Appendix 1: the SCAR
C'taient des femmes quelconques...
She passes me on the street, unknown. She is standing still, deciding which way to go. She is squinting in the sun. For a moment I can see her. I can see that it was at least some months earlier she had written the word SCAR across her chest with a knife or perhaps the edge of a broken bar glass. The SCAR is permanent.
I could see the letters A and R through the opening of her blouse, but as the blouse was partially transparent I could make out, through the fabric, the other letters as well, reading SCAR in their entirety. I was left standing there as she walked away.
The word arched across her chest from the top of her right breast to the top of her left. It seems it was written with both fury and precision: the SCAR is deep, yet its letters are in proportion; the marks stand out in a rich rose color.
But she is not the type to have such a scar. Her blouse is rather fine to be framing it, and her age is perhaps 29. Her hair is long and auburn, her look calm and educated.
I find the scar irresistible on her--especially now that the perplexity of reading it has worn off and I have let her walk away to who knows where.
Why didn't I begin to talk with her? Had I, I know I would have been wise enough to talk of anything but the word there on her breast.
But even as I spoke it would have been the scar leading me to do so. It would have been evident there below her mouth even as she responded to me. Her mouth would have responded with words inevitably colored by this scar, colored rose red as my words also would have been inevitably colored.
To have an affair with such a woman, never asking about or even mentioning the word before you.
That I've been mesmerized by the sight of her becomes quite amusing when I contrast it with the fact that just before walking out onto the street where I saw her I'd been in the caf reading the last pages of "Noms de pays: le nom." These are the pages in which Marcel dwells on the new generation of women, the elegance of whose manners and dress he cannot himself believe in. The contrast of two such texts read both during the same hour of a summer afternoon leads me to wonder: Can I believe both in the beauty of Proust's writing and in the beauty of the writing glimpsed on this woman's breast?
Appendix 2: the SCAR
In the beginning was not the One or unity, but already difference. What's more, I do not believe the redemption means a coming erasure of difference: rather it means a reorganization of the difference that was there from the beginning. Difference is always constitutive of being.
A blank notebook. A slim blue spiral notebook made by the Koyuko company, a Japanese brand. The notebook is new, completely blank, and it contains one-hundred narrow-ruled leaves of paper.
I know that on the meeting of these blank pages with this ballpoint pen, upon the careful tracing out of the looping lines of written words, it is possible, at least possible, for this blue notebook to contain a text that would overturn the world, a text of such necessity as to complete what is essential in all previous texts, while relegating to oblivion all that is inessential.
This notebook and the pen in my hand evoke the thought of what is there as potential: they suggest what could be brought forth in the act of their being used up.
According to the anecdote, Michelangelo was able to see the sculpture trapped in the block of marble. Or at least this was one of his confidence tricks. His work was to bring forth the latent sculpture, to chisel away the marble imprisoning it.
What I'm thinking now of this blank notebook and pen before me--is it in any way similar to Michelangelo's thought? Perhaps it is, but only in some slight way. Perhaps the two instances of creative vision are at best allegories of each other.
A sculpture is a three-dimensional object: one can visualize it in space, and so it can be there already in the marble. The outlines of a text cannot be visualized, of course, or at least not in the same manner. What kind of text would one come up with if one thought of writing as the chiseling away of all that one did not want to say, if one imagined the literary tradition, and one's language, as a sort of block from which one chiseled away all that was inessential? Some have through of writing this way. Certainly there are writers--I think of the American minimalists, or the melancholy Duras--whose poetics have elements of this.
But the text I imagine above, the potential text in this notebook, the one whose appearance would overturn the world--this text is surely something other than that of the master sculptor. Its appearance would be something positive, something breathed into the writer, rather than something negative in the sense of having been chipped out of dross. Its appearance would necessarily be a kind of theophany.
Though certainly written in a fallen language (English, for example) such a text remains beyond all imagination as to its outlines and details. Only God could provide it.
Evil exists, but where does it reside? Evil is not simply the "resistance of formless matter to God's creating will." I'd have trouble in any case believing there is such a thing as "formless matter." Evil resides rather in a kind of willful coup of some part of God's creative forming. Evil is a willful coup of forms that, taking unto itself further form-like character, propels what might be called pseudo-creations. Detached from the divine, pseudo-creations bear the stamp of non-being. They ring hollow, and this hollow ringing can be recognized as their mark of provenance.
APOLOGY FOR THE IDOLS
Just as the ear needs to hear words of love and anger, so the eye, if it is to be the eye of man, needs to see the idols.
The earliest recorded dream is that of a Mesopotamian woman, written down thousands of years B.C. The woman was a temple guardian. One night she dreamt that she went into the temple and saw that all the idols were gone and that the people who should have been there worshiping were gone too.
This ancient dream shows an ancient anxiety, an anxiety still with us today. We fear that the idols will go missing and that if they do there will be only empty space where they once stood. We fear that if this happens we might be voided out as well.
Our eye, having nowhere to rest in the flatness of space, begins to wander aimlessly, and in that wandering our essence is lost.
Whether of wood or stone or otherwise, man needs the idols. This doesn't mean that man worships the idols. Such is the old misguided fear of the iconoclasts. The idols merely allow man's eye to focus, which is what allows man to worship at all. The idols bring the eye to rest in order that the spirit may roam to the right places, seeking the divine.
In ancient Israel, if the prophets succeeded in extirpating the idols, the Temple became an idol. In the Diaspora, the Jews had to carry their idols with them into exile: the new idol thus became the Torah itself, a scroll containing the sacred texts. The Jews became "the people of the Book."
As for the Muslims, they forbade all representational art (i.e. idols) so that the Koran itself or calligraphed texts from the Koran could take the idols' place. Under pressure of the interdiction against idolatry, the Muslims created the world's most striking examples of manuscript illumination, works that nearly take the breath away for their subtlety and balance.
In Europe the Protestant revolution made a similar displacement: the paintings of saints and the reliquaries had to go, they said, and they lifted up the Bible in their place. Translated into the vernaculars, the Bible could henceforth hold the eye of this new people of the Book.
That the Bible is now bound in one volume, that one can clutch it, that its words have the thin but stark substantiality of black ink on paper--all this allows it to continue in its function.
Along with the other nightmares our new millennium brings us, there returns the same ancient nightmare of the missing idols. The flat computer screen with its constantly shifting contents and its hypertext links leads the eye to wander in unprecedented ways. Where and how can the eye focus? Doesn't it rather become fatigued and diverted? I myself can never read a text online. If I want to really read something I must download and print it. But like many of the faithful, I wonder about the people around me. I wonder if they may not be drifting into a Diaspora they themselves only vaguely suspect: an ultimate Diaspora away from the possibility of worship, away from man himself. Is this unduly pessimistic? Is it only a bad dream? Uncertainty and persistence. Our concentrated waiting will tell.
Taiwan Journals: June-July 1995
May 1995. Mission accomplished.
The Ernst Robert Curtius Society. The Walter Benjamin Society.
Two imaginary literary endeavors the potential fruits of which... But as usual, it is for me a matter of two figures I much admire who are supposed to stand in stark opposition to one another.
I am always pitting such "opposites" together like this, and then projecting in my mind how one, then the other, approach at the level of writing what is the essential for me. Here it is a matter of projecting the imaginary work of two different societies: two different societies that, ideally, would overlap each other in the same manner the stages of the development of Rome overlap each other in the metaphor erected by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents.
Not an intellectual, but a scribe.
Not an intellectual, nothing quite so glorious. No program.
Rimbaud will be exiled to Cyberia. It is there that his legacy will be played out.
Mallarm's Tombeaux for Poe and Baudelaire appear to be written more than anything under the aegis of the latter's brief biography of Poe and his epigraph from Gautier at the head of this biography.
"Celui qui veut aller Dieu sans passer par le Christ qui est 'le chemin,' celui-l va au Diable, disait nergiquement Luther." --de Rougemont
Et celui qui veut reevoir la grce de Dieu sans passer par son glise qui est le chemin de cette grce, celui-l va Luther, dit nergiquement le Diable.
"On a coutume de dclarer inexplicable le succs prodigieux de l'Astre." --de Rougemont Cette phrase est d'un genre que l'on rencontre souvent quand il s'agit des grands succs du 17e sicle. Et pour raison: ce "grand sicle" franais nous parait comme une pays impossible peupl de poupes ridicules. Et pour raison...
Je pense comme une fille enlve sa robe.
MOI: J'enlve des robes des filles comme Bataille, d'habitude, pensait.
BATAILLE (l, dans ma chambre): Hah! Et vous pensez comme Simone Weil enlve sa robe elle!
BATAILLE: C'est--dire peine, monsieur, peine.
MOI: Vous avez raison. Peut-tre vous avez raison. Nanmoins, j'cris comme Benjamin.
BATAILLE (triste, pensif): Benjamin, le pauvre. C'est un esprit d'ange. C'est lui, la vraie pierre anglique. (Et Bataille, il n'est plus l.)
de Rougemont, p. 202.
The necessity of formulating toute une doctrine: "une action, une mise en ordre, une purification." I have known this necessity already, and have done much, perhaps the essential, in the Testament. My work hereafter should be but an elaboration and strengthening of this blueprint, a reading of it in the form of study and writing in its margins.
Certain figures fall in my estimation. It is perhaps strange that although I recognize in Nietzsche and Bataille the most stunning insight, the most impressive intellectual powers, I have for some time sensed in the former a kind of immaturity, and now sense in the latter a kind of irrelevant hypocrisy that only becomes more and more annoying as one studies him. How this great admiration of mine for the powers of these two writers (admirare) is to be reconciled with the fact that, in some more significant manner, I look down on them as evident products of ressentiment (!), how these can be reconciled I do not know.
Why should I attribute the deafness of Nietzsche and Bataille to ressentiment? This requires elaboration.
The phenomenology of the Chinese world.
That the Chinese do not feel the world is coming to an end, as so many Westerners do.
My youthful realization, stoned, of the primate character of social behavoir, thus of ourselves. How this experience would not be as radical for a Chinese youth. Their world is not as "ideologized"? A more "real" phenomenology?
One of the surrealists should have painted an erotic painting of the Lilliputian Treasurer's wife and Gulliver meeting privately in the latter's forsaken temple of a dwelling. The peeping head of a spy or three visible at the corners of the temple's windows.
Or perhaps this painting would have been more appropriate from one of the pre-Raphaelites.
Frequently over the years I have imagined a genre of landscape painting in which a contemporary city is depicted having been depopulated and abandoned to the forces of nature for 50 years, 100 years, 1,000 years, and so on. One scene of the downtown, for example, painted as it would present itself after each of these time periods had elapsed: thus a series. Or the painter could of course paint different scenes of the same city 1,000 years after it had been abandoned--though this does not seem nearly as compelling as the study of destruction over time in a single scene. In any case, my painter would be a painstaking realist, and would study the kinds of flora and fauna that would invade the city given its geographical location. He would also have to study the precise manners in which different materials erode (cement, glass, paved surfaces). This imagined genre corresponds no doubt to a fantasy of mine--probably what should be called a misanthropic fantasy.
While in Chicago, I have often been led to wonder how long the Sears Tower would remain standing were it left to its own devices. Doubtless very long. Various of its windows would give way first, letting in birds and vegetation. The whole would perhaps eventually become, long before tumbling, a kind of massive Hanging Gardens. Would such a structure ever actually lean and fall? Or would it merely dwindle? What is the attraction of these fantasies?
It is no wonder that such misanthropic fantasies have returned to me here in Taipei, given the pollution of the place, the palpable feeling one has that there are too many people, both here in this city, and here on this satellite of the sun.
Now would be a good time for one to take up this genre of painting, for as one's skills increased as a realist of the city invaded by plants and animals, the planet would simultaneously be suffocating under the weight of civilization. In the course of one's life work, the world's environmental catastrophes would perhaps begin to make themselves felt in unavoidable ways. Perhaps these catastrophes would even start to be felt in the First World. But this latter is something of which none of us can be sure. No one knows how long it will be before our population and our manner of living bring forth universally palpable results in the ecosystem. How long before some swift and universally registered disaster?
Throughout history men have bemoaned the "human condition," which regardless of the breakthroughs of science has remained generally the same. But isn't there something particularly depressing in what we can see currently, in the sight we have before us, namely that of various world tribes frenetically eating themselves out of house and home? My own distress in this face of this situation is probably partly responsible for these misanthropic fantasies. I imagine a careful realist who can represent, and thus somehow master, the city's ruin.
The hotels in which one can take a room for two-hours. I find this a mark of civilization. I believe it's illegal in the States for hotels to offer rooms for less than 24-hours. The stiff idiocy of triumphant Protestantism.
Swift on clers et secula: "...[whether these bishops] had never been compliers with the times while they were common priests, or slavish prostitute chaplains to some nobleman, whose opinions they continued servilely to follow after they were admitted into that assembly." (104)
The King of Brobdingnag on the British: "I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." (107)
Does one find such dense and rhythmic fury before the early modern period? If one does not, is it perhaps a sign of our modern shallowness?
The conte philosophique should move from 1) intellectual conundrum to 2) objective correlative to 3) writing.
Gulliver's Travels, III, v. The Grand Academy of Lagado. Satire after my own heart! Swift's work gets more impressive as it progresses. Can it reach any higher than this intellectual summit of Laputa?
Master Ah-Ming's Southern Estate, on the outskirts of Kaohsiung. I always end up in places like this. The structure seems somehow suspended in air, it looks more than anything like a huge and dilapidated cement houseboat. Our host, Ching-Ling's friend, is around sixty, and has a perfectly straight white beard hanging loosely from his chin. Ah-Ming's shrimp ponds are visible from the back of the mansion, and cover four or five acres.
Upon arrival, we are all invited to be seated, Ah-Ming cuts up a watermelon for us, then he positions himself at the first of the four organs, playing with great feeling a magnificent protestant hymn. The heat is stifling, there are four revolving fans on the ceiling, dozens of lizards scampering about the walls, and at least a hundred chickens rummaging through the chaotic gardens visible through huge open windows. In this setting, it is hard for me to describe the impression of these staid protestant hymns droning forth from the organs as if they were lamenting their exile from some Norwegian Lutheran church in Minnesota. The word wacky comes to mind, or the word crackpot, and the sentence: "I always end up in places like this."
At the end of each hymn drone the two long and familiar notes of the protestant Aaa-aa-ahhh-men-nn-nn, and these two notes, drifting out the windows and wrapping themselves round the palms, seem the most incongruous of all. Tired from the ride, I can only hear them as Aaa-aa-ahhh-Mingggg. With the heat and the rest of it, I feel I am beginning to go crazy.
Later I realize that this reaction is clearly based on my own navet. In fact nothing is more characteristic of the fruits of missionary work than this tropical scene I suddenly entered. It is just that I had never experienced tropical Calvinism first-hand. Even in the most sweltering climes, the early protestant missionaries clung to their salted European food, their thick European clothing, and this dour musical genre, bringing along with them, whenever possible, the cumbersome instruments on which it was played. Though nominally iconoclastic when it came to much of the Church's art, they demonstrated nevertheless a dogged fetishism when it came to these particular accoutrements of European life and faith: as if the black coat, or dried and salted meat, were objects necessary to the glory of the cult. The early protestant missionaries were not likely to undertake anything like the Jesuit Matteo Ricci's strategy of cultural mlange: they would not put on Chinese clothes or try to become Chinese so as to convey the Word. Better to die of sunstroke clutching an English Bible to one's breast!
After finishing several hymns, Ah-Ming begins to discourse in Taiwanese upon his philosophy of music. Music is a metaphysical language more powerful than speech. It addresses itself directly to the heart and carries the heart where mere discourse cannot take it. For Ah-Ming, music is a representation of life lived in faith.
Though I don't know traditional Chinese music theory, all of this seems particularly European, most particularly Romantic in fact.
Later in the evening, Ah-Ming took us out to his shrimp ponds to explain the trade, netting us a handful of shrimp fry and demonstrating a little blue and yellow "feeding boat" that cruises around one of the ponds, mechanically spraying food out of its sides according to a set timing device.
Ah-Ming is an excellent host. After the shrimp pond tour, we all cleaned up and he sent us in a taxi to the best seafood restaurant in the area, himself following behind on a motorbike. At the restaurant, where he is well known, he spent some time at the counter ordering dishes. The staff did its work with consummate speed and accuracy, and we were served an endless succession of dishes each more succulent than the last, all of it prepared from the freshest seafood, much of which was still swimming around its tank when we arrived. There was squid, sashemi, patties of fried fish roe, soups with fish, shrimp and crab. There were mussels, pork kidneys, escargot, fresh bamboo, and more. We found later than the meal was surprisingly cheap (given what we had consumed), but that our host had still spent almost $100 on us.
Ah-Ming apparently spends his money only on what gives him pleasure. As a good Taiwanese, he places good eating among the highest priorities. His garden is another of these priorities. Maintaining his mansion, however, is not. The whole of it is hopelessly dilapidated, and many of the rooms are cluttered beyond use, except, that is, for the use the chickens put them to as fine roosting territory. While I am here, I do not even intend to look in the basement, the floor of which is below the level of the ponds. Ah-Ming's windows are always open, there are no screens, and sparrows and bats fly in and out regularly, as do his dozen or so pet songbirds which come and go from their open cages. The varnish is wearing off on the plank floors, which warp here and there from exposure to water. A rather serious bees-nest is situated in the wall just behind the sink where we do the dishes.
Ah-Ming explains all of this with a smile: "Ahh! I've lived the single life for some years now."
The minute the sun dips below the horizon, the bats begin their careening around. And really, they must get quite hungry hanging upside down in the dark all day. Which gives me an idea for a new diet book.
In a characteristic gesture, Ah-Ming said that he would have five of the chickens caught and prepared for tonight's meal. This would mean one chicken for each of us. I don't know if this meal is going to come about. We'll see. But our host doesn't seem to be one not to carry out such an offer.
During the first hours of darkness, when the lights go on, lizards climb up and cover the powder-blue ceiling. They gobble up the insects attracted by the lights. At 8:30, there are perhaps seventy-five of them. But by 11:00, they have dropped in number to perhaps thirty, the rest having crawled back down to the nooks and crannies they came from. What seems to have happened is that by 10:00 or so the majority have gotten their fill of gnats and whatnot, and are now going to retire, calling it a day.
Missing the labyrinth already. --I'm reading Roberto Calasso's book on Greek religion. Though I was nearly ravished by the first fifty pages, I am sad to say that his arguments seem to get more and more gratuitous as the book moves on. The fall (with Greece as with Calasso's book) seems to come with the introduction of theory into the weave of things. All the facility of structuralist mythography starts spinning its wheels with the discussion of the Iliad. Rather troubling to see such a promising work drift into fast-paced, speculative typing, if that is what is happening here.
My other reading so far this summer: L'Amour et l'Occident, Hollier's book on Bataille, Baudelaire's essays on Poe, most of Poe's tales, Gulliver's Travels, and an irritating little book of art history called Sayonara Michelangelo.
The doctrine of the "natural goodness" of man is clearly among the early modern doctrines most to be blamed for the horrors of our century.
The satyr to Dionysos: "The only cure for the stings of love are the stings of a new love."
I have to face the fact that my work, culminating already in the Testament, weaves tightly together what is a very difficult mix of elements, among them my theological understanding of our existence, my understanding of the importance of writing, and my academic training in modern European thought. These are merely the basic elements, ignoring the voice which demands that they clash and meld together. Because of that voice, this culmination is for me a religion, after which there is no question of choosing to proceed with the study of any one of its elements to the neglect of any other. The weave of these elements is not simply a juxtaposition, but is something more perilous and luminous, a body that came forth from the flames. How could I now merely discourse about this body? I cannot, and should not try. Rather I should try to live according to this religion, as something opaque in itself, as if it were itself a doctrine whose mysteries I only partially know. Because in this doctrine the essential has already been vouchsafed to me.
We have been moving about, staying with friends. Nanto, Pou-Li, now Yuen-Lin. All cities situated around the same group of mountains.
At times I am overcome by a sentence like the one that hit me in the street this evening: I love this dismal place. And: I will always miss it when I am away. I immediately felt that the word dismal was not on the mark. For instance: East Berlin was dismal. The tangles of traffic and rubble, the heat and noise, do not quite make Taiwan dismal. Which is a wonder.
I love this dismal place. Such sentences do not come to me in Taipei. Perhaps because Taipei is nearly dismal.
I have already remarked that the Chinese do not seem to feel that the end of the world is coming. In general they seem to be content to live as well as they can on the surface of things. Which may not imply a criticism of the Chinese. Which may not even be a suggestion that they are epistemologically nave compared to Westerners. The contrary may be true. In any case, those who live on the surface of things have a certain tenacity about them.
I oughtn't refer to this body that came forth from the flames as a doctrine. I know it to be rather--at least regards myself--a dispensation. The inauguration of a dispensation that needs to be worked out. This working out: writing; study; bringing my joy to others.
"Patient and erudite, Plutarch answered the question that he himself put: 'Who was Carila in Delphi?'"
A nightmare this morning. Somehow I had forgotten to leave the French department, and there I was, standing before my own section, having already taught the first week or so. Then I was outside, walking. A paper was due for Douglas Kelly, a paper I hadn't quite begun. The image of a few half-written paragraphs on a computer screen. In the place I was walking the ground was all torn up: a construction site.
That pathetic American phenomenologeme: that nothing has actually happened unless it makes it into the papers.
Interesting that Calasso's book begins to shimmer again when he leaves the Iliad.
Georges and Simone. A book of these two thinkers as they invade my thought. A long-term work.
The fragments begin as if lectures on their thought.
It is my family's wealth that has allowed me, in some measure, these researches. This is not to say that I have depended on it completely.
My family did not really approve of a life of thought and writing. There is nothing out of the ordinary in that, for they are, in a modest way, part of the bourgeoisie.
Nothing out of the ordinary, either, in the fact that they could not really articulate their disapproval according to some ethic appropriate to them, according to some philosophy. For in the particular class to which my family belongs, there is wealth with its attendant diversions, and non-wealth with its attendant stigma of failure. There is little articulation of anything beyond this dichotomy. And this dichotomy itself needn't be articulated, as it is signified everywhere one looks.
The idea of wise living, as a category of thought or endeavor, does not even exist in their heads. One is simply to waddle along, acquiring goods, gadgets, and prestige. And no one even bothers to defend this manner of living, which is taken to be self-evident. Even an infant will reach out to grab shiny and colorful things.
Principle of the book. One is not to present oneself, with one's concerns for this kind of work, as a neurotic outcast, a special case of bohemia. I am as healthy as the next man, if not more so. Which is to say? Which is to say: I am troubled, I am always on the verge of overflowing what I have learned are the prescribed limits of things, I feel I am the result of a formula, and that many other formulae are possible, certainly many that would overflow the limits in ways that are just the ways I intend.
Finish translating Halleluiah.
Orestes' bones buried beneath a blacksmith's shop. The oracle: "there where blow follows blow, wrong lies over wrong."
The Spartans come looking for the bones. They are needed to bring down the city of Tegea.
Those who would confidently deny my faith, basing their confidence on what they suppose to be "evidence." Ask them: Do they know what time is? Can they seize or define it? Do they know what lies behind appearance? Or are we to suppose that nothing does? Or that chaos does?
Whence comes the voice that speaks to me? If I say it is heard, clearly I am using a metaphor. But that side of the sensorium seems most appropriate to what I call "voice."
Do they not feel how limited the sensorium, as the positivists would use it, how limited it is when placed next to the thought of Being, or the thought of what lies behind appearances?
If they have heard no voice, if they thus lack faith and are skeptics, that is one thing. But on the basis of what other than shallowness and dull stupidity are they so confident in this skepticism of theirs?
How Hui-Ling told me of the Chinese woman writer for whom writing brings something to appearance, for whom writing is the only thing that gives meaning to her life. My feeling listening to this--how it is hard to define, how I felt "Yes, that is how I think of writing." And my feeling looking at the woman's picture--perhaps she is in her mid-thirties--and at the pages of characters totally unknown to me, but embodying somehow, nevertheless, a similar idea of writing. Is this possible? Does this woman really have the same experience: the experience of most everything in life put, as it were, on the path toward writing?
The secret luxury of Lycurgus. In a chamber dug in the corner of his hut, it is found that the lawgiver had been cherishing a worn Pliade edition of Ë la recherche du temps perdu. Scandal! What's more, the citizen who took up residence in the hut after the founder's demise found with the volumes of Proust a nearly half-completed attempt at a Spartan translation. The text is written in the unmistakably plundering hand of Lycurgus himself. Horror!
Those close to Lycurgus (everyone and no-one) exclaim in exasperated whispers: What is to be done?
Inevitably a cover-up was the only possible course of action. This cover-up (along with the evident anachronism of the whole episode) is the reason we find no mention of the affair either in Herodotus or Plutarch.
The text of Lycurgus' Proust survived for some time, however, and a stylistic analysis by the little read late antique rhetorician [his name escapes me at the moment] reveals that Lycurgus would normally break up Proust's long French sentences with seven or eight Spartan sentences.
Noble and enviable laconism! Today we can only imagine what it was like to read this work.
Curiosity: desire for desire.
The question of the value of continuing the work Freud began.
"One is on the democratic left. Where else can one be?"
The acts of analysis, elaboration, play.
Literature is seen as a constant rescue operation.
A writer like Poe becomes a case of neurosis, to be cured. And the elements of that which the Poet revealed to us, they are each assigned their place under the tendentious gaze of the analyst. Tendentious? Why yes: for everything is on the way to a cure. The question of whether psychoanalysis is not inimical to literature.
Rand would read Poe's texts as first approaches toward a cure, as cries in the direction of a cure. Thus the place of the psychoanalytic critic: he is there to finish the work.
The question of whether or not psychoanalysis is not actually a new genre of literature.
Always remember the story of Mark, who eventually became a bicycle repair man. I knew him my first year in college. He had dropped out because of an existential crisis, or because of psychological problems. He didn't want to do anything. In fact, more than anyone I knew, he didn't want to do anything at all.
Mark's parents were on his case, "very concerned," and he didn't know how to tell his mother how dismal the world looked to him. He told her if she wanted to understand him, she should read Camus' The Stranger. And she did.
Soon after his mother calls him, hysterical, and his father is on the phone too, yelling at him. How could he do such a thing? They'd always treated him so well! How could he be so blatantly cruel to his mother?
Mark protested. He didn't know what their problem was. Finally his father read him the first few lines of the book: "Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don't remember any more."
The father summarized: Obviously Mark wanted his mother off his back: he didn't even mind it if she died!
There was no escaping it now: Mark finally had to admit that he had never read The Stranger. Someone had told him about it, and he had gotten the impression that the book presented the same ideas he himself had. And this is perhaps true. For just as the mature Meursault would probably not have bothered to read The Stranger, neither did Mark.
Mark's father--mainly unhappy, I suppose, that he had had to put up with his wife's outburst--was doubly angered by his son's confession that he had never even read the book. After all, Mark had claimed his case was so hard to understand. He had put on airs. He thought he could play the intellectual based on half a semester of college. And he had claimed that this novel was the key to understanding him.
"At least," his father concluded, "at least when your aunt told you that reading the Bible could help bring you out of this state you're in--at least she was suggesting you read something she had taken the trouble to read herself!"
Hollier (157): "All of Bataille's reading of Hegel takes as its main line that the subject and knowledge are mutually exclusive."
The thick drape that has fallen over them. They cannot see through it. Only in certain times and places a tiny glimmer or spark of light. Their fatigue and confusion tell them they suffocate. Yet they cannot see the drape that has fallen over them. It has been there too long--they find it the normal state of things--it is thus invisible.
Only a glimpse of the sparks, followed by thought, can bring the drape into relief. But on the eyes of most this drape has come to weigh so heavily, they are so distracted in its darkness, how shall we get them to see what flickers so rarely through its weave?
Meph. I'll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind. (Dr. Faustus: II.i.82)
A fine epigraph for an age of diversion.
Interesting the nature of Faustus' desires: always to see, to see, to see. He would be a great traveler, and he would have his name admired. Rather modern.
The idea that one would fulfill one's lust by spending a day verifying mapmakers' work! Rather than indulge in them, he gets to see a morality play of the Seven Deadly Sins. Theorein. Marlowe's Faustus is a damned scholar indeed!
Reading Marlowe one appreciates all the more Shakespeare's genius for structure.
Faust. ...I do repent and yet I do despair:
Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast. (V.i.69-70)
In these lines, to repent is to have hope, whereas to despair is the path to hell. Admirable orthodoxy.
Meph. Thou traitor, Faustus...
Yes, he who has hope is a traitor to hell. For hope is linked to faith.
Thus the danger orthodoxy sees in the via negativa. For on certain of its bypaths hope itself is abandoned.
Meph. Therefore despair, think thou only upon hell... (V.ii.86)
Skelton becomes rector of the parish church at Dis. Oh, how fine!
My experience confirms what I felt some years ago concerning the "dull mugs" of my contemporaries. These dull mugs signify a lack of courage in the face of the world, a craven pragmatism.
I had wanted to read Tristram Shandy as well this summer. Ching-Ling has taken out a copy for me from the library at Tai-Da. But I haven't gotten it yet, and soon may be leaving.
On this visit I see for the first time in Taiwan a gay couple walking arm-in-arm through the night market. And a lesbian couple in one of the malls. Another male couple, eating dinner and, somehow, not concealing the signs of their homosexuality. Interesting how, suddenly, homosexuality is out and about here.
I remember when I was twelve looking through a catalogue of insects I had ordered. I was interested particularly in the large, exotic beetles, most of which came form a place far away, somewhere in the jungles of who-knows-where, a place called Formosa. I could order preserved specimens of these beetles for a price well beyond my allowance. One that I desired particularly was called, if I remember correctly, the Formosa Stag Beetle.
Now I am actually in Formosa. It is one of those dear ironies of growing up (and perhaps of the exotic as well) that I could now buy all the beetles I like, but that I no longer would know what to do with them.
I was recently in the mountains, by Sun-Moon Lake, and a shopkeeper had a terrarium full of Formosa Stag Beetles. I watched them battle each other, and asked the price out of curiosity (around 25NT apiece). I didn't buy one, of course. But I did keep people waiting while I watched the beetles battling.
After many years and millions upon millions of dollars in funding, the Taipei metro system is still not functioning. Many people suspect it will never function. Over the city's streets one can see the massive raised platforms upon which the rail-tracks and the metro-stations were to be built. I was discussing with Ya-Pei the possibility that the metro plan will simply be abandoned before it drains any more of the public's money. And all the unsightly platforms? Should they be torn down? The cost would be enormous. There is a far better solution, which I should present to the press, being the originator of this solution.
The Taipei city government could build elevators up to these platforms, then sell the platform surfaces as real estate. The platforms could become like little city squares or elongated parks, with cafs, restaurants, shopping, etc. I could offer suggestions for some of the names of these suspended businesses: National Shame Caf, Corrupt Official Memorial Mall, Pay-off and Run Disco Roller Rink, The Brawling Senators Steak House, and so on.
But one encounters an obvious problem with my plan. Can the Taipei transportation authority really handle the logistics of building elevators? Will not the money for this project end up--with a lot of other monies--in several overseas banks? And the people of Taipei, instead of getting elevators, would probably get seven or eight half-rusted scaffoldings bought from some collapsing hotel and converted specially for public use.
The ridiculous English names certain companies here have adopted in order to catch that glimmer of prestige that comes with the idea of the West. A women's clothing company, with several branch stores, is called Single Noble. One thinks of a personals ad: "Single noble, 32, seeks ambitious Duke for..."
A shop selling kitchen furniture and furnishings is called Dictator. One reads the letters in bold capitals above the door.
Perhaps it is true that psychoanalysis is the most certain path, of all the discourses I have studied, to that which concerns people.
How has my culture been convinced to drift so far from it? To abandon it more (I believe) than Europe has? What has led them to refuse what psychoanalysis can reveal?
Freud would say that it is psychoanalysis itself that can best answer these questions.
1050-1750. According to Curtius, this ought to be considered the great period of our literature as Europeans. Before it comes the literature of Antiquity and the Bible. After it, Curtius offers us Goethe as a stepping stone, as a possible link. What does this leave for us? It leaves us the possibility of living in this tradition, or the possibility of default.
But of course Curtius' view represents, already, a rather historicist manner of thinking. For the great writers who wrote between 1050 and 1750 were certainly not doing so in order to "preserve Western civilization." They were writing according to the accepted ideas of what was the true, the just, the Eternal. If Curtius would have us write in this tradition, he should demonstrate that, in fact, the traditional texts offer the most profound literary examinations of our experience as such.
Would we say that Curtius engages in a kind of "identity politics"? Does one who would study and valorize the origins of "our world" practice an identity politics? Where so much is put in terms of "the bases of," "the origins of," "the roots of"?
I am not one to suggest there is anything wrong with Curtius' conservatism. One senses a kind of radiant health in it. Curtius doesn't have to demonstrate anything for my sake. My questioning is along the following lines: Would there be a better way than his of going about this conservative polemic?
The case of Chaucer. A full involvement in the life of all classes of men, yet a detachment from faith in any particular class. He can write as a "bourgeois realist" and he can write in the high rhetoric of courtly love. He was ever busy in the world, here and there. He cultivated a talent for diplomacy.
Chaucer is certainly a fine model for a writer to follow.
The exemplary mood of Swift's Christianity, his Christian polemics.
The place of antique literature in Christian culture. The harmonistics of Caldern "in the sense of" the Christian Gnosticism of Clement of Alexandria. (Curtius, 244)
Against the Catholic poetry of Spanish "Baroque," we have "Italy, cramped by classicistic preoccupations, and France, infected with Jansenism." (245)
Gravity: "A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind." --Sterne quoting La Rochefoucauld.
I'm forced to recognize that much of my work exudes the tone so typical of contemporary writing, that tone which could easily be called cocky. What's unfortunate about this is that I myself am annoyed by this tone almost wherever I encounter it--and encounter it I do, everywhere.
Over the past few years I've begun to feel that this tone, this particular cocky tone, is something we need to escape from under. Because it has come to weigh upon us like a curse, or rather like the special sign that we are cursed. If one were to rewrite the Inferno now, one would have to add a special circle for the terminally ironic. But what would the punishment be?
One of Saz's maxims, one that always returns to my consciousness, seems to remark this same predicament: "Irony is destiny."
Sterne's wonderful novel!
Everything about this work is congenial. I feel I am now in that privileged position of not yet having finished my first reading of it. And there are only so many works that can make one feel this way.
He gives me, under the heading, I would say, of vive la Bagatelle!, the following sentence: "his judgment, at length, became the dupe of his wit." So far--I am only at I, xix.--this most congenial formula characterizes no less than three of the work's major personages: Yorick, Shandy's father, and the narrator. A sign of its irresistibility for that magnanimous spirit Sterne.
And: "Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine..."
"Jason was old now, shunned by everybody. People told his adventures to their children, with the result that he couldn't find anyone to tell them to himself." (Calasso, 334)
II, iii. --At this chapter--tsk, tsk--Ching-Ling takes back the novel: she must return it to that furnace of a library.
Worse than a special circle for the terminally...
The Homeric perception of what comes after death: "Not another life, and not even a punishment for their lives, but an enervated and delerious physiology, which stops short of life."
This is ghosthood, the lost state of one who has not known God, who has not been seized by his Word, who knows no communion with the source of that Word--the source-beyond-all-appearance.
This is also the ghosthood of those who in life had been "lukewarm"--those mentioned in Revelation. Those who had been lukewarm and were "spat out"--that is to say left in their ghosthood.
What, then, does this Homeric perception mean?
The Romans and the historical sense: "Does not precisely this pious [Roman] treasuring of the past exclude a historical view of the world?" (Curtius, 252, note)
Here in the middle of this reading on the "Ancients" and the "Moderns," in this Taipei caf, I look up to see the name "Homer" placed as trademark on the grill of one of those omnipresent blue trucks. As Harry Levin testifies for Curtius' book itself: "an eloquent testimonial to the continuity of Western culture."
Blue--not quite "wine-dark"--but blue: that quintessentially Greek color.
Thalatta-ta-ta-ta-ta- - -
"The public will read only 'ancient' poets, Horace complains." (235)
For the Middle Ages, the Christian Revelation and the Fathers belong to Antiquity. Thus the "dividing line" was not placed at 1BC.
The formula from the Catalogue of Women: "Or like she who..."
Could be used in Exemplary Lives.
One way the spell may be broken. The beautiful patroness of the caf in which I spend some of my afternoons. She is part--only part--of the reason I go there, and my eyes often watch her as she goes about her work. But then, today, a man shows up whom I don't notice at first. In fact I don't notice him until he answers the phone, thus brining attention to himself as someone connected with the caf. Then I see--as he turns toward me--that he has the same face as the patroness. But he is ugly; he is frail; he is even a bit hunchbacked. It seems the man is her brother!
The reflection of the sister's face in his is uncanny. It immediately breaks the spell of her beauty, which suddenly seems as though it had always been only the most meager of spells in any case.
Such a sudden evaporation of beauty can only push one to questioning. What was her beauty to begin with that it can be so swiftly dissipated by a bad copy?
And there is an attendant observation, which may lead one toward a fine question for Socrates, or a paradox at least. As for this brother, even if he is four years older than the sister, he naturally will take on in my mind the character that a parody takes on in relation to its original. Thus he inevitably arrives second: he could not have been in existence first. He is the nasty and tendentious parody that breaks the spell of the original.
Calasso's dogged insistence on the fleeting, on betrayal, on the transitoriness of things. These are that which is Greek. He grinds it into the reader.
He throws all of them against Christian culture as so many reproaches.
"For us a temple is not a house; it is a construction site. For us religion is ever incomplete. In a way, our worship is our attempt to complete it. Of course we realize we are getting no closer to completing our religion, and all we can say with any confidence is that in our attempting to do so, we know we are in some way closer to doing so--to actually completing our religion--than if we were not to attempt it at all. This is because our attempts bring us ever up against incompletion and lack--this horrible incompletion we face. And isn't this knowledge of incompletion that we have--isn't it a step toward the work of completion? I call it a work. Maybe that isn't right. But isn't it us especially who realize the necessity of this work?
"If you think there is a kind of hilarity in this incompletion--I did notice you laughing during the rites--so be it. We know that our divinity is one who laughs, and we think that he even laughs mostly at us. I see you are laughing again. Well... Perhaps you should consider joining us. Yes, I've thought it for some time.
"You haven't seen everything today--that's for sure. Don't think you have. And we know many hilarious stories about the history of our religion, stories that are much funnier than I am. But of course we can only tell these stories to initiates, those who've reached a certain point. So you can put away your notebook. We don't want just anyone laughing at us, you know.
"That I've told you this much shows I have faith in you. You seem to be a good sort. I tell you what I'll do..."
Baudelaire's wounded and whimpering pride, his touchy arrogance. His is the arrogance that feels always compelled to explain the bases of its claims, to snub in a manner clear enough for any "educated reader" to understand. Flaubert, more essentially aristocratic, wasn't interested in this kind of thing. Who is he trying so hard to convince? It is as if he were writing: "You don't understand me. Yes, you, Sir! Pay close attention, and I will explain the nature of my superiority to you." Baudelaire's ivory tower flies a flag.
Baudelaire's admirable description of Delacroix the man (section IV).
The Cosmo texts, though part of the Testament, are nonetheless a kind of allegorization of what is essential in it. They are a celebration of the essential. This is to say? This is to say that my good fortune in meeting Cosmo di Madison gave me the possibility of writing a kind of menippean celebration of what was my greater fortune in suddenly knowing the presence of God.
Many "religious" people would find this strange. They would say that laughter is not a manner in which to celebrate God's grandeur. They would insist that satire is not the proper genre. I should be singing hymns.
Tant pis! I am humorous at heart, and I have always felt that laughter--at least the kind of laughter I love--was indicative of magnanimity. And such magnanimity--is it not more appropriate to the grandeur of God--to the celebration of this grandeur--than the kind of stiff gravity one associates with these "religious" people?
"A mysterious carriage of the body..."
On our flight out, I can see Taipei through the smog, and I try to locate the Grand Hotel--somewhere near the mountains to the East of the city--but cannot. Then with my eyes I follow the highway to Keelung, Ya-Pei's home, and finally, as we increase in altitude, I can see less and less clearly through the haze. The last thing I see of Taiwan is that small island of rock visible from Cho-Fen, the gold-mining community in the northeast.
from Letters to H.
[In August of 1996, I moved from Madison to Taipei. During my first year in Taiwan, I corresponded mainly with H., a friend of mine from graduate school. The following is one of the letters written to this friend.]
All that simply means that something is there, something which Barnabas has the chance of using, something or other at the very least; and that it is Barnabas' own fault if he can't get any farther than doubt and anxiety and despair.
--Kafka's The Castle,
K. to Olga
The way you and I think about things is fundamentally different. In this letter, in a summary fashion, I will take this up. You must know these differences yourself. I think it's curious we haven't fallen out by now, that we've managed to continue communicating. Of course I will take up only my side of the bargain, because your side I can only get at secondhand.
For one thing, I am a Christian. This is something you must have already recognized, though at what level you recognized it I'm not sure. But in fact I've been a Christian since before the time I met you.
I ought to make clear at least something about how I believe, since the fact of this belief is something you--I know this much--find hard to accept.
First of all, you should know that I am not a Christian merely out of some kind of "conservative" cultural solidarity. These kind of non-believing Christians exist by the churchful, but I am not one of them. They have been taken in by the Enlightenment; I have not. I actually do believe in God and in the soul and in revelation.
I am not of the fundamentalist mindset either. My understanding of things is quite different from the fundamentalists. The revelation, as given in Scripture and elsewhere, is not a kind of literal transcription of the truths of the divine, but is rather oblique: it points to an Otherness that couldn't be represented in language in any case. This is not to say, however, that I think there is nothing true about the specificity of the Scriptures. The opposite is the case. I am not a believer in cultural relativism when it comes to such things. Rather, there is a specificity in revelation. The texts of Buddhism, for example, are not part of it, or are only so in a very weak manner. The poems of the Mayans, whatever they may have been, were not part of it, or only in some weak and tentative manner. The revelation given in the Bible is not that of a particular culture, but is rather the revelation as given to man as such. This is to say it concerns the destiny of man as such, the meaning of man as such.
These few remarks begin to define what I believe, what I mean by saying I am a Christian.
You and I know each other because of our mutual concern with literature. But of course here again our thinking is fundamentally different. I have some idea of your thinking of literature from being in classes with you and from reading your dissertation proposal. My own understanding of literature has little in common with yours. I may get at my understanding of literature by beginning with what I could call the literary absolute.
For me, the texts of the Bible are literature's highest meaning. Literature's ultimate meaning is to be the textual medium of revelation. It is a matter of text, and revelation. Literature is that which results from the meeting of these two things. Even the manner in which many of the most important Biblical texts came to be written--as a choosing, an editing, a kind of layering one could indicate by the metaphor of a heavily beleaguered palimpsest--even this for me makes the texts of revelation more compelling as the examples of literature. They define from then on what the word literature is to mean.
Literature for me is a question of canons even more than it is a question of rhetorical tropes. The Biblical texts are the Primary Canon and the great texts of Western literature are what I would call the Secondary Canon. They are a secondary canon because they are written after the fact of and under the dispensation of revelation. Following this understanding, the literature of classical antiquity must then constitute a Third Canon, being neither the Primary Canon nor the literature of the culture of the revelation, but being important to the formation (mainly the generic formation) of that latter literature. These remarks indicate how literature is arranged according to my understanding. If I continue reading and studying literature, it is partly in the hopes of an ever-greater understanding of the relationships holding between the major canons. This is not to say, however, that literature is a scholar's game. If I read Villon or Dostoyevsky with a particular delight, it's because these canonical writers articulate parts of a world whose general structure and meaning is founded in the revelation given in the Bible. And this is to say, for one who believes, that they articulate parts of the world as such. Thus it is that those who are not interested in the real world are not much interested in literature.
This is not an apology for the West. Of course I'm writing of the world as such in a manner that would make cultural anthropologists and the politically correct cringe. That doesn't concern me. There is in fact much offered by the West (such as the cultural anthropologists themselves) that doesn't concern the world as such. I mention the current academic intellectual culture, but could choose the West's "literary" culture as well. I could take up the American Thomas Pynchon as an example.
As for the world represented in a Western writer like Pynchon, it is amusing, to be sure. It is full of interesting gags and twists; it is a very colorful and subtly modulated world; the reader enjoys moving about in this world as one enjoys being taken into a film. I have once or twice suggested you read Pynchon because there is something unique in his writing, something entrancing. He is, or at least for a time was, a major American writer. Ultimately, however, I do not find Pynchon's writing to be serious literature. It is not Literature. His is a flimsy world that does not recognize the bases of its being. It is one that is becoming quickly a world of mere surfaces, a dumb show of empirical data--nothingness. This is why many who seriously take up Pynchon as a subject of study will read his books five or six times, read much of the criticism, then suddenly feel a total lack of interest fall upon them. Diversion is not the stuff of life: it is rather something to keep one from taking up the stuff of life. The need for reality eventually makes one tire of such writing. But the readers around us, what do they do when they tire of a writer like Pynchon? Since so many of them are only willing to read contemporary writers, they put down Pynchon only to pick up another contemporary with similar strengths. Such writing as Pynchon's--and the West offers much of it now--shows a soul impoverished, a soul that has been seduced into believing that the dumb shows of science and technology are all there is. Intuition shut down, the soul's hearing shut down, language's revelatory power curtailed, the data of the senses organized by a logical machinery much smaller than language itself. Of course the literature arising from this general situation is comic. It is merely comic. This is to say that it is not even humorous in the stronger manner in which much of the great European literature is humorous. Don Quixote, the story of Jacob and Laban, Prince Myshkin. This latter strong humor, the possibility of this humor in man, is one of the mainstays of my understanding of man's place in the world. The critics of literature that most interest me have all understood this humor to some degree: Bakhtin, for instance, or Benjamin.
I am a Catholic in most things, but am not certain if I am a Catholic, or rather if I can be accepted as a Catholic. At least many Catholics would probably not recognize me as such. There are things about which I believe the Catholic Church is wrong.
The Catholic Church is most crucially right in its understanding of the Mass. The Mass is the ritual that defines the destiny of man: it is the central sacrament. The Mass is the gathering around which men might eventually gather. Perhaps they will eventually gather around it. This is something the Catholic Church knows better than the other branches of the Church.
I know you must disagree with these things, and of course I can live with such disagreement.
We are both concerned with the question of how language reveals presence, but the register of the presence that language most essentially reveals--that is one basis of our difference.
That you are a secularized Jew makes you even further from me than if you were a believer in Judaism. For regardless of the gripes Jews may have with Christians, I don't have as much gripe with Jews as I do with the secular. The fact that you are a secularized Jew means to me that I have no reason to consider you other than, say, the secularized Christians all over America. This is to say, in part, that I don't know in what you consider your Jewishness resides. I know this is an infinitely discussed question, one that receives much of its immediate importance from the nightmares of the twentieth century.
The Jews as a religion are very close to the truth that I follow, and their understanding of the truth of revelation is of great concern to me, much more, say, than the Zen Buddhist understanding of truth. I would never step on a Menorah, though I would certainly step on Diderot's Encyclopedia, or even Voltaire's hand. So you should know where I stand.
That you and I have managed to communicate. Perhaps it will continue. It is like Origen maintaining a correspondence with Lucretius.
ON THE EPIGRAPH--
I had read most of Kafka before, but it was only recently that I've read The Castle.
Some readers find in Kafka an apparent restatement of the universe projected by the Kabbalists. Benjamin is the great exponent of this reading. Benjamin's Kafka wrote allegories of a kind of Kabbalist faith or hope. Other critics disagree by leaning on the fact that Kafka was not a "religious writer," that he was an atheist, that he was not a scholar of Kabbalism, etc. I am one of those who think that Kafka needn't have been a "religious writer" or a Kabbalist to write the kind of allegories he wrote. These allegories are Kabbalist allegories, if you will. Kafka was a Prague Jew, after all.
The dichotomy set up between a "religious writer" and a "secular writer": what does it amount to unless we are considering precisely weak writers or journalists or, again, cultural anthropologists?
The Castle seems to me, after this first reading, a kind of allegorical romance. K.'s quest is nearly fruitless--that is apparently the case--and yet K.'s life in the shadow of the Castle seems more a life than that, say, of Kafka's father in the shadow of a cash register.
Kafka's K. shows a certain daring in his quest. He is not struck with the same kind of unreasonable awe that strikes the people of the village. Threatening or not, he would be there where the Castle's power is manifested. He would know its workings and sees such knowledge as the only thing worth struggling for. Any other activity--cobbling, tanning, running an inn--is a species of biding time that concerns him not.
Does Kafka, despite his atheism, make it into what I have called the Secondary Canon? Evidently so.
Was Chretien de Troyes a "religious writer"?
Rimbaud and Exorcism
Rimbaud's oeuvre is a pack of lies.
Rimbaud was too busy barking and howling to listen.
What kind of poet is this anyway?
An admirable teen rebellion. Beautiful blue-eyed Demiurgette. Pint-sized Promethiite.
We scribes don't give a damn for his virtuosity, his pyrotechnics.
A poet of the visual spectrum. All in all a rather more charming child of the Enlightenment than most. Toy trains, the Corpus Hermeticum, romantic oriental fetishes, obsessive inventiveness, the "new."
His color is nasty blue--the same blue as on our flags, but more fluorescent. Blue approaching the shiny blue of certain species of hornet.
Baudelaire's colors are faded gold leaf, black, purple, blood red, black, Avignon ochre, ash, ivory or ebony flesh, black, etc.
Baudelaire: the master of Latinity in our two centuries.
A clear night sky. After so much hashish--this time!--how the stars flatten out and press down upon me!
Tiring of the sky, he lies on his side near the campfire, gazing into it. --[--We know he doesn't really understand mysticism. --He has perhaps read of the Zoroastrians? --Who doesn't know of these hashishin microcosms?]--
After so much hashish--this time!--the crumbling logs heaped in the fire become for him a landscape in flames.
Off the top of the hill formed by the logs in flames, bits of ash rise with the heat; then, whirling, descend. They are tiny angels spinning in grey-white woolen robes.
On the left, a darkened log crackles and smokes. Ruts have broken into its surface: the charred remains and sounds of a battle.
On the right, embers glow in white and mystic heat: Oriental splendor! The wisdom of ages!
The fire hisses and cracks, and as the stoned youth turns to gaze upward, eyes stinging from the heat and the drug, he sees brown and black curdles of smoke rising away and rolling. --Are they the lost time of men? --Are they that which is burned away? --Are they the remains of all the struggles and nights?
The starry sky behind the campfire, the vague flicker of light against the trees, stretch down like a canvas or a basket, the whole scene collapsing into the broken perspective of hashish and medieval murals, turbulent foreground pushed up against flat background.
Down at the very bottom--wrapped round the hottest embers like a mantle of purest candy--the soft glow of blue flames: the liminal color.
Once--when I may have dared to taste!
Why is it that I actually fear Rimbaud--as if in his texts were the machinations of some demon? As if "Rimbaud" named the site of an unforeseen and irresistible temptation--as if his texts had the power to force one, suddenly, into believing fervently some terrible delusion.
To many mine would seem an odd distinction: for I would [...] In the same breath, however, I'd insist that Rimbaud was completely under the sway of the Devil--that he had all the demonic paltriness of the non-world--all the clean madness of a shopping mall:
Nol sur la terre!
Yes, we know just what sort of Nol you mean--here in the New World!
Il faut tre absolument moderne.
But why is it that I actually fear Rimbaud?
Quel mr! Every guttersnipe a Vulcan! Ahhh! Nos peaux d'or occultiques! Argghhh! Des yeux darnes, rouges et noirs, tricolores--tricolores surtout!--d'acier infus d'toiles d'or; des visages comprachiques jamais! Ahhh!
Crve! Danse! Danse! Arrggghhhh!
To read Rimbaud is to stand for a time before a jewelry shop window. It is all very brilliant, yes, but after a few minutes one recognizes that "Well, it's a jewelry shop window--of course it's brilliant. Of course it all sparkles and catches the eye. That's the way jewelry is." Then one moves on.
Rimbaud's is a thoroughly interventionist poetics: it is as if, armed with a nailclipper, he were running toward an exploding volcano with serious plans to direct the lava here and there, wherever he would, the whole eventually to be cooled in the form of a New World Order--an Order made possible for you, for me, for animals too!--by the combined force of his nailclipper and his very pure love.
Never has there been a harder poet, with contours so hard, so unforeseen.
Des faibles se mettraient penser sur la premire lettre de l'alphabet, qui pourraient vite ruer dans la folie!
It is all true, all of it. It is true.
I understand Rimbaud. I look into him as into a mirror. I understand his shame. It is all true, all of it. It is a shame so absolute. It is the encounter. All of Europe. It is much deeper and harder than . . . It is a wretchedness in the very Shaman's Dance of Europe, a wretchedness never cleansed or appeased, for which no sacrifice . . .
Case in point.]
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