There is a door to another world, ready to slam shut against this one; a weapon to strike against foes in this one; a secret criminal, trespasser, spy––smuggling ancient maps, nourishment, and provocation.
There is a tower, a lighthouse, a boat.
There is a jealous hymn over still waters, ready to bite; a scheming deceiver, and all of it is true.
The ladder, she tells us, is neither immobile nor empty. Its climbers are secret; they have different voices. A common thread is this mysterious affinity. It has to do with their music and to find it they had to ascend downward, into the earth or the sea. Neither is easy. What matters is to learn from the dead.
Writing, she explains, is learning to die. If you listen, the dead man will give you the end of the world, and you can’t write anything until you start with losing a world.
The above are notes while re-reading the opening section of Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing (“The School of the Dead”), a beloved classic by Hélène Cixous.
There is a possibility, when planning a scene, of doing nothing. Of taking time, as the saying goes. Besides, something always happens anyway because with nothing to do, it’s all breath and questions, both of which are loaded.
With no buffer between a life and a sense of scale and scope, every exchange is weighted, too. There you are, lover. I see you, strange stranger. Strip it down enough, and you are left with a fierce poetic sensibility.
With space enough for reflection, everything is linked: death, the living, and the tension of seeming opposites. With so many unknowns, held at the boiling point, you get a very specific ambiguity, and if there was a point you were meaning to make about the nature of communication between us, perhaps it is only this.
Yes, it has always been this complicated.
Inspired by (and with borrowed phrases from) this article by Sarah Cameron Sunde on the plays of Jon Fosse.
Reflecting pools of vision.
There is the seeing eye of the creature accustomed to being ruled by reflex. When it suddenly stops to look, the gaze seems to hold all in its trembling peace. It becomes like the lake, the eye of the landscape, by which the cosmos beholds itself.
Yet another passage inspired by (and with borrowed images from) Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space(“Intimate Immensity), a work so rich and layered, I learned to take only tiny sips at a time, as I do this morning.
Of embodied contradictions.
Maybe we were drawn to him because he was so forthcoming about the way he didn’t understand anything and still couldn’t keep from trying. Whether to understand or to look like he did, we never knew. He was a walking battlefield of embodied contradictions: formal order vs. experience, enthusiasm vs. despair, devotional intensity vs earthbound affections.
Some suggested his greatness was the locus of his damnation, and they called him a saint, but of the wrong religion. Enthralled, we couldn’t help ourselves, leaning into listen to the strain in the language he almost broke, to get to the place beyond it.
Someone said, of his early work, that it read like period pieces from a period that never existed. But even his baroques seemed to always hide a stillness. It was refuge he wanted, after all. He didn’t know the way there, not exactly, but he had a knack for jostling us toward––something. It wasn’t safety, but something else and we were drawn to the drum of its pulse, like dancers unable to stop.
Inspired by Christian Wiman’s essay, “A New Mode of Damnation? On Hart Crane” in The Hudson Review, summer 2000 (accessed on JSTOR). Italicized phrases are Wiman’s.
First lessons in topography.
As a child of wartime, she remembered her grandmother’s hunger, the bombing and blood, and the flat expanse of the plains. Looking out, she imagined Earth as a wide plate and Heaven as the dome that covered it, and believed that if she walked to the edge, she would find the place where they met.
Later, she saw her first mountain. This was a shock.
Later still, she would think how well this prepared her for what followed, because what good is an education that does not continue to jar you from whatever it is you presume to know before learning more?
Inspired by a section of this conversation between Judith Plaskow and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, in Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring 2013).
Here is a tundra. There is a village. You are on your way and keeping on, but you never get closer to the village. It is said that the art of withholding enables a reader’s discovery. Consider the example of Socrates, how he used to feign ignorance.
Here is a spirit forever approaching infinity. But reality is no obstacle. There are plenty of maps to the center of the world, but all are missing some critical aspect without which no one will be able to find the place, so what can the earnest seeker do but handle them so often that each page becomes transparent, and then lay them on top of one another like bed linens, and continue to dream?
You find the garden but only accidentally, on your way to somewhere else––so you pass through it, having no idea what you are missing.
Adapted from Jared Marcel Pollan’s article, “A Box Built in the Abyss: On two new fictions by László Krasznahorkai” which appears in the most recent issue of ASTRA.
Of literature, with Italo Calvino.
Here is a testament of value for the moment: why this and why now? Only that which can embody a bottomless array of embedded contradictions can work to shape these sensibilities. The writer insists: here is a teacher of proportions, and of the place of love, of death, of sadness, irony, humor. The value is the practice of attributing value.
Here is a map for the labyrinth of the hour––not fixed, but continually born, to name the nameless, illuminate the cave walls, construct a home solid and complex enough to hold the disorder of the world.
Inspired by Italo Calvino’s The Uses of Literature.
Laughing in the basement.
If revelation is marked by unknowns, happiness by suffering, ease by difficulty, then it’s not a stretch to recognize that those serious truths everyone has been so steadfastly seeking were under our noses all along, hiding among the stuffed jesters and the Lego bricks in the carpet. If truth’s constant companion is the absurd, let us sit in the dark and laugh.
No, but seriously, you said, and raised self-doubt to the level of moral imperative, and at the crossroads between Either and Or, you boldly announced, neither will do–and chose anyway, as one must.
In your good company, we sleep no more in this underground of mirrors and toys; instead, we are awake with the question of whether we are, after all, in or out, as relates to the houses we once took for granted as ours. And now, you said, for my final performance, I shall confide the meaning of life to this scrap of paper, which you cleverly managed to lose.
Easy come, easy go, you said, while continuing to insist that neither would do.
Earlier in the week, some other search reminded me back to some of Søren Kierkegaard’s ideas, so today I am appreciating his teasing sense of humor.
Fresh eyes for old forms.
It began with an idea. Considering certain fundamental principles––of geometry, for example––what if we replaced points, lines, and planes with words, sentences, and paragraphs? If truths lend themselves well to interpretation where correct structures are used, why not apply some rules to the invention of new forms?
No one needed to make anything up, only to let the new rules serve as lenses trained on what already is. It was settled, then: a movement began. To join, one only needed to commit to certain practices. Once elected, no one could quit. No one wanted to; there was freedom in constraints, and practitioners learned that they might move easily between Hegel and comic strips, philosophies of mathematics and conversations overheard at flea market stands.
One of the leaders can be found among these every day, scouring the aisles and the remainder bins, the trash piles, and the antique shops with the same reverence he wears in the great libraries of the world. You will hear him muttering to himself as he picks up one after another item to add to his collection. “Hmmph,” he will say, “this might be useful.”
Inspired by the work of Raymond Queneau and the Oulipo movement, while consulting Warren Motte’s article “Raymond Queneau and the Early Oulipo” (French Forum, Winter 2006).