A question for the author: how do you want people to feel when they walk into this book? She answered by blackening a number of pages, then adding windows. If you stood before the words in the sunlight, they would curve across your body like cats.
The best part of the book, she answered, is what I don’t understand––also, the suspended moment when a page is turned; the wait between words, as especially what they do not say.
She invited the doubters among us to put our fingers in the wound between voice and image, and again between voice and word, between voice and speaker, the speaker and her intentions, and we were beginning to get a sense every page brought with it another wound.
Every page revealed itself by slicing us open, and we fell to the floor to collect ourselves like autumn leaves to our chests, a gesture of remembrance for all we had yet to imagine we were.
Between decay and emergence, these open windows. And from window to window, the broken skins between space and her time.
Inspired by the work of Lynn Xu, whose debut exhibit And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary art in Tuscon, Arizona.
When despair is beside the point.
What is needed now is a bravery reason can’t summon, a hope that persists beyond all rights to it; a solemn acknowledgement that our despair is none of our business.
The greater the possible effect of our actions; the less we are able to see it. When senses become myopic, only imagination will do. It seems our capacity for fear is too small, outstripped by the magnitude of the moment. How strange, to need the courage to be frightened; to frighten thy neighbor as thyself with fearless, stirring fear. To understand how fear for is distinct from fear of.
Camouflage, once needed to hide from an enemy, now prevents the actor from knowing what is being done. Strip meaning from language and the lie no longer needs a disguise.
Let us remember, repeated frustration does not refute the need to repeat the effort. Every new failure bears fruit. Instead of deferring to experts, may we collectively interfere with established pretenses of expertise.
What would happen, one among us asks, if you dared to make yourself as big as you actually are? And what could happen, echoes another, if we do not?
Inspired by (and with borrowed phrases from) the philosophy of Günther Anders.
A prayer for the real work.
In the dark of the valley, the sense of an emergency was the beginning of an understanding that we had none of our own––not yet, except in the wild beat of the drums where we gathered in the streets. The gods of progress, long disgraced, continued to shout. We pounded the drums against their noise, and our hearts awakened, to dance in revolt against their empty reasons.
There is an angel among us, pausing to awaken the dead. But a storm stops his wings. Though he turns his back against the future they call progress, the storm blows him into it.
Let the future not be the vast emptiness and us the supplicants of soothsayers. May our knowledge of time be an act of remembrance, our concept of work what we do in service to creation and not as slaves to the death engines of progress. Give us the courage to recognize the narrow gate in every second and be moved.
Inspired by the moment at hand and by Walter Benjamin’s essay “On the Concept of History.” In this essay, Benjamin vividly animates the context of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus.
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.