undancing dance” of coming-to-be and passing away, he would probably answer: “It.” In all action and non-action, “It” is there by not being there. This is a clumsy but perhaps the closest description of what it is whose form is not this and not that, but whose hidden essence is active in all forms that are.

– Eugen Herrigel, The Method of Zen (trans. Hull)

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An hour, lapped up by wolves

121 An hour, lapped up by wolves — in these parts one knows all too well what that means. Grey, wolf-grey it creeps up, unnoticed it sneaks up on you, crouches behind a last, halting moment of daylight, and then — before you notice, it jumps you, grabs ahold of you. You try to resist, you tear and shake the claws that have grabbed you — in vain, it doesn’t let go. Or rather: it only lets you go when it wants to, not earlier. When? You cannot foresee the moment, no experience can give you a hint. Before long you give up resistance. That’s when it starts its real work, slowly, thoughtfully, with relish: its wolfishness recedes, and it, the hour, the time-splinter drills into you, deeper and always deeper — how far in?

In these parts this is well known. Some even claim to know that one has resigned oneself to this, that one knows how to experience this hour as if it were a change in the weather. One doesn’t think too much about it, one simply lives through the day, undisturbed, a little blind, a little deaf, a little mute. A quiet “Ah yes, of course, here it comes again,” is all one comes up with when it hits — barely more. I have often been astonished by how inconspicuous the trace it leaves in people’s memory is. 

At any rate, I have so far not succeeded in making this trace clearer. It turns out that questions are pointless: people act as if they didn’t understand you, or turn the conversation to another subject. No facial expression betrays them: your question seems to belong to those that one does not let the other repeat because they are irrelevant. 

This did not satisfy me, however, and I did not let go. Maybe, I told myself, this is because they do not yet see you as one of theirs. How long have you lived here already? Six years — a span barely worth mentioning in a country like this. A few moments, I decided. What weather! The friendliest one could imagine, true friends’ weather. I grabbed my cane on the table and started on my quest.

On the street below I ran into Karin.

That is: I didn’t really run into her, in fact I hadn’t noticed her at all and had walked past her. Suddenly I felt that something was pulling me backwards — my walking stick, which no longer obeyed me. I turned around and recognized Karin: she had grabbed the lower end of the cane and didn’t let go anymore; with bent back she now stood behind me, her little fists clenched around the end of the cane, not looking up.

A good sign, I thought; the first jest I was allowed to take part in.

I felt myself smiling. Slowly I began to rotate the cane — Karin’s small firsts accompanied this movement. How wonderful! I now grabbed the cane with my left hand too, roughly in the middle, and slowly twisted it upward with my right hand — in this too Karin obeyed. While pursuing this movement I turned toward her completely. 

Her gaze was still lowered. Soon I would meet it — my smile was growing larger and larger.

Celan (trans. Joris)

Gift and threat

A being happens as a given composition or arrangement, something simply there, but not inertly there. ‘There’ as a saying, as coming forth, as a claim, as an event with which I am immediately in the possibilities that it occasions. The immediate complement of ‘claim’ is ‘answer.’ Human existence says itself. That means that it is present always as someone. To be someone is to be a state of giving heed in the presence of beings. Even when I refuse a claim and turn away from it, I am attending to it, and I am in conformity with it in the sense that I respond with it, hear it, and answer.
[…]
The vulnerability of human existence is frequently remarked, and man’s fear of his own state of being is frequently discussed. We are remarkably undefended in the immediacy of our being. We are constituted by givennesses which have at once the character of gift and threat because immediacy is neither deserved nor avoidable. When we answer by backing away from our own state of givenness, from what is given, and from the inevitability of answering, we literally refuse our own being, a refusal that immediately countenances what we refuse. This deep contradiction is lived as injury and misery, self-encroachment in the most profound sense, because in this case we are open in the disclosure of what is present by denying both our responsiveness and the meaningful presences.

– Charles E. Scott, ‘Heidegger, Madness and Well-Being’

No longer natural

Flaubert was in a sense the forerunner of writing scruples. I do believe that in the eighteenth century, say, Voltaire or Rousseau wrote much more naturally than people did from the nineteenth century onwards. Flaubert sensed this more than any other writer. If you look at Rousseau’s letters, for instance, they’re beautifully written. He dashed off 23 in a day if necessary, and they’re all balanced, they’re all beautiful prose. Flaubert’s letters are already quite haphazard; they’re no longer literary in that sense. He swears, he makes exclamations, sometimes they’re very funny. But he was one of the first to realise that there was appearing in front of him some form of impasse. And I think nowadays it’s getting increasingly difficult because writing is no longer a natural thing for us.

– Sebald (via here)

Why did blogs die?

Why did blogs die? If, that is, it can even still be remembered that once they were alive […] Back when blogging still seemed comparatively healthy, I remember resenting terribly the little ‘Share This’ buttons that all my colleagues in blogging began to place at the end of each post. There was one little button for Facebook, then another for Twitter, then another for Stumble Upon, then one for Reddit, et cetera until every post in the blogosphere seemed to be staggering under a Lilliputian colony of parasitic buttons, like an immune-compromised deer studded with ticks. The blackmail was straightforward: If you didn’t add the little buttons to your posts, then fewer people would share your posts, and fewer people come to your blog. If you did add them, however, you were giving free advertising to the big social media sites, which some day, everyone knew, were going to ingest into themselves, macrophagically, the impulse for self-expression that had once gone into blogging, where at least it seemed to have some independence.

The poisoned bait of social-media traffic weakened the herd of bloggers, but it didn’t quite constitute a cull. The cull came as a reflected blow. Since the dawn of blogging, even Luddite bloggers like me had had little hit counters, where we could track how many visitors came to our site. One week […] I watched my hit counter as the daily population of visitors to this blog drained away, steadily. Google had adjusted its algorithm, I soon discovered. Previously, when you had searched Google for, say, “does television impair academic performance,” the results had been ranked according to how many times your website was linked to by other websites concerned with the same topic, and this ranking had been more or less independent of time. On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, however, the newest information was always at the top, and people seemed to prefer seeing newer content first, even if older content was more pertinent to their interest, or more rich in information and context. Under the pressure of competition, Google rejiggered its ranking, and overnight, it, too, began to discount heavily for time. A blogger who only posted a few times a month was doomed.

The fullness of time

The wisdom of certain everyday phrases (which writers sniff at). We speak of being in the moment and of pregnant moments. We speak of the fullness of time, of a time that’s ripe.

Beautiful phrase: the fullness of time. What does it mean? In everyday language, when something happens in the fullness of time it happens at a time that has finally come, a time of fulfilment of some event. Something comes into its own, something time has ripened. For Paul it had to do with the first and second coming of Christ and the fulfilment of God’s plan at decisive moments in history. But what if it were taken to refer not to a past or future event, but to time itself? What if the fullness of time referred not to a time that’s ripe for something but to a time that’s ripe with itself, that fulfils itself in the moment?

If the moment is the revelation of the fullness of time, it can’t be part of everyday clock time. It can’t simply be one of a series of separate nows, but rather the felt instant that opens your present out to the future and gives your past meaning; that shows you the breadth and depth and height of time, only to withdraw. How to hold this moment as it emerges, as it lets you emerge with it? It’s bigger than you, once reached can’t be commanded. How to find it? How to remain in it? Endure it?

The giant night

A sleepless night, rarer now. The giant night and the same slow dawn. The sound of the binmen tipping our recycling bin into their lorry, interrupting the birds’ chorus. This same sense of final emptiness. It makes the thoughts I formulate in the day – in front of my computer with my books at hand – seem forced, imposed onto something almost helpless: what Gombrowicz called a ‘furtive childhood, a concealed degradation’.

Completely unacceptable, I think, like the wronged consumer I am: why should anyone be made to deal with this day after day? There’s something to it, I tell myself, the old idea that despair is a seductive sin, a sickness unto death. That’s one thing the Christians always understood, that there are feelings we indulge at our own risk. But when the feeling is this long-lived, this unshakeable?

Later I get caught in a thunderstorm biking back from the shops and curse this backwoods shithole while getting splattered with mud. Of course it stops just after I get home and have peeled off all my clothes and put them in the washing machine. I rummage for washing powder under the sink and mutter fuck off as I realize we’re out. S. says something as I walk to the bathroom but I don’t answer. When I’ve showered and calmed down I ask her what she said. She says she asked me whether I wanted an omelette or porkchops for dinner. I tell her sorry, you chill and I’ll make the porkchops with potatoes and red cabbage, Danish style – comfort food, like my grandmother used to make.

A balloon with ballast

I write this diary reluctantly. Its dishonest honesty wearies me. For whom am I writing? If I am writing for myself, then why is it being published? If for the reader, why do I pretend that I am talking to myself? Are you talking to yourself so that others will hear you?
How far I am from the certitude and vigour that hum in me when I am, pardon me, ‘creating’. Here, on these pages, I feel as if I were emerging from a blessed night into the hard light of dawn, which fills me with yawning and drags my shortcomings out into the open. The duplicity inherent in keeping a diary makes me timid, so forgive, oh forgive me (perhaps these last words are dispensable, perhaps they are already pretentious?).
Yet I realize that one must be oneself at all levels of writing, which is to say, that I ought to be able to express myself not only in a poem or drama, but also in everyday prose — in an article or in a diary — and the flight of art has to find its counterpart in the domain of regular life, just as the shadow of the condor is cast onto the ground. What’s more, this passage into an everyday world from an area that is backed into the most remote depths, practically in the underground, is a matter of great importance to me. I want to be a balloon, but one with ballast; an antenna, but one that is grounded.

— Gombrowicz, Diary (tr. Vallee)

Alien and identical

Once I was explaining to someone that in order to feel the real cosmic significance of man for man, he should imagine the following:

I am completely alone in a desert. I have never seen people nor do I imagine that another man is even possible. At that very moment an analogous creature appears in my field of vision, which, while not being me, is nevertheless the same principle in an alien body. Someone identical but alien nevertheless. And suddenly I experience, at precisely the same moment, a wondrous fulfilment and a painful division. Yet one revelation stands out above all the rest: I have become boundless, unpredictable to myself, multiple in possibilities through this alien, fresh but identical power, which approaches me as if I were approaching myself from the outside.

– Witold Gombrowicz

To be human is to be among those whose thoughts we don’t know; to be in the dark. Perhaps this condition is the source of our urge to speak. Language, born of absence, filling a lack, generating light. To be human is to be alone, and also to know that we are in thrall to thoughts we call our own, yet are barely aware of. Perhaps this very unknowingness is the source of writing. Writing from out of a void, to fill a void. Both speaking and writing, then, veil ignorance of ourselves and of others even as they display it, even as they ameliorate it.

– Mark Thwaite

Like an act of fate

The moment behind beneath and beyond everyday time. It waits to give you back your past, like an event long prepared without your knowledge, like an act of fate in the fullness of time. It needs you: your shabby past, your timid present, your whirl of thoughts, your hoard of words. It waits for you to step into the light of the day, where it can find you and let you come into your own.