Gnashing, sneering, praising

I was twenty-four, and the religious revival within myself was at its height. Earlier that summer, I had discovered Kierkegaard, and each week I brought back to the apartment one more of the Princeton University Press’s elegant and expensive editions of his works. They were beautiful books, sometimes very thick, sometimes very thin, always typographically exhilarating, with their welter of title pages, subheads, epigraphs, emphatic italics, italicized catchwords taken from German philosophy and too subtle for translation, translator’s prefaces and footnotes, and Kierkegaard’s own endless footnotes, blanketing pages at a time as, crippled, agonized by distinctions, he scribbled on and on, heaping irony on irony, curse on curse, gnashing, sneering, praising Jehovah in the privacy of his empty home in Copenhagen. The demons with which he wrestled—Hegel and his avatars—were unknown to me, so Kierkegaard at his desk seemed to me to be writhing in the clutches of phantoms, slapping at silent mosquitoes, twisting furiously to confront presences that were not there.

— John Updike, ‘The Astronomer’

Like a room

Clarisse was staring out the window. But now her gaze sharpened; she was focusing on something specific out there, for support. She felt as if her thoughts had strayed outside and had only just returned. This sense of being like a room, with the sense of the door just having shut, was nothing new to her. On and off she had days, even weeks, when everything around her was brighter and lighter than usual, as though it would take hardly any effort to slip out of herself and go traipsing about the world unencumbered; then again there were the bad times, when she felt imprisoned, and though these usually passed quickly, she dreaded them like a punishment, because everything closed in on her and was so sad. Just now she was aware of a sober, lucid peacefulness, and it worried her a little bit; she was not sure what it was that she had wanted just a while ago, and this sense of leaden clarity and quiet control was often a prelude to the time of punishment. She pulled herself together with the feeling that if she could keep this conversation going with conviction, she would be back on safe ground.

– Musil, The Man Without Qualities (tr. Pike)

Kinship with the world

Something else had surprised him: that with his first running steps the surroundings, which had receded from him until nothing remained but a number of vanishing points – nothing there for him to look at! – were again surrounding him protectively. Where previously he had seemed to be passing the backs of things, he now saw details, which seemed to exist for him as well as for others. – Running again, Keuschnig noticed glistening puddles in the gravel beside the freshly watered potted trees and in that moment he had a dreamlike feeling of kinship with the world. He stopped still outside the entrance and shook his head as though arguing against his previous disgruntlement. Now he was able to look freely in all directions. Before going in, he cast a last hungry glance over his shoulder to make sure he had missed nothing. How his surroundings had expanded! It took free eyes to see them so rich – so benevolent. Now the sky with its low-lying clouds seemed to be sharing something with him.

– Handke, A Moment of True Feeling (tr. Manheim)

The site of art

The simultaneity of presence in the moment and distance from the world is the site of art. The meditative and religiously coloured experience of the now, this tremendous concentration on the moment, which triggers enormous waves of feelings of connectedness with the world, and perhaps says nothing more than ‘I exist’, is only possible if the world becomes visible as the world and not as the world of the self, and it does so only when that self is outside of it. In one and the same movement, art takes us out of the world and brings us closer to it.

— Knausgaard, The America of the Soul

Being in its openness

In our preceding discussion, we have taken a decisive step. In a lecture course, everything depends on such steps. Occasional questions that have been submitted to me regarding the lectures have betrayed over and over again that most of the listeners are listening in the wrong direction and getting stuck in the details. Of course, the overall context is important even in lectures on the special sciences. But for the sciences the overall context is immediately determined by the object, which for the sciences is always given in advance in some way. In contrast, it is not just that the object of philosophy does not lie at hand, but philosophy has no object at all. Philosophy is a happening that must at all times work out Being for itself anew (that is, Being in its openness, which belongs to it). Only in this happening does philosophical truth open up.

– Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (tr. Fried and Polt)

This was what I wanted to experience

This was what I wanted to experience, what I was in quest of at least. Unsure of myself in the scheme of things arranged at great cost by a race of clever children, I went to the hills to inquire of Nature why I am ill at ease among my fellows. I wanted to settle the point whether it is my existence that is alien to the human scheme, or the actual social order that has drifted away from the eternal harmony, and become something abnormal and exceptional in the development of the world. Now at last I believe I am sure of myself. There are single moments that put to flight doubt, mistrust, prejudice; moments in which one recognizes the real by an imperative and unshakable conviction.

– Senancour, Obermann (tr. Barnes)

Without art or plot

It will be seen that these letters were penned by a man of feeling, not by a man of action. They are full of interest for the initiated, though they possess very little for outsiders. Many will discover with pleasure what one of themselves has experienced: many indeed have had the same experience themselves, but here is one who has described it, or at least has made the attempt. But he must be judged by the whole of his life, not by his earliest years; by all his letters, not by some casual passage too free or too romantic in expression.

Letters like these, without art or plot, will meet with little favour outside the scattered and secret brotherhood of which nature had made their writer a member. Those who belong to it are mostly unknown individuals, and the kind of private monument which one of them leaves behind can only reach the others through a public channel, at the risk of boring a great many serious, learned, and worthy people. The editor’s duty is simply to state at the outset that it contains neither wit nor science, that it is not a *work*, and that possibly it will be said that it is not a rational book.

We have many writings in which the whole race is described in a few lines, and yet if these long letters were to make a single man approximately known they would be both fresh and useful. It will take a great deal for them to attain this limited object; but if they do not contain all one might expect, they do at any rate contain something; and that is enough to justify their publication.

These letters are not a novel. There is in them no dramatic movement, no deliberate working-up of events, no climax, nothing of what is called the interest of a work – the gradual development, the incidents, and the stimulus to curiosity, which are the magic of many good books and the tricks of the trade in bad ones.

There are descriptions in them, such as help to a better understanding of natural objects, and throw light, possibly too much neglected, on the relation of man to what he calls the inaminate world.

There are passions in them; but they are those of a man who was destined to reap their results without actually experiencing them; to try everything, but only to have a single aim.

– Senancour, Obermann (tr. Barnes)