Friday, May 30, 2008

Notes on The Captive and Suspicion

I finished reading The Captive today. In this volume of In Search of Lost Time, Albertine has secretly moved in with Marcel--for it is here that the Narrator tentatively assigns himself the author's first name--who is holding her emotionally captive. He is jealous. He is obsessed with the idea that she desires women and, were it not for his intervention, would always be engaged in some tryst or other. He keeps tabs on her, interrogates her friends. Eventually he begins to detect, through various forms of non-verbal communication, that she feels like a prisoner in his house, though she repeatedly claims to be happy. He spends hundreds of pages describing the fluctuations in his affections for her. Indifference to the point of boredom on the one hand, to being in anguish at the thought of her leaving, or straying, on the other. He pedantically documents the lunacy that is his deepening jealousy, amid reflections on beauty, on the nature of love, and of lies, and of that jealousy.

Reading the book on the train yesterday, I found myself thinking, while in the middle of one of these digressions on love--love as possession, love almost defined by jealousy--that this is not what love is. Love is about, among other things, trust. Not without some exasperation, I thought that love doesn't have anything to do with jealousy, is in fact antithetical to it. Meditating on this for a bit, I then thought of Josipovici's On Trust. Not too deeply; I was just thinking of the title. Then I remembered the subtitle: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion. I've written a little here about the concept of trust as employed by Josipovici, but I haven't devoted much, if any, time to its opposite, suspicion. It occurs to me that in some way this volume of In Search of Lost Time explores the problems of suspicion. Throughout the novel, the Narrator finds that his experiences do not measure up with his anticipation of them. In a sense, this is part of the novel's "refusal to accept easily the comforts of the imagination", to borrow a phrase from Josipovici's Introduction to his earlier collection, The Mirror of Criticism (just received in the mail today!). Part of this refusal is the writer's suspicion of those novels that seek to provide such comforts, the sort of total novel that Proust, it seems, did not feel justified in writing. But the problem with suspicion is that, if carried to an extreme, it doesn't leave one with a way out, a way forward. In his ever-returning suspicion of Albertine, Marcel has tied himself in knots, all but locked himself up in his house, himself a captive to his own jealousy and fanciful, destructive notions of love. He keeps telling himself that he is indifferent to her, and then he learns something new, something which he always seems able to fit into his narrative of suspicion, and his need to control Albertine returns, each time with a vengeance, and he seems stuck. . .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (iii)

I realize that if I were to continue to post about The Space of Literature at the same pace as reflected by the first couple of entries in the series, I'd have more than 100 posts about the book by the time I finished reading it. I don't see that happening. (It's also possible that the fine folks at the University of Nebraska Press may object to the preponderance of quotations in such a large number of posts, at some point, in theory.)

For here, just a couple of notes about what I appreciate about Blanchot's method (having not yet made it any further into the book). He makes what seem like statements, but which are elusive. He's working on something, with us. Just as the book opens with "It seems. . .", then subsequent sections begin again: "In order to examine more closely what such statements beckon us toward, perhaps we should try to see where they originate." And: "Perhaps this ordeal points us toward what we are seeking." And: "We must start questioning again." If on some level I fall back on wanting to be told something, told how to read something--if I want to be spoonfed meaning--Blanchot refuses to do that work for me, refuses to be that authority.

These elusive statements, which at times seem like they're about to resolve into a meaning that can be nailed down, but which don't--in a sense, they remind me of those ideas that I myself have had difficulty articulating. It's tempting--coming from a utilitarian perspective--to see this elusiveness--in Blanchot and in certain other writers--as willful opacity. But I don't think it is. Something is being explored that is difficult to explain, that cannot be confined or reduced, and language is unequal to the task. This very unequalness being part of the thing being explored.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (ii)

Notes on "The Essential Solitude" - continued (all quotations are from the translation by Ann Smock).

b) The Work, the Book
The writer writes a book, but the book is not yet the work. There is a work only when, through it, and with the violence of a beginning which is proper to it, the word being is pronounced. This event occurs when the work becomes the intimacy between someone who writes it and someone who reads it. One might, then, wonder: if solitude is the writer's risk, does it not express the fact that he is turned, oriented toward the open violence of the work, of which he never grasps anything but the substitute--the approach and the illusion in the form of the book?
The book is just a thing, but the work is where the solitude is, where being is.

I have to admit it: the word being trips me up--inevitably makes me think of Heidegger, not any actual experience I've had with Heidegger, of which there are none, but those few times when I've leafed through Being and Time and been unable to understand the first thing, where it seems that the word being itself disables me. There is something disarmingly simple about it. Being. Yet I cannot access it. (I should take philosophy courses.) But I gather, from limited biographical data, that Heidegger was important to Blanchot. Does this mean I need to read Heidegger first?

But this distinction between "the work" and "the book": I discern a kernel of comprehension amid the fog surrounding this in my mind. I use the word "fog", not to dismiss Blanchot, but to point to my own inarticulateness. I want to hang this on something, but there are no hooks.

Can I see this distinction? The writer risks this solitude in creating his work, but in the event, a book is produced, which "is almost vain"--one can think of the publishing contracts, the editing, the interviews, the book tours--all of the extra-literary effluvia that have nothing to do with the work itself. But is this what Blanchot refers to? The book is a product which can be shown to "the world"--but the work can only be found by the reader, in that isolation.

c. Noli me Legere ("do not read me")
The same situation can also be described this way: the writer never reads his work. It is, for him, illegible, a secret. He cannot linger in its presence. It is a secret because he is separated from it.
Wow. It strikes me that this is precisely what I was trying to say, some months back, when I spoke about Proust being unable to read Proust, Beckett being unable to read Beckett. Interesting. I didn't elaborate--I hid behind the dismissive "this is a ridiculous question" frame--but I was trying to say something about this "secret" aspect. In Search of Lost Time is not made for he who was Marcel Proust.

Is there a way in which I can comprehend Blanchot better if I think of him as a reader, like myself, struggling to articulate the inarticulable? Struggling to ask the unaskable about literature?

Is it the struggle I experience with reading Blanchot--is it this struggle that renders other passages more lucid? Passages like this one?:
The writer's solitude, that condition which is the risk he runs, seems to come from his belonging, in the work, to what always precedes the work. Through him, the work comes into being; it constitutes the resolute solidity of a beginning. But he himself belongs to a time ruled by the indecisiveness inherent in beginning over again. The obsession which ties him to a privileged them, which obliges him to say over and over again what he had already said [...] illustrates the necessity, which apparently determines his efforts, that he always come back to the same point, pass again over the same paths, persevere in starting over what for him never starts, and that he belong to the shadow of events, not their reality, to the image, not the object, to what allows words themselves to become images, appearances--not signs, values, the power of truth.
For Blanchot, it seems, the artist is one who returns to certain themes, because the work is never complete. The artifact that is made is only a single manifestation of that work. Is this right?

Reading The Space of Literature (i)

Beginning at the beginning: "The Essential Solitude". The opening words of the book (all quotations are from the translation by Ann Smock):
It seems that we learn something about art when we experience what the word solitude is meant to designate.
It seems. From the start, Blanchot is not simply telling us something. How do we experience what the word designates? We don’t experience the word—what it designates—that is a thing, which we experience. But, anyway, back to solitude. He is referring neither to that melancholy solitude that is "a hurt" nor that solitude required by the writer in order to concentrate. It is something else.

a. Solitude of the Work
"He who writes the work is set aside; he who has written it is dismissed."
What does this mean? That he who writes is not to be found in the text that is written? An alternative "I" ("writer", or "author") emerges, not the physical writer, but an entity outside the body. The writing is independent of the writer, regardless of what of the writer (in the sense of biographical material?) goes into it? Is that it? If writing is an utterance, that utterance exists on its own?

The literary work simply is:
Whoever wants to make it express more finds nothing, finds that it expresses nothing. He whose life depends upon the work, either because he is a writer or because he is a reader, belongs to the solitude of that which expresses nothing except the word being: the word which language shelters by hiding it, or causes to appear when language itself disappears into the silent void of the work.
Well, ok. This is the kind of language that I find very difficult to parse. What is he saying? What might this "more" be, that is sought by some, who instead find nothing? Social concerns? Biographical data? Sentiment? A political program or philosophical system? A coherent fictional world? Possibly? So the reader who tries to make such claims on the literary work, if he or she reads the work in its solitude, will find that those claims cannot be filled? It "expresses nothing except the word being"? This last sentence seems like a restating of: the work is.

Language shelters the word being, by hiding it? What does this mean? Language, being a social mode of communication, points outside the work, and thus shelters being, hides it. Truth or renown might "demonstrate" the existence of a text, but this does not concern the text.

Why does the reader’s life "depend upon the work"? Because the work provides something the reader needs? Why does the reader need this? Does Blanchot mean "the reader" as a person who approaches the work—who exists independent of the work—and thus "needs", as he or she might need food--what the work might have to offer? Or, does he mean that the reader does not exist until such time as the reading is taking place, until such time as he or she experiences the work? Does the writer's life "depend upon the work" in a similar fashion? If there is no work, the writer ceases to be?
The work is solitary: this does not mean that it remains uncommunicable, that it has no reader. But whoever reads it enters into the affirmation of the work’s solitude, just as he who writes it belongs to the risk of this solitude.
What is this risk? The writer risks letting the work dismiss him? (But what is this dismissal?) The writer risks…risks unknowing, uncertainty…risks the existence of the work in its solitude, risks allowing the reader to create the work in the writer’s absence? It feels as if I’m writing in circles. What do I mean in the words I write trying to understand Blanchot?

I mean: something is created, some lonesome thing, in the work itself, which speaks to the reader (to a potential reader). Is this the writer? No, this is the work. The reader approaches the literary work with apprehension: will the work speak? Will I hear it? Doing so, the reader affirms the work’s solitude.

There is that moment, when reading, when pleasure occurs—at times, something like the Nabokovian tingle, perhaps—and this moment happens in communion with the text. This communion is a solitude. You can say to another—here, read this—but the other must find that communion again, alone.

Reading The Space of Literature (i-1)

I've written a few times about my uneasiness with certain kinds of texts, certain critical writings, for example those written by Benjamin, Barthes, Blanchot. I am uneasy, yet I insist on approaching these writers anyway. I want to grasp what it is they say, what it is that others appear to find in them. Though I am wary of a tendency on my part to want to reduce what they say, to capture it, to positively re-state it.

In his recent post "against science", Steve Mitchelmore writes of this tendency. He notes that Jonathan Gottschall's attempted "scientific" refutation of Barthes' notion of "the death of the author" "relies on a reduction of a complex essay to a 'statement'". Later in the post, Steve quotes at length from Blanchot's "The Essential Solitude"--at length, he says, because
Blanchot's writing - its unique and relentless patience - is performative rather than didactic. Neither information or wisdom is being imparted but, as Barthes says, it is writing "borne by a pure gesture of inscription" tracing "a field without origin - or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, language which ceaselessly calls into question all origins".
Performative rather than didactic: I quote this in order to help myself keep this in mind. When I've spoken of my difficulty with these texts, I realize that this is the primary difficulty I've had. I want to force the text to teach me something, as an authority. I want it to impart information, for this is the mode of writing I have been accustomed to. But if Blanchot's writing is not giving me information, if it is performative, how do I approach it? I'm a notoriously poor note-taker, but it strikes me that, though with some sorts of text this is ok (the lack of detailed notes), with Blanchot, instead, I must take notes, I must attempt to scrupulously record my questions, my confusions, my reading. I must write alongside of Blanchot's writing.

Which is a long preamble to the point, which is that--in the spirit of the blog as common reader and reading log--this post hopes to inaugurate a series of posts documenting my reading of Blanchot's The Space of Literature. I don't know how this will go. I may write some foolish things. I will likely state and re-state the same things in different ways; I may well lapse into incoherence. I hope to be able to articulate something of what I find in the text. I can't predict how long I will be able to maintain the series. Nor can I say how often posts will appear.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Noted: T.S. Eliot

From section V of East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years--
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l' entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate--but there is no competition--
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Love is an object kept in an empty box

Scattered thoughts, ill-formed perhaps (perhaps?). . . questions I will probably explore further. Or not. Depending.

Is there a way in which the inability to read—the need for useful texts (information) on the one hand, and the ongoing valorization of mediocrity on the other—is a symptom of the decline of symbolic language? That is, if many of us do not have sufficient experience with once commonly known texts, commonly known narratives, once common ways of storytelling, if we have been failed by education (which we have), if we lack . . . a storehouse of both information and varieties of modes of representation . . . how is art possible, in this sense, beyond just being the plaything of a shrinking minority? If the history of Western literature is built on the Bible and the Greek and Roman classics, and I am needing to play extreme catch up in my late-30s, with time necessarily running out, where does that leave me? (Leaving questions of despair aside, for the most part. And especially if, heaven forbid, I should feel the urge to "blog the classics".)

To the extent that a literature is a lived tradition of a people, is such a thing doomed without a common repository of symbolic language? Or a common repository of much of anything. And is such a thing perhaps already dead, with narrative taking place only in that place of solitude, where the reader finds the text? And if we all have our various tastes, so that few of us can draw on the same body of literature, what then?

"Art for Art's sake": what does this phrase really mean? For me, it's meant simply that the artist should not be constrained to producing art that is "on message"--political, religious, etc. But what does that mean? The artist is at his or her best when he or she--does what? For some, it seems, "art" can only happen when "messages" do not intrude. Or, from the other direction, the reader is not attending to aesthetics if he or she discerns an idea in the text. Is this true? How is it that ideas are not wrapped up in aesthetics? Though I admit to being somewhat at sea on the questions of aesthetics. What are they, really? I know this seems like a silly question, but it seems to me that people talk about it all the time without making it clear that they know what they're talking about. How is it that aesthetics is separate from other aspects of a work? (As is so often the case, the dictionary is of no use, and other reference works leave me feeling that I need to read, and have already read, the whole of philosophy before I may even take on these questions. Which is absurd. And yet. A minimum degree of erudition seems a necessary pre-requisite for so much, which too often keeps it at arm's length.)

If we can agree that much of the great art of the past was religiously motivated, why is it now so difficult for us to believe/accept that great art can be politically motivated? Perhaps motivated is the wrong word. Inspired. Is that better? Or, maybe I mean this: why is it so difficult for us to see value in the content (with the understanding that I do not see content as separate from form), so to speak, of religious literary art? Is it simply because we might reject the underlying religion itself? Is that it? Isn't that simplistic?

The idea that art should stand alone, seeming virtually outside of the society from which it arises (for it is not allowed to "comment on" that society and remain art, though I over-simplify, to be sure), is this not a privileged idea? I am being unclear. That is, our extreme antipathy towards anything that might smell like the "political" in art, isn't this a symptom of capitalism? Isn't it a privileged position to take? If one of the features of white privilege--that privilege that comes from being a member of the dominant group in the capitalist system--if one of the features of this is that we are able to so often not notice the lives of others who are not like "us", that we are able to live as if the way we live our lives is both "natural" and the baseline norm, so that everything else appears to us as deviations from this norm, how does this impact our attitudes towards art? If anything that argues against this privilege (or points it out) is "political", whereas anything that emanates from this privileged position is merely "the way things are", where does that leave literature? Also: is it any wonder, given such circumstances, that the bourgeois novel, the novel of smooth surfaces, in which a view of a coherent world is presented, that this should be the dominant literary mode? (I note, incidentally, that the contemporary novels that come to me from, say, Latin America, or Eastern Europe, are generally more interesting. Though there is selection, of course. Including the decisions as to what gets translated and published, as well as my own particular literary interests. But still.)

(In the second sentence of the above paragraph, I say "our"--I instinctively share this antipathy, though somehow I don't see how it can be maintained, if we consider the fullness of politics, if we consider both art and politics as of a society, and if I am to be serious. I have no trouble believing that a writer can be driven to write, to make a piece of literary art, from a site of political, let us say, anger, or indignation, or something. A spark. Though there must be something in that spark, I would think, enabling the writer to attend to the writing. And the writer, above all, must attend to the writing. At the same time, I wonder how one who, say, writes a novel for the purpose of ending the war, or enacting a policy, can expect that goal to be effected through the writing of that novel. If only because so few people are likely to read any one given novel or story. And it strikes me that this is the sort of situation, perhaps fairly, perhaps not, in which we assume that the writer will not have attended to the writing, as writing, to its formal problems. It also strikes me that I may be contradicting myself and writing myself into a corner.)

Isn't it true that, in the experience of art, we often understand things--things in real life--better than if they had simply been stated, say in an essay or political program? Why does this kind of thing bother certain critics? Though such understanding is not necessarily explicit, nor does it necessarily stay in one place, ready for us to articulate in simple, plain language. It flits by.

Lately I’ve been listening obsessively to Smog's great Supper album. "Truth Serum" features question/response portions between our man Bill Callahan and guest singer Sarabeth Tucek. At one point she asks, "What is love?" and he answers, "Love is an object, kept in an empty box". Love is an object kept in an empty box. I think when I first heard this line, I thought it was merely clever, then over time I looked on it as an interesting riddle. Now, I hear it as something deeper. I hear it as speaking to the questions we ask about art as well as about life. What is an experience? How do we describe it? What is our experience and understanding of art? Presumably it helps us in our experience and understanding of life. Does it not? Or is it merely something pleasant or diverting to pass the time? And if the latter, why then does it matter so much? (It will be seen that I do not hold the latter position.)

How do I reconcile some of the above comments/assertions with the bare fact that I approach the literary work--that I create that work, in concert with the absent author--in a place of solitude? Can I? Do I need to?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The peculiar duty of an artist to his work

Sitting at the dinner table one night recently, my (as yet unread) copy of Ford Madox Ford's novel Parade's End caught my eye. I pulled it down from the shelf and began reading some lines from the novel and then flipped through Robie Macauley's lengthy introduction. I found the following passage from the introduction of particular interest, given some of what I've been getting into around here:
In his crotchety book on the English novel, Ford found much to complain of. He could see in its history no progressive intellectual maturation, no regular development of a tradition and no continuing attempt to uphold the artist's responsibility of "rendering" the life he saw. There were, however, a few writers here and there who understood that responsibility and lived up to it.

The difference between the general library of English novels and these few isolated achievements is partly a matter of method and partly of artistic integrity. Fielding, Smollett, Dickens, Thackeray—and most of the others we are inclined to call the major English novelists—failed, Ford thought, in the peculiar duty of an artist to his work. It resulted in, "mere relating of a more or less arbitrary tale so turned as to insure a complacent view of life." "Complacent" is the important word. It recalls, as a near-perfect example, the ending of Tom Jones when Tom, outcast and disinherited because of his honesty and courage, is welcomed back again simply because Fielding has performed the magician's trick of discovering his gentle birth. This complacency, this annihilating compromise with banality Ford thought to be a result of the English writer's continual urge to be considered "respectable" in a country where the artist had no honor and no social place.

The working toward ultimate conformity produced another commitment, which was one of method and viewpoint. The novelist presupposes a whole social scheme; within that circumference he arranges the smaller scheme of his plot and within the plot he assigns his characters various appropriate roles. When Fielding or Thackeray suddenly surprise us by showing their faces over the tops of their puppet theatres, we realize exactly what the novelist should keep us from realizing: that these are not self-directing people involved in a situation that seems to generate its own drama, but contrivances of cloth and wood assigned to their roles of good or evil.

According to Ford's view, the other kind of novel—in distinction it might be called the "intensive" novel—was produced intermittently during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by, first, Richardson, later Austen and Trollope, finally Conrad and James. (His own name belongs next.) In France it became a tradition; in England it remained a series of singular performances.

This kind of novelist pursues an intense inquiry into the behavior of a certain group of characters both as unique beings and as part of an interweaving, interacting system of relationship. Finally he reasons, or suggests that we reason, from the particular to the general. All society, he declares, is simply a sum total of how human beings behave towards each other and if he is fortunate enough or gifted enough to select for his study circumstances of relationship that have a widespread application, he will have achieved, into his contemporary world, the most penetrating act of inquiry possible. In this kind of novel, we surprise the individual situation in the very act of turning into the general circumstance.

Noted: Roland Barthes

From "Blind and Dumb Criticism", in Mythologies:
Why do critics . . . periodically proclaim their helplessness or their lack of understanding? It is certainly not out of modesty. [. . .]

. . . one believes oneself to have such sureness of intelligence that acknowledging an inability to understand calls in question the clarity of the author and not that of one's own mind. [. . .]

The reality behind this seasonally professed lack of culture is the old obscurantist myth according to which ideas are noxious if they are not controlled by 'common sense' and 'feeling': Knowledge is Evil, they both grew on the same tree. [. . .] To be a critic by profession and to proclaim that one understands nothing about existentialism or Marxism (for as it happens, it is these two philosophies particularly that one confesses to be unable to understand) is to elevate one's blindness or dumbness to a universal rule of perception, and to reject from the world Marxism and existentialism: 'I don't understand, therefore you are idiots.'
Related: "We lack jouissance"

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Calendar of Feelings

We attended a funeral last week, for my step-father's sister. I didn't know her well, but I knew her and liked her. Her best friend gave the eulogy. As I listened to her moving stories, I experienced a diffuse pain in my arm. And I was reminded of another time, just a few months ago, when I'd felt a similar pain. We'd been visiting my mother and my step-father, and my grandmother had been there. We'd talked some about games. My mother and step-father are both retired and play competitive bridge, which is a topic of much hilarity to some of us. For some reason, it occurred to me that my father's parents played numerous games, though I said that I didn't remember whether they'd played bridge. My grandmother said, "Oh, they were wonderful bridge players!", and she told me that she and her second husband had played bridge with them all the time. I thought about this conversation as I drove us home that night. I considered this fact of my grandparents all gathered together, separate from us or my parents. As if they had lives of their own that didn't depend on us being around. My grandmother's comment had opened up a window, and for that brief moment, they were alive again. And I felt a painful pressure behind my eyes as I tried to resist tears, and it was here that I felt that pain in my arm. It was then that I missed them, for the first time really, and became acutely conscious of the fact of their absence.

Why was I trying to resist crying? I don't know; unfortunate habit, I imagine. Though it's true that I was driving, and I felt that there would be no stopping it if I tried to explain to Aimée what was going on, though explain I finally did. Funny how the emotion goes almost unfelt until we try to utter it, when it overtakes the moment. In "Singing a New Song", one of his remarkable essays on the Bible collected in The Singer on the Shore, Gabriel Josipovici writes, "It is as if simply opening your mouth, giving utterance to your voice, releases something in you..." I have encountered this phenomenon many times in my life, yet have tended, I think, to ignore it, in favor of the preferred idea that I knew myself better by what went on inside my head.

These grandparents have been dead for years: my grandmother died eleven years ago, and my grandfather ten years before that. At times I wondered at the general lack of sadness when I thought of them. But they were old, and I was young when they'd died. They'd lived long lives, and perhaps that’s all there was to say about it. And yet, here, now, I thought of them as living people, now gone. And I felt sadness as I realized I could not simply talk to them and expect any reply, that they could not answer my questions, which were surely better questions than the ones that occurred to me in my youth. My sadness became stronger as I tried to articulate my knowledge that they had not been able to know Aimée, that they would not know our child. And it was this sense of them as living, as beings with lives, along with the awareness of the finality of their deaths, that brought them back for me with this physical response.

This is one of Proust's great themes. In Sodom and Gomorrah, the fourth volume of À la recherche du temps perdu, the Narrator, "suffering from cardiac fatigue", bends down to carefully remove his boots, and he is overwhelmed by a sense of "a divine presence", that of his beloved grandmother, who had so often come to his aid in such moments:
I had just perceived, in my memory, stooping over my fatigue, the tender, preoccupied, disappointed face of my grandmother, as she had been on that first evening of our arrival, the face not of that grandmother whom I had been astonished and remorseful at having so little missed, and who had nothing in common with her save her name, but of my real grandmother, of whom, for the first time since that afternoon of her stroke in the Champs-Elysées, I now recaptured the living reality in a complete and involuntary recollection. This reality does not exist for us so long as it has not been re-created by our thought [...]; and thus, in my wild desire to fling myself into her arms, it was only at that moment--more than a year after her burial, because of the anachronism which so often prevents the calendar of facts from corresponding to the calendar of feelings--that I became conscious that she was dead. I had often spoken about her since then, and thought of her also, but behind my words and thoughts, those of an ungrateful, selfish, cruel young man, there had never been anything that resembled my grandmother, because, in my frivolity, my love of pleasure, my familiarity with the spectacle of her ill health, I retained within me only in a potential state the memory of what she had been. [...] For with the perturbations of memory are linked the intermittencies of the heart. It is, no doubt, the existence of our body, which we may compare to a vase enclosing our spiritual nature, that induces us to suppose that all our inner wealth, our past joys, all our sorrows, are perpetually in our possession. [...] In any case if they remain within us, for most of the time it is in an unknown region where they are of no use to us, and where even the most ordinary are crowded out by memories of a different kind, which preclude any simultaneous occurrence of them in our consciousness. But if the context of sensations in which they are preserved is recaptured, they acquire in turn the same power of expelling everything that is incompatible with them, of installing alone in us the self that originally lived them.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Noted: Samuel Beckett

From Molloy:
Can it be we are not free? It might be worth looking into.
From Malone Dies:
There is no use indicting words, they are no shoddier than what they peddle.