leonora and gabriel – an instant

it’s never just about the weather

I do not want to bore you but I need to mention the weather. How it changes so often. Grey one day, yellow the next. Warm then cold then warm again. The brightness, the whiteness, the way the light shifts inside a room. And the way to compensate with the artificial. Our lamps. Our electric manipulation of the shadows.

I am reading this book wherein the main character feels inauthentic. He keeps trying to capture the feeling of being real. He goes to elaborate lengths using methods only possible due to the generous settlement he received following a traumatic accident. He wants to relive his body’s response to the trauma. The natural opioids flowing through his body. That tingling serenity. But he doesn’t know this. So he keeps trying. He exerts control in an effort to manifest a desired outcome. He too is concerned with how the light moves across a room. Yet he cannot control it for the Earth is always changing its position relative to the Sun. He cannot count on it always being the same. I want him to know that it’s all real. That it’s not a matter of recapturing a feeling of being real. That he must awaken to it.

In March the weather changed so often. Now it is almost April and I am learning to walk again. It has been a long and strange winter in more ways than the most obvious one.

I wonder if the world is really different. Is it really changing. Or do we just perceive it to be doing so. A person can pretend that it is not. Quite easy to do that. Everything is happening all at once and one can only choose to pay attention to so much of it. What will catch your attention. A call to action, perhaps. But there are no more manifestos. They cannot breathe in this information-choked environment. So maybe the world is different. Maybe it is different in how words have become both so much less and so much more important. Words spew out around us at light speed. Our eyes and ears are bombarded by them. Words are cheap and they pile up around our feet by day’s end. But there are a few diamonds in that pile. Which of these will we choose to hear? Which ones will we allow to penetrate the filters now affixed to our eyes. And how will we respond.

I continue to ruminate on the act of writing and what purpose it serves, if any. The consensus among writers I admire is that the point of writing is not to say something. As the writer of the book I refer to above quotes Kafka:

I write in order to affirm and reaffirm that I have absolutely nothing to say.

To take it to the furthest extreme, I’m reminded of Enrique Vila-Matas and his novel Bartleby & Co., which chronicles an array of “artists of refusal,” those who chose not to write. Now Vila-Matas clearly wrote his book with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and yet there are indeed writers who have chosen not to write. One can certainly see the appeal, especially when confronted with the dread of the empty page.

In his short story “The Library of Babel”, Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms.

Even taken out of context from a piece of fiction that sounds harsh. And I don’t agree (nor do I think Borges did). While this certitude can get me down, I refuse to be negated and I am certain of my realness. I am not a phantom. At one time I may have believed I was, but no longer. Writing for me now is an attempt to perpetuate this realness. Of figuring out a way to convey actuality in prose. Of removing the filters and exposing the words in all of their stark, fragile beauty. It is likely an impossible task, but it is the striving that fills the pages.

‘the source we have forgotten’

The road. When I could drive no more for weariness I huddled in the back of the car and uneasily dreamed for a few hours but I did not do that often, I was in a frenzy that precluded rest. I felt that I was in a great hurry but I did not know I was speeding toward the very enigma I had left behind–the dark room, the mirror, the woman. I did not know this destination exercised a magnetic attraction on me. I did not know I could not stop.

In the mornings, the ground was white with hoar frost for it was now late October and a crimson sun rose over plains that rolled as far as the pale hem of the sky. There were no trees. The radio in the car fed me an aural pabulum of cheapjack heartbreak; this nasal country music was interspersed with voices that sang the praises of innumerable articles of consumption and sputtered out frequent news bulletins. The Harlem Wall grew longer, taller, thicker; the National Guard was on permanent call. Riots, incendiarism. I could not have picked a worse time for my trip. Only fatality could have possessed me to go high-tailing off in such troubled times, fatality and the unknowable impulsion of the destination ahead of me, a destination of which I was entirely ignorant although it had chosen me long ago for our destinations choose us, choose us before we are born.

And exercise a magnetic attraction upon us, drawing us inexorably toward the source we have forgotten. Descend lower, descend the diminishing spirals of being that restore us to our source. Descend lower; while the world, in time, goes forward and so presents us with the illusion of motion, though all our lives we move through curvilinear galleries of the brain towards the core of the labyrinth within us.

—Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

a profile of the translator ‘red pine’

Bill Porter

Bill Porter (“Red Pine”). translator of Chinese texts and poetry, and author of the 1993 book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits

(click image to read the article; found via The Hermitary see also: Lion’s Roar article)

excerpt from alejandra pizarnik’s diary

Empty happiness. I spent the day reading poems. Trying to learn the technique, in a miserly and premeditated manner. Sometimes it makes me nostalgic to think of children, for whom every action is play. For me, to read poems is work, a great effort. To manage to focus my attention on other people’s words and feelings is a battle against myself. I made two poems. And yesterday another two. I think I won’t ever be able to make a novel, because I’ve nothing to tell in many pages, and even if I had something to tell, but no, I’ve nothing to tell.

Read more at Music & Literature (found via The Blog of Disquiet)

See also: Extracting the Stone of Madness, Pizarnik’s first full-length collection of poetry in English, which was just published this week by New Directions.

when, if not now?

Dear sister, Christa T. wrote, in summer 1953. When, if not now?

You know how it is: the time passes quickly, but it passes us by. This breathlessness, or this inability to draw a deep breath. As if whole areas of the lungs have been out of action for an eternity. When that is so, can one go on living?

What presumption: to think one could haul oneself up out of the swamp by one’s own bootstraps. Believe me, one doesn’t change; one remains everlastingly out of it, unfit for life. Intelligent, yes. Too soft; all the fruitless ponderings; a scrupulous petite bourgeoise . . .

You’ll certainly remember what we used to say when one of us was feeling forlorn: When, if not now? When should one live, if not in the time that’s given to one? It always helped. But nowif only I could tell you how it is . . . The whole world like a wall facing me. I fumble over the stones: no gaps. Why should I go on deluding myself: there’s no gaps for me to live in. It’s my own fault. It’s me, I’m simply not determined enough. Yet how simple and natural everything seemed when I first read about it in the books.

I don’t know what I’m living for. Can you see what that means? I know what’s wrong with me, but it’s still me, and I can’t wrench it out of myself! Yet I can: I know one way to be rid of the whole business once and for all . . . I can’t stop thinking about it.

Coldness in everything. It comes from a long way off; it gets into everything. One must get out of the way before it reaches the core. If it does that, one won’t feel even the coldness any more. Do you see what I mean?

People, yes. I’m not a recluse. You know me. But I won’t let anything force me; there has got to be something that makes me want to be with them. And then I also have to be alone, or I’m miserable. I want to work. You knowwith others, for others. But as far as I can see my only possible kind of activity is in writing; it’s not direct. I have to be able to grapple with things quietly, contemplating them . . . All of which makes no difference; the contradiction can’t be resolvednone of this makes any difference to my deep sense of concurring with these times of ours and of belonging to them.

But then the next blowif only you knew how little it takes for anything to be a blow to me!might fling me up on the beach. Then I won’t be able to find my way back on my own. I wouldn’t want to live among a lot of other stranded people; that’s the one thing I do know with any certainty. The other way is more honorable and more honest. And it shows more strength.

Anything rather than be a burden to the others, who’ll carry on, who are right, because they’re stronger, who can’t look back, because they haven’t got the time.

—Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T.

acedia

From The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams:

[Alice, Corvus, and Annabel are discussing their upcoming wilderness ‘retreat’ while sitting in Annabel’s living room with her father Carter, when he suddenly jumps up and runs outside to meet the gardener Donald who’s just driven up to the house.]

‘Is he still the gardener?’ Alice asked.

‘Of course he’s still the gardener. What do you mean?’ Annabel was looking at the hiking boots she’d just bought for this expedition. Never in her life had she encountered anything so totally without charm.

‘Well, there doesn’t seem much left to do around here. It all looks pretty nice.’

‘Some people get very involved in gardening, Alice. It can become a lifelong obsession. Sometimes they just move rocks around together. Donald is a big believer in fighting ass … acidGod, what is that word?’

Acedia,’ Corvus said.

‘That’s right! You are so good, Corvus. You could go on Jeopardy or something. It means sloth, right?’

‘It means more like experiencing the moment as an oppressive weight. It means listlessness of spirit.’ Corvus pushed a fallen wing of black hair behind her ear.

Annabel didn’t know what else to do, so she smiled generously. ‘Well, he’s got Daddy moving those rocks, all right.’

Further reading on acedia from The HermitaryAcedia, Bane of Solitaries

Is not acedia the original perception of alienation and revolt against complacency and the burdens of culture? Is it the angst of Kierkegaard, the ‘nausea’ of Sartre, the alienation and revolt of existentialists from Camus to Marcel? Acedia is never without a sense of guilt or complicity, not as sin but as complicity in the horrors of contemporary life. To the modern mind, acedia remains real and relevant. It is a personal statement against the contrivances of culture, the hypocrisy of public morality, alienation from the natural patterns of nature and simplicity.

[…]

Acedia can have a strong spiritual component in the life of the one who experiences it, and that very component makes acedia the sign of great potential for insight and wisdom. The solitary need not fear acedia. Acedia, at a minimum, signifies no complacency or superficial contentment with the contemporary cultural order. Acedia can be a tacit expectation that life can be better, or at least better understood.

RIP Christopher Middleton, early translator of Robert Walser

Poet and translator Christopher Middleton died last week at the age of 89. Middleton was the first translator to bring Swiss Modernist writer Robert Walser to an English-language reading audience. He translated many other writers, including Georg Trakl, Christa Wolf, and Friedrich Nietzsche. But for me, his translation of Walser’s Jakob von Gunten remains the most important, as it was the first Walser book I read, which lead to a reading love affair of epic proportions. Middleton also translated many of the works in Selected Stories of Robert Walser, a fine collection of Walser’s short fiction. I’ve included two favorite excerpts from that volume below. To read a remembrance of Christopher Middleton, check out this piece by his fellow Walser translator Susan Bernofsky. The Paris Review also posted a tribute with one of his poems.

The walk seemed to be becoming more beautiful, rich, and long. Here at the railway crossing seemed to be the peak, or something like the center, from which again the gentle declivity would begin. Something akin to sorrow’s golden bliss and melancholy’s magic breathed around me like a quiet, lofty god.

—from ‘The Walk’

Often I walked in the neighboring forest of fir and pine, whose beauties, wonderful winter solitudes, seemed to protect me from the onset of despair. Ineffably kind voices spoke down to me from the trees: ‘You must not come to the hard conclusion that everything in the world is hard, false, and wicked. But come often to us; the forest likes you. In its company you will find health and good spirits again, and entertain more lofty and beautiful thoughts.’

—from ‘Frau Wilke’

the blind owl by sadegh hedayat

It was always my opinion that the best course a man could take in life was to remain silent; that one could not do better than withdraw into solitude like the bittern which spreads its wings beside some lonely lake.

–Sadegh Hedayat, The Blind Owl (translation by D. P. Costello)

150 years of alice’s adventures

Illustration remix by Anna Vignet.

Illustration remix by Anna Vignet from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an online annotated edition featuring twelve Lewis Carroll scholars taking one chapter each, plus new artwork and remixes from classic 1865 and 1905 illustrations. A joint project from The Public Domain Review and Medium, on the occasion of the story’s 150th anniversary.

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