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.

kafka: ‘in a different realm’

“It is conceivable for a writer to take the pulse of his era and make it come alive in language and images, yet still be out of his depth when it comes to palpable engagement with the world, although this constellation is exceedingly rare. Far more often someone who is truly at home in two worlds is misunderstood as being ‘out of touch’ in the public, social cosmos, which he shapes and endures in combination with others, and in an interior psychic space dominated by feelings, dreams, fantasies, associations, and ideas, which he inhabits alone. Anyone whose experience inside his head offers as vast and constant a stream of impressions as the world outside cannot stay focused on the here and now. But where is he then? In a different realm.

An individual who appears to be out of touch with reality is rarely in the privileged position of being able to open and close the subtle locks between inside and outside at will. The vortex pulling him inside his head is always palpable, but the reality principle demands that he remain perpetually alert; people expect him to limit himself to things that can be communicated. Anyone who starts talking about daydreams on the street, in a store, or at the workplace alienates people, no matter how intense and meaningful those daydreams are. He remains alien because he understands and acknowledges a second world, and for the most part, and to his detriment, he remains just as alien in that interior world for the same reason. He is present, but neither here nor there.

That condition can culminate in insanity, and Kafka justifiably feared winding up insane throughout his life. But it has little to do with the accomplishment society expects of the individual. Someone who is alienated from the world might function perfectly well as a craftsman, attorney, teacher, or politician, or as a vice secretary of an insurance institute, and his struggle to balance himself—poised like a man with one foot off the ground—can easily remain hidden from view, without a trace, as it probably has in thousands upon thousands of brains.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight

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

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)

more on mist

I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and yesterday evening I came across this passage:

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Naturally I wondered if this was the same mist Kafka writes about not being able to expel from his head. He says that no one will want to lie there with him in those clouds of mist. Woolf’s speaker, Mrs. Ramsay, is troubled by this mist, by her inner life. She is at odds with it, and feels uncomfortable when her husband witnesses her in the throes of it:

Had she known that he was looking at her, she thought, she would not have let herself sit there, thinking. She disliked anything that reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking.

And yet Mrs. Ramsay’s inner life seems extremely rich and rewarding. She maintains a special relationship with the third stroke of the Lighthouse beacon (the long steady light she refers to in the first quoted passage above):

Watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

Her husband sees a beauty emanating from her while she is in this ecstatic state and feels he cannot approach or interrupt her, and yet his interpretation of her state is flawed:

She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her.

The novel clearly portrays Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay as being at odds with both themselves and each other. She snatches moments to wade into the mist of her mind and yet feels guilty about her indulgence, not wanting her husband to see her in such a state. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, mistakenly interprets this state as distress or sadness. Perhaps he cannot conceive of his wife wanting time to think to herself? Either this underlines a fundamental misunderstanding between the two, bitterly lampooning a superficiality characteristic of many societal interactions (even among spouses), or it lays bare what Kafka concluded, that the mist itself prevents the necessary connection from being made between two people. This connection being one that would allow sharing of one’s most private inner ecstasies with another.

One theory I’ve considered is that the mist may not be translatable into language. Perhaps that is the problem. And yet, the mist may also be related to Jung’s collective unconscious; it may be the shared ecstasy we all feel from time to time, something primal that humans have always known but are unable to adequately express to each other. If that is the case, we may indeed share that connection, but only by sensing it in each other, not by communicating it with words.

digging in the shade of the vowel tree

Sylvia Plath wrote of
intolerable vowels
entering her heart
but what of ruthless
consonants headed
to our brains.

We all know about a-e-i-o-u and sometimes y. They may be intolerable but their numbers are small. And they are more easily made to do our bidding. The consonants, in contrast, are legion and their rigidity stifles. Perhaps the only way to harness their true power is to one-by-one start taking them away.

Anna Kavan wrote:

I had only learnt how to be friends with shadows; it might be too late to learn the way of friendship in the sun.

Friendship in the sun is a mirage. The way to it is false. The sun fades color and one day it will kill us all. Shadows make easy friends: we pass through them as they do through us. Few stay long. It is their nature. Sometimes it feels like it is in all our natures to expand and contract, pull away and grow close, like a squeezebox played by a jittery ghost.

Kafka wrote:

No one will want to lie in clouds of mist with me, and even if someone did, I couldn’t expel the mist from my head.

This gets at the heart of the problem, I think. One feels an isolation and maybe a desire to connect, sometimes even a desperate mania. But who can share a dreamy solitude? By definition, no one. And if it was at all even possible, the mist remains. How could we find each other. How could one’s dream self operate in reality? The pilot seat in your head is unlike the one outside of it. Out there, we cannot twist the knobs, adjust the instruments without consultation, without repercussions, without the sun blinding us. In the shadows, the mist, these difficulties melt away.

Jung wrote:

A man can hope for satisfaction and fulfillment only in what he does not yet possess; he cannot find pleasure in something of which he already had too much.

Yikes, Carl, that’s bleak, even by my admittedly generous standards. In fairness, on the next page of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung also states: “The needs and necessities of individuals vary. What sets one free is for another a prison.” So I guess one could argue that for some people overindulgence sets them free, although I don’t think that’s his point with the former quote. I think it is about anticipation. Jung is talking about this concept in the context of the development of analytical psychology, and yet it stands out in the text as such a sweeping statement. But I don’t think this aphorism or whatever you want to call it can be universally applied. Certainly competitive eaters don’t find pleasure in the 18th hot dog in a row that they’ve shoved down their throats. But can Jung honestly think that attaining the love of another person does not lead to satisfaction and fulfillment? I mean, I will grant him that unrequited love is an exquisite thing, and possibly more intense on the whole than many long-term relationships. But no satisfaction and fulfillment for those in love? I don’t know, maybe he is not including love or other emotions here. Maybe he is referring strictly to material things, in which case I willingly concede his point.

Édouard Levé wrote:

The full weight of depression comes on between 1-5 PM, particularly when I am home by myself. Mornings and night are more filled with promise.

Filled with promise. Is that what we are after? Moments filled with promise? Is it merely the anticipation we crave, what Jung says we can find satisfaction and fulfillment in? Anticipation can be tantalizing, I’ll admit. But how. How can we be satisfied with mere promise. Inherent in promise is a pledge to fulfill at some point in the future, not at the moment of the promise. Like an IOU. Is it the step we take to accept the promise that is meant to satisfy? Is it the mental and/or emotional trust fall we allow ourselves to take? If so, what of broken promises. Do those negate the previous gain in fulfillment? Well, do they, Jung? If he were here, I’d have more than a few questions for him.

Levé also wrote: “Above a certain height I like what I see. Below it I don’t.” I suppose we can read this on a literal or a metaphorical level. What is the certain height. And is it a chronological point, a philosophical one, a spiritual one. Who knows. I think we can safely say, though, that whatever the certain height represents, it changes between individuals. Remember how Jung said what sets one person free is another person’s prison.  Some people don’t like what they see above a certain height, while others crane their necks for a peek. Some spend their lives craning for that view, but some are content to not look. They don’t want to know…they look away in fear, shame, embarrassment, whatever.

So what is the conclusion. Is Kafka’s mist the same as Carson’s foam? Sometimes it’s a strain to make all the connections. Certainly reading and writing are key decoder rings. Endless battles, ceasefires, sneak attacks, and truces with the vowel and consonant armies. And maybe the ladder stretches high enough to see above the mist. I think others have ladders high enough, too. If we squint hard enough we can probably see each other, mouths flecked with foam, across the scorched battlefield strewn with bloody words and mangled sentences. Hello there! I do not have rabies. I am merely seeking the sublime. Perhaps you’d care to meet in the mist and discuss for a few moments. I’ll be waiting.

to me, it’s not better than the weather

Waning, waxing, waning, waxing: the rush and the push of mood from hour to hour to day to day to week’s end and to the moon. Reading F. K.’s diary night by night…sinking fast in the horror bog of familiarity. A morass of similarities. [Will I also get TB. Where’s my Swiss sanatorium.] Writing, not writing, writhing, writing, not writing, the endless breakers rising and crashing against this battered cranial jetty. The crushing repetition of my own inspiration. Heat’s ebb and flow, the dying summer exhales rank and humid rattle-breaths as it’s painstakingly strangled by the coming fall. An ugly death, for sure. The work not done around here could fill a hundred empty trucks, on standby, prepared to haul off a life’s accumulated evidence of avoidance. I, the weather-crazed architect, survey an empty expanse of years, so carefully orchestrated, so carelessly implemented, and on every day I rested. And on every day I rested. And on every day I…clamp down on the cause of defeat with mighty waxen jaws, summer’s flame licking holes in their false walls. Caving in on itself, everything is. Last night again was epic dreams I failed to describe accurately in my journal. Just weak fluid flowing from my pen, sketching a toothpick framework for what is becoming dangerously close to more exciting than what I describe here. That is, intricate nothingness. That is, blank walls of clear shellac taped off and rollered with exquisite care, attention paid to the most glaring lack of any details…a veritable Sistine Chapel ceiling of nonexistence. So proud I am for the big unveiling. [Sound of emergency exit door slamming shut.]

Now I drink yerba mate out of a wooden gourd. Now I reflect on how cigar-smoking guy had a lady friend with him today. Not a loner for long. They sat in those weird half-chairs that have no legs. Just a seat and a back and nothing else, maybe arms. What will they think of next. Cigar-smoking guy was not smoking a cigar. His bike was there, but his lady friend must have walked. I sat on the other side of the locust trees flipping through some literary journals I’m supposed to review. The air felt drained of moisture. This pleased me. All around, bands of men in monkey suits capered about in the grasping thralls of machismo, no doubt bandying their latest conquests in the spheres of sex and business. Strip off their power suits and we would all laugh. Or would we cheer. Or arrest. Recall the Naked Rambler. Corporate embrace of full nudity: I’d like to see it. Level the playing field. No more power coursing through expensive Italian fabric. I’m nude, you’re nude, let’s close this deal and go get drinks. High fives all around. See you at the bar.

possible kalopsic casualty

Last night I swam in a sea of almost-sleep, drifting in and out of almost-lucid dreams, all of which evaporated upon waking. It was the fan, I think. The fan instead of the A/C. What was I thinking. The Siren song of dropping humidity dripped its sugar-sweet serum into my ear holes. Damn you Weather Sirens. It is Wednesday now. My bird-of-the-day calendar displays a sleek Green Kingfisher. I replaced the bulb above my office plant. We are getting new green carpet; it smells bad and looks like it was torn out of some swinger’s 1960s basement rec room. I cringe at the thought of it creeping in all molester-like into my personal office space. My feet will never be the same. Violation! Violation. I am listening to the liferaft again. So help me, I cannot help myself. Do you know what i mean. Do you. Do you really know. I attended a meeting this morning. I was 9 minutes late on account of I was waiting for the coffee to stop brewing. Also my coworker and I were busy trash-talking the last 4 years of our professional lives. I am back to drinking too much coffee again. But I drink the special tea after lunch to try and repair the damage. It appears to work, but maybe not since there was the almost-sleep and that is a heavy consideration. i am eating my lunch now and not smoking a cigar. But I bet that guy is. I’ll bet he is. The liferaft has segued into the bedside table. That is where I keep the 5 books I am currently reading, most of them Kafka-related. But there is Jung, too. And Tessimond. All of my dear friends stacked in a pile within easy reach. With my Moleskine. Sigh. Last night while out walking Farley we saw a cat. It was not a metaphorical cat that might or might not be in a box, dead or alive. It was a real cat and Farley was interested. He stared under the car long after the cat had run back across the street. I want a cat so bad. Nearby to where I live a train went off the tracks in the dead of night. Two college girls were up on the bridge tweeting photos and they were buried under a mountain of coal. They died. I’d like to think this exposes the ills of social media, but I’m not sure. I feel bad about this. That’s why I listen to the liferaft so much. It makes the sounds that I feel inside most of the time. I am perhaps a blurred model of myself. I walk outside and brush my hand against the lavender blooms and surreptitiously sniff. Hey, it’s that guy who is always sniffing his hand. Yes, that is me. I enjoy touching things in nature that look soft. I find them irresistible. I find much of what is around me irresistible. The rest of it can fall off the planet for all I care. The Internet ruined my concentration. I enjoy chasing rabbits of information down their hidey holes. That is really what I do. Often. Sometimes I pass on what I find to others. Sandy Berman taught me that. He is a good man. We used to write letters back and forth. I was an over-excited new library school student. Now I just search for stuff on the Web. My idealism is easily trod upon into a gross paste that I plan to smear on the molester carpet when it arrives leering and panting outside my office door. What you don’t know is that I was just outside touching the lavender. Literally. Between that one sentence and the next. What do you think about that. My hand smells so fucking good right now. Outside there was a truck with bins on the side dispensing free energy bars. The orbs and their blobs were shoving their fleshy flaccid fingers in those bins so fast. But they are healthy nutrition bars. Ha! That is a fucking good trick! I feel so alive today. It made me walk fast. Surf the mania. I am 100% alive and 100% dead ALL THE TIME. I am petting the cat and its back is arched. I’m an out-of-the-box solution, suckers.

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