Attention is a bit like the air we breathe. It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce. If that’s the case — to extend a tortured metaphor — it feels as if our attention has become polluted. We subsist on it, but the quality has been diminished. This is certainly true in my life, where I’ve become so reliant on the constant stimuli of our connected world that I find myself frequently out of control of my attention. I give it to others too willingly — often to those who will abuse the privilege.

Charlie Warzel

Call me to the one among your moments
that stands against you, ineluctably:
intimate as a dog’s imploring glance
but, again, forever, turned away

when you think you’ve captured it at last.
What seems so far from you is most your own.

– Rilke, from The Sonnets to Orpheus (tr. Mitchell)

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of springs. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes…

I have escaped to this island with a few books and the child — Melissa’s child. I do not know why I use the word ‘escape’. The villagers say jokingly that only a sick man would choose such a remote place to build. Well, then, I have come here to heal myself, if you like to put it that way…

— Lawrence Durrell, Justine

From The Moment:

The bats hang under the bridge like bunches of grapes.
Hard not to shudder, as when one sees rats crawling over
each other or a snake slithering across a river. But now
in the gloaming they come alive, flit back and forth between
their roost and the river to drink and to feed on
insects. The water ripples where one has grabbed a bug
just above the surface or taken a sip on the wing. They
must be Daubenton’s, says S., they like water. The bats’
calls start as questions thrown into the void: pulses that
bounce off walls, off water and trees, and back into the
creatures’ nervous systems, which in turn recreate the
world around them so intimately they can catch tiny
insects invisible to us as we watch from the bank. What
to us is a confusion of flapping wings is to the bats a
high-precision hunt. Almost blind, they’re nevertheless
at home in their environment in ways we can only piece
together from outside.

From The Moment:

Heavy with homesickness for being: ill-adapted. In my
heaviness the moment passes me by. I’m looking for it in
these scattered words. Is it looking for me too, the moment,
calling me into itself? Does it need my words to
come to itself? But it’s been and gone and I’m passing
my time in detours. Then—miracle—the words come together
and lift me into it.

A walk before lunch. I sit on the stump of a tree and write
a note on my phone. The screen reflects the sky as I write,
partly obscuring my words. When I name a thing it comes
alive for an instant, then sinks back into itself. These
words really should be varying shades between black and
white, appearing and disappearing on the screen. And yet
they seem to be making their way towards something.
Towards what?

The wisdom of certain everyday phrases. 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
the 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 coming
to pass of God’s plan at decisive moments in history.
But what if it were taken to refer not to a past or future
event so much as 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 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—only to withdraw again.

Something new

I hate stories. I can’t even read stories any more. Whenever I see a story is developing, I stop and go back. What fascinates me is the material, and stories get in the way of that. I want to look at this point, like in music, when you can feel the material coming alive so that it brings with it a way of seeing. I’m interested in individual moments, pictures or fragments, which suddenly bring something into view.

— Lars Norén (via here)

In the hall of our apartment I opened the door to the bedroom where Vanja and Heidi lay asleep. Their regular breathing, their limp arms and legs and their total insensibility to their surroundings, where almost anything could happen without them reacting, had fascinated me from my first moment with them. It was as though they lived a different life, were connected to another world – to the dark, vegetal realm of sleep. It was so obvious where they came from, the unseeing existence inside their mother’s body, and they clung to it long after their birth, when they just slept and slept. Their state wasn’t dissimilar to when they were awake because their hearts were beating, their blood was circulating, nutrients and oxygen were being supplied, blood corpuscles created and destroyed, in their insides fluids and organs gurgled and pulsated, and even their nerves, the lightning of the flesh, shot through their own dark pathways as they slept. The sole difference was consciousness, though even this was present in sleep, except that it was turned inwards rather than out. Baudelaire wrote about it once in his diaries, I recalled, what courage it took to cross the threshold into the unknown every night.

They lived as trees live, and, like trees, they didn’t know. Tousled and heavy with sleep they would open their eyes the following morning, ready for another day, without giving a second thought to the state they had been in for almost twelve hours. The world was wide open for them, all they had to do was run out into it and forget everything, as the premise for openness is forgetting. Memory leaves trails, patterns, edges, walls, bottoms and chasms, it fences us in, ties us up and weighs us down, turns our lives into destinies, and there are only two ways out: insanity or death.

But my children were still in the open, free stage. And then I went and obstructed them! I was strict, said no, told them off! Why was I so keen to destroy the best thing they possessed? Which they would lose anyway.

— Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 6 (tr. Bartlett and Aitken)

If I had been responsible for only myself there would have been nothing to consider. I would manage whatever the circumstances. But I had three children with Linda and didn’t want them to grow up in a home that was hidden away, didn’t want them to believe that hiding was an acceptable way of engaging with the world. All I could give them was what I was giving them now, and this wasn’t given through what I said but what I did. I wanted them to be surrounded by people, I wanted them to become independent and fearless, able to develop their full potential, by which I mean to be as free as possible within the unfree limits of this society. And, most important of all, I wanted them to feel secure in themselves, to like themselves, to be themselves. At the same time they had the parents they had, I thought, and we couldn’t change our personalities in any fundamental way, which would have been both senseless and catastrophic: having two parents who pretended to be something they weren’t would obviously just bring more misery. This was about our living conditions. They were fixed, but not immutable. The way I had behaved during the first three or four years of having children, when, much too often, I took out my frustrations on them, must have affected their self-esteem, the one thing in them you, as a parent, mustn’t fuck up. I had got out of this, it hardly ever happened any more, we never argued in front of them now and I never lost my temper, but I said a silent prayer almost every day that this hadn’t left any marks, that what I had done wasn’t beyond redress. Oh, I imagined that their self-esteem was a beach, I had left my footprints there, but then the waves washed ashore, the sun shone, the sky was blue and the water, so fantastic at adapting to its environment, covered everything, erased everything, salty and cold and wonderful.

I thought about this, but I knew I should never intervene directly, I should never let these concerns, which all parents feel, take on a form that they would notice and react to.

— Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. 6 (tr. Bartlett and Aitken)

‘Writing did not bring him peace, because it did not obliterate life.’ Bob Blaisdell on Kafka’s reflections on writing.

Vistas

The student hall.

Outside.

Through the grounds.

The high spiked fence around the perimeter.

Holding the horror back, I say.

Only just, Gita says. It’s scary out here … There’s a bad moon rising, Donny.

It’s always bad, I say.

There it is, showing its face to us, Gita says.

That’s not a face, I say. That’s the opposite of a face. That’s just death, staring out.

Funny no one goes up there anymore, Gita says.

What – to the moon?, I say. Why would you bother? What’s up there?

I thought they wanted to build some giant telescope on the moon’s dark side, Gita says. To see further into space. And further back in time. All the way back to the Big Bang.

The Big Fucking Mistake, more like, I say.

Silence.

Looking back at the hall.

Imagine it without the student annex, I say. Without the refectory out back. Just the old mansion.

Sure it’s pretty, Gita says. It’s a real idyll.

They use it as a film set in the holidays, I say. They film exteriors here. Old cars crunching up on the gravel, and the like.

It’s a real let’s-pretend place, Gita says.

See the way the old mansion pulls the whole setting together?, I say. The way it gathers the grounds around it. The lawn? The trees? …

It’s like my old school, Gita says.

This whole place is like an island, I say. A little patch of green in the midst of all the horrors and the terrors. And do you see the way they laid this path – all winding? There are corners you can turn and suddenly everything opens up … They had a real sense of drama, back then.

I’ll bet you’re the only one who sees this place as what it is, Gita says.

As what it was, I say.

Maybe you’ll become warden one day, Gita says.

I can’t, I say. That’s for professors at the uni.

So maybe you’ll be a professor, Gita says.

The uni will probably sell it off, I say. It’s always being threatened. These places can’t survive.

You should just be Lord of Manor, Donny, Gita says. You could wander the grounds, hands behind your back.

I’d rather be a groundskeeper, I say. I should have been a landscape gardener instead of … whatever it is I do.

Do you know the names of the trees, Donny? Do you know their names?

That’s a horse chestnut, I think. And that’s an old English oak.

My favourite bench, by the flower beds.

Sitting, smoking.

Looking into the wardens’ conservatory.

Beautiful, Gita says. It’s like some National Trust property.

See, it isn’t horror everywhere, I say. There are exceptions. There’s a real expanse to this place. An ease. It suspends the law of the world. It’s like you’ve pressed a giant pause button on … everything else … There are views that matter – that’s what I think. That lift you out of everything. There are landscapes …

You’re a real nature-boy, Gita says. Someone’s going to love you for this kind of talk. You’re going to fascinate someone. Someone will rally to your cause. Someone’s going to love you, and someone’s going to love me. We’re both very loveable.

I’ll dream of this view in fifty years’ time, I say. It’ll be the last thing I see before I die.

Silence.

I’ve known things – terrible things, I say. In the home. I’ve seen real evil.

Silence.

People talk about the banality of evil, I say. The evil of pen-pushers, just following orders, just being good Nazis or whatever. But this wasn’t banal …

The horrors and the terrors. I’ve seen them. I’ve known them. They’re insatiable, I say. You can’t give them enough. It’s just … greed.  And we were like … trapped animals.

I’m sorry, Gita says.

It’s like Antichrist – did you ever see that?, I say. Chaos just fucking … reigns. One day I’ll go mad from … chaos.

But you have your vistas, Donny. You have your grass and your tennis court and your trees …

I see a darkness, I say. I see a fucking darkness, swallowing up the world. Putting out the stars. Swallowing up the sky. Swallowing up me and swallowing up you.

God, Donny …, Gita says.

I see a darkness – that’s all I see, I say. And sometimes I can forget it, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it feels too thick, and that it’s choking me. And sometimes … It lets me breathe.

Silence. Gita’s hand on mine.

I shouldn’t have said those things, I say. It’s too much, I know that.

Say anything you like, Donny, Gita says.

I’m about this far from insanity, I say. This far … Will I have to go mad? Is it inevitable? There are these distances … in my head …

You’re not going to go mad, Donny, Gita says. You’re never going to go mad. Look at the moon. Look at the night. It’s all dead, but you’re alive. And sane. And here. You survived everything … I love you Donny.

Don’t say what you don’t mean, I say. Don’t say it.

I love you, Gita says. Not in that way, but I do.  And one day, someone’s going to take you away from all this. Someone’s going to love you and save you. Someone good, who knows what beauty is. And truth. Who knows what truth is, too.

— Spurious, from a novel in progress