george trakl’s snowy descent

Fascinating critical essay on Austrian poet Georg Trakl and the influence of cocaine and other intoxicants on his work.

(via Public Domain Review)

early morning people

The city can seem cold and unfeeling. Thus, the temptation arises to shoehorn the masses into roles limited to acrimony or apathy, simply based on random anecdotal experiences.

Early morning is the best time to mitigate this wrong perception. Early morning people are different. They spontaneously greet each other and show consideration. Kind words are exchanged and eyes, for once, are not averted.

After 9 AM there begins a slow shift for the worse. The late risers trickle to the streets, leaking poison into the day’s veins. By noon, one might as well return to bed and wait for the next morning in order to continue bending this perception back into the right shape.

k. and the creative process

[Please forgive the momentary fixation on F.K. again. I often return to him for comfort, especially when I can't write. Reiner Stach has done K. devotees a remarkable service with his meticulous biographical research and synthesis. I have fallen into this book like I haven't fallen into a book in a long time. And to think, there is one more published volume yet to read! Not to mention the early years that Stach still hopes to cover, should he ever gain access to Brod's vault.]

Here are a couple of passages related to K.’s creative process…

“He knew that his best, most profound writing sometimes came from a heightened consciousness of depression. However, complete inertia and indifference lurked no more than a breath away.” (p. 151)

“If we were to observe the ebb and flow of Kafka’s literary productivity from a great height, we would see a wave pattern: an initial phase of intensive, highly productive work that comes on suddenly and lasts several hours a day, followed by a gradual decline in his powers of imagination, lasting for weeks, and then finally, in spite of his desperate attempts to fight it, a standstill and feelings of despair for months on end. We do not know why he had to go through this cycle several times, and we will not know until we have a categorical paradigm of artistic creativity. Kafka himself never uncovered the logic behind the igniting and extinguishing of his art; he was always too deeply enmeshed in the effort of tapping whatever reservoir was accessible to him at the moment.” (p. 175)

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (English translation © 2005; original German edition © 2002)

a profound wakefulness

Kafka: The Decisive Years“Kafka missed nothing, forgot nothing. There is little evidence of the absentmindedness and boredom he always complained about; on the contrary, his incessant presence of mind is almost painful to witness, because it renders him unapproachable. Someone must stay awake, but this wakefulness deprived him of a sense of home and alienated him from the world and from people, in a mundane and sometimes comical sense. Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which highlights the impossibility of writing an adequate biography, expresses the suffering associated with profound wakefulness from the point of view of someone experiencing it:

[...] in my case all the shutters and lids and doors of the mind would be open at once at all times of the day. Most brains have their Sundays, mine was even refused a half-holiday. That state of constant wakefulness was extremely painful not only in itself, but in its direct results. Every ordinary act which, as a matter of course, I had to perform, took on such a complicated appearance, provoked such a multitude of associative ideas in my mind, and these associations were so tricky and obscure, so utterly useless for practical application, that I would either shirk the business at hand or else make a mess of it out of sheer nervousness.

This statement applies to Kafka word for word. It is astonishing how little he ‘made a mess of’ in spite of everything: wherever his life took him, he stood the test, as a pupil, student, and official. But nothing came easily to him; every decision, even the most trivial, had to be wrenched from that stream of associations. He once wrote, ‘Everything sets me thinking’. Everything set him writing. But first he had to translate life.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years

field report 6

Large ships fill the harbor today. One of them is strange. It is an enormous military catamaran that, frankly, looks quite menacing. People stand around gaping at it. What is it, they whisper to each other. No one seems to know. Phones snap photos. (Later research concludes this is the Navy’s newest ‘joint high-speed vessel’). Now the Blue Angels fly overhead. Everyone looks up. Police officers fumble with their smart phones as they strive for a good shot. Cigar-smoking man arrives on the scene and bikes in a confused circle, looking up and around as if there is no place for him to smoke his cigar. Meanwhile, a bicycle cop has used his handcuffs to lock his bike to a handrail while he goes in to purchase a burrito. A uniformed man leads a German Shepherd sniffing for explosives in the foliage outside the seafood restaurant. Tourists are consuming record amounts of seafood. The restaurants are beside themselves with joy. It is a grand celebration. The largest fireworks display since 1814 is planned for the weekend. Twenty minutes long and choreographed to patriotic music, the fireworks will launch from a three-mile long stretch of barges. How many birds will die. It is, after all, the middle of fall migration and most songbirds travel at night. (Note: several years ago in Arkansas thousands of roosting red-winged blackbirds died from shock and disorientation following a fireworks display.) Never mind that! Look at the pretty colors, listen to the explosions (freedom is loud), and feel your chest swell with pride.

life’s splendor forever lies in wait

“Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.”

- Franz Kafka

(thanks to kafkaesque-world for summoning Kafka’s splendor)

a story

One day the sun came up, looked around, and slid back down.

Soon darkness fell and could not get back up.

The moon rose and kept rising until it was gone.

The tide went out and no one could find it.

Drivers heading south ended up in the north.

Those traveling east arrived in the west.

(Bends in the roads had straightened out.)

All day the wind blew itself blue in the face.

Into this fury time flew, until death clipped its wings.

The next day the sun came up, reflected a moment, and decided to stay.

Creatures began stirring and soon were eating cake for breakfast.

If the world felt different they were unaware.

field report 5.0

Today the city simmers under a Code Orange air quality alert. It does not seem so hot, though, and certainly not that humid. But the sun is bright, warranting protection for the eyes, strained as they are from squinting all day at the twin telescreens.

A tourist family clusters close to ask directions to a nearby seafood restaurant, one of them eagerly exclaiming ‘Seafood!’ in a fit of giddiness.

The pedestrian suspension bridge sways under the collective tourist weight as it tromps dutifully toward the Fish Prison, a popular destination also known as the Aquarium.

A man cooling in the shade from his maintenance duties politely requests a match but receives no fire. An apology is made and graciously accepted.

A ring-billed gull makes a raucous proclamation from atop a lamp post. Is anyone listening.

Gaggles of office men dressed in identical business attire perambulate as one, exuding comfort and confidence from their pores. They still own the world, and probably always will. That is, until it implodes under the weight of their gargantuan needs.

(The impending extinction of individuality hangs over the land. To be different is to accept relegation to the edges, where the view is perhaps better and the air certainly cleaner.)

field report iv

A middle-aged man stands at a bus stop wearing a shirt proclaiming ‘I Speak Furbish’ with a large image of a Furby. Strong temptation to stop and engage in Furbish. Instead, laugh out loud and move on.

A police helicopter circles above the neighborhood all afternoon, a high octane metal mosquito perpetually out of swatting range. Nervous system on verge of imploding.

A child cries.

A dubious silence follows…

field report 3

Today the clouds demand close observation. Why is everyone not looking at the clouds. Absurd. All colors today are vivid: the dark and choppy white-flecked waters of the harbor, the green sloping lawn of the former Civil War lookout, the red of the restaurant roof below it. Now is the time when the first psithuristic hints of the autumnal approach appear. Observance and acknowledgment of this occurrence is essential.

A passing child of about 7 says, apropos of nothing: ‘I hope I get a lawnmower soon…a real one…vrrrrrm [presumed lawnmower noises].’ His family chooses not to acknowledge this proclamation. Theory: this is not the first time it has been uttered.

A large black dog (LBD) enjoys the grassy, treed oasis behind the seafood restaurant, complacently chewing a tennis ball as its person paces in circles while jabbering on her mobile phone.

Shirtless males run on the promenade.

Tourists relentlessly take photos of a boat, the so-called ‘Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor,’ by far the most photographed object in the vicinity.

My doppelgänger walks by, as he is wont to do.

Midway through the reading period, sudden drama rushes in when cigar-smoking man (CSM) arrives on his bicycle, only to find LBD lying in the exact spot where he traditionally sets up his legless portable chair. For a few moments the air crackles with anticipation. However, this soon dissipates as, undaunted, CSM approaches the occupied territory and sets up his chair immediately adjacent to LBD. Soon, the fragrant scent of cigar smoke floats upon the strong breeze as CSM cracks open his book, occasionally casting a shrewd eye upon LBD, who pants in patient oblivion as its owner continues chattering.

On the return trip, while walking, a man pauses to execute a precise ballet move: a half-knee bend followed by a jump in place, arms outstretched. The grace of this move is surprising given the man’s overall GISS. He then taps a light pole with the thick book in his left hand. Further on, he thumps the book in his hand like a revival preacher, resulting in a few turned heads. A strong temptation rises to follow him for research purposes, but alas, recess is over.

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