2008 :: Issue 3/Fall :: Philosophical Notebooks
Who are you? A way failure has thickened itself to life. Who are you? A way failure has lived a human life.
Bad faith of writing: to have marshalled the strength to write, I am a failure is already to have left failure behind; you are a liar.
I am a failure — with this lie, everything can begin; will you have the strength to ring changes on this sentence? To link it to others? Now you have made something: a few sentences, a paragraph — is that enough? Is it enough to push failure aside?
‘Extreme tiredness.’ — ‘But you can still write?’ — ‘Only because tiredness has gathered itself up; only because it’s folded itself into one who can write of tiredness. Of tiredness? No: tiredness writes. Tiredness speaks of itself, of its coming to itself.’ — ‘But you’re still writing.’ — ‘As an avatar of tiredness. As its proxy, one born in the instant to be unravelled in the instant. Born to write and then to fade. I will not last — do you think I will last?’
Why does it seem, as I try to write again, that I’ve never written before? ‘Begin.’ — ‘But I can’t begin.’ — ‘Begin, draw the non-beginning into the beginning, let writing make itself from its own impossibility.’
Isn’t this what tiredness reveals, and by way of its impossibility: the leap that writing must be — the leap that lets writing become a kind of fate? Pass through impossibility, traverse it; endure what cannot lift itself into the beginning. And then — strange chance — there is a beginning amidst the non-beginning, and what is written now marks itself with the memory of what you could not accomplish.
It is this trial that lets writing be writing — that allows it to appear as itself at its own limit, there where it shimmers before you as the impossible. That’s when it begins: there where it cannot begin, and it has no future.
But how does this trial mark writing? How does it leave its trace such that what is written turns around it? I don’t know the answer, except that I sometimes know that what I read has passed through tiredness and continues to pass there.
Then writing is also lost in writing — or there is another current that bears what is written away from what is said by writing. Bears it away — and brings it back, returning, as the trial of a writing that is torn from reference.
Writing itself: but what does that mean? Slave of sense, slave of reference, language could only arrive at itself as it came to its limit. But the limit is undone. The limit undoes itself and the end is not the end, and nothing can begin.
Then it is brought back and by way of writing: the end that never arrives. And it is recalled to the present and by way of writing: the beginning that never lifts itself from what does not begin. Future and past are joined there, in the present of writing. Joined? But only as they void that present. Only by turning it aside, thickening it, and casting it outside the succession of moments.
The present of tiredness — the future that does not come; or the past that is never left behind. So is writing anticipated. So does writing wait for itself, ahead of itself, and dream of itself before it begins. ‘And do you wait, too, writer? Do you dream?’ — ‘Something in me is waiting. Something in me is dreaming.’ — ‘But waiting for what? Dreaming of what?’
Waiting relinquishes itself in waiting, and dreaming within dreaming. Waiting un-limited, and the dream unfolds at its heart, what turns it aside from anyone in particular.
The bloom of dreaming, the bloom of waiting, writing comes as the present is forgotten, and anticipation loses its hold on the future. Comes to itself, from the forgotten past, from the unknown future: this is the mercy of writing, its strength, its surplus.
Not even a beginning, I tell myself. Not the barest of beginnings. But still, in the day that began with writing, and that seems borne along by what began there, before dawn, there seems a beginning, a way of being braced against what happens, a few sentences being set against silence, arising against it, as, I imagine, a calligraphic sign, drawn at a stroke, arises against the whiteness of the page.
Defeat: the sky is too wide, too great. Sink down, lie down. Finality — you have given yourself to the horizon. Everything is finished.
There is a kind of writing that begins at the horizon, where others end. That begins with death, with the wearing away of everything. You are here, already at the end. It’s all finished where the horizon is a straight line, dividing land and sea. Over, and before it began.
‘Tell that story, then.’ — ‘What story?’ — ‘The story of stories, the story that tells itself in every story, and that unravels those stories as it speaks.’
Isn’t every story told by language as it turns over in its sleep? Isn’t every story the dream of that sleeper who has never yet awoken, and comes to itself by untelling the stories we tell and the words we use?
Strange deity who is always asleep. Strange god asleep beneath all ink and all pages, and who has us write stories only to awaken a little in what we tell of ourselves.
The only story — how the telling of the story was possible. The only one: that tells of the strength that it drew on to begin. There are those in whom words fall like rain; they think with words, ordinary, innocent words, and do not know their interruption. But when the words do not come? Or when they bring with them a trail of silence, a kind of residue of the interruption that allowed them to arrive?
The Persians, says Herodotus, made every important decision twice: once drunk and once sober. Is there a kind of decision that belongs to silence, to that murmuring prior to speech and from which speech cannot awaken? It must be followed by a second decision that breaks from that murmuring, and wakes up. The second cannot decide against the first, but rides it. And that is the story you might decide to tell: how the strength to begin was given to you, a decision flowering within a decision.
The strength to tell is borrowed. And the strength to decide? A fold of telling within non-telling, of writing within the impossibility of writing. It is writing that is drunk, not you. But it is also writing that is sober, and not you.
I think there is a story beneath all stories like those rivers that are said to run beneath Antarctic ice. A story — or a kind of necessity that runs beneath what is told. Of what does it tell, and by way of plot and character? Of what does it speak, even if it does so by brushing your arm, or by the silent pressure of a column of air?
Beneath narrative, but also touching it at each moment — beneath it: but how can it be brought closer to the surface, as a drowned body might press up against the surface of the ice? How can it be made to pass close to the surface, but beneath it, moving away from you, but there?
‘Tell our story.’ — ‘There was no story.’ — ‘Tell it.’
‘But it did not begin; it never stepped over the threshold. How can you speak of what does not belong to the continuity of time?’ — ‘The story: the attempt to reach a story. Or a story of the failure of stories — not, now, of the limit against which stories are wrecked, but of a detour so vast, you can never come to a place from which to begin. How to speak of what has no contour?’
‘Speak. Tell me what happened.’ — ‘What happened? Do you think I could tell you? Is that what you want — to be told, to round off the event? But it did not end and it will not end. Who can speak of it?’ — ‘But it speaks.’ — ‘It speaks, saying nothing, saying itself, thunder and silence. And who are we except the speakers it elected, the relays it called for, that speaking which speaks only by withholding itself in what is said?
‘But what was it apart from us, this speech? What was it, apart from its speakers? But I know that when it used us, when it spoke in our speech, it was only to lighten itself, to disperse itself, to make it that it did not weigh upon anyone. It was to be kept afloat — alive, and by passing from the one to the other: yes that’s what it wanted’.
‘Tell me what happened.’ — ‘With what kind of story? How to narrate what never reached a beginning? How, when that beginning will never be reached? It is deferral itself. It is detour. Why do you suppose that there’s anything to be reached, or that we would have the means to reach it?’
‘We lacked the means.’ — ‘Yes, that’s true. But wasn’t that why we were selected? Wasn’t it our weakness that selected us? It was by our weakness that we found one another. And weakness that made us sink down, each beside the other.’
‘To sink down — to rest: that’s when we heard it, the thunder, the silence. That’s when it was heard, in the background, withdrawing, and sounding in its withdrawal.’ — ‘That’s what we exchanged, that speech.’ — ‘No: we were what allowed it to lighten itself, to be heard, to be unburdened. It was what spoke by what was said’. — ‘What we said?’ — ‘What spoke itself between us’.
How can we speak, when speech is worn down in our mouths? What words are ours, we who lack even an experience of ourselves? Besides, we have nothing to say — what is there to say, for us? — of what can we speak when we live outside time, and even our past does not sink into history?
Nothing has happened to us — or if it has happened, it is already forgotten. Or is it that everything has happened, that we’ve exhausted time, and live on in some afterworld? Is this paradise? Is it hell? But we are being neither exalted nor punished, and if the Messiah appeared amongst our number, we would not know him.
For in truth, we do not know that we are here, or that each of us is the one he is, or the one she is. We are all the same; our faces do not matter. Each the same, the one then the other, we form no group, no society. There may be many of us, or few: we do not know. There are no friendships — associations, perhaps, and even a kind of dim recognition (you were beside me earlier; I remember the tone of your voice — but not what you said), but nothing else. There are no relationships between us, no kith, no kin: we have worn them out, as we have worn out everything.
Still, we are not alone. We can say, ‘we’: this is a consolation. There is that: our sense of collectivity. The third person plural: we have that; it is ours — but is it ours? It is less firm than the first person, which we never use. Who would dare speak in their own name? To speak of me is only to speak of you; we are all in each other’s places, and who we are, singly, individually, does not matter. I am you — and you: aren’t you also who I am? Which of us has ever minded being no one in particular?
We are not sad. We are placid, simple; ours is a sweet dullness; I think we are smiling, I think we always smile. And sometimes we speak, just to try out speech, just to hear our voices. We could say anything — everything; there’s everything to be said, but without history, without a past — without even a present, let alone a future, there is nothing to relate.
Nothing has happened to us — that, or everything; it does not matter. Nothing — everything: is it that we live where nothing becomes everything, and the other way round. Nothing — everything: that is our threshold, the turning point of the world. We do not rest, but nor are we still. We are not even silent, though our murmuring is hardly a sound, and rarely forms itself into a word.
Days pass, we know that. And nights. The passing of the day, the passing of night: soon forgotten. But what is there to remember? Who knows how many days, how many nights there have been. There are no chroniclers amongst us. No prophets. We do not detain time, but let it turn in place.
Time! We only know the incessant, the interminable. What need have we for this instant, or for that? In truth, there is only the return — we live for it — by which what fails to happen happens again. Or is it that we fail it, the event, by being too unprepared, too indifferent? Perhaps it is tired of waiting for us to act, or is our tiredness, our placidity, a sign of its approach?
There are no thinkers amongst us; we do not think, unless thinking is what happens in that same return, which breaks over us each time like the first day. Sweet evasion: is there a kind of thinking that does not ask for a thinker? An evasive thought that is evasion in each of us, our failure to be ourselves? We have always failed; we do not mind. But what would it mean to succeed?
Everything has happened — no doubt. Nothing has happened — without doubt. History has ended, having never begun. And what is time but its disjunctive return, the tearing of each instant from itself, that substitutes for the event the incessance of what does not happen. Do we live? I would say we are alive, but I would also say we are unable to be, just as we are unable not to be. We have no part in duration; time is what we do not endure. Or it is that same non-endurance; it is the unliveable, it is what life becomes when it is absolutely indifferent to itself.
Are we alive? We are not here, I would like to insist on that. Not here — or each of us lives in another’s place. I speak for all of us, and for none of us. No one is speaking in each of us and for all of us. No one speaks; everything that is said is superfluous. Speak to us, and you will hear superfluity eroding every word we say.
That is why we smile. We can do nothing; we do not suffer, none of us is sad; we have no words of our own. Were we born too early or too late? I do not know if we are old or young. Did we resign ourselves, long ago, to the incessant, or were we born of that same incessance, as though we were its way of knowing itself? I am not sure, and besides, there is no one here to know.
Unless that ‘no one’ is the locus of another knowledge, and incessance knows itself in our place as each is substituted for another. Still, nothing is kept; knowledge does not settle into itself. Sometimes I think we stand at the beginning of everything; sometimes, at the end. How is it that everything seems possible and impossible, both at once?
We never were: I would like to say that. And we never will be. And in this divided instant, the return of the disjunction of time: we are not here, either. We do not suffer from the passing of time; in truth, we do not occupy it, and our vacancy is our liberation. But for what are we free? There is nothing we want; desire is alien to us, or it belongs to no one.
Freedom: sometimes I imagine it as a wind that tousles our hair. But does it know that freedom, for us, is only the wind that bows the heads of corn: it happens, yes, but it does not concern us? Freedom: we can move, there are degrees of movement; each of us, from time to time, stands or moves about, or lies down: we are not automatons. But it matters not to us, that standing up, that moving about. There is no need for rest where there is no need for movement. Do we live at the end or at the beginning?
But I have said nothing at all. Or by writing, I have tried to tie the incessant to a story. We are outside all stories as we live untouched by time. What has happened? What has ever happened? Our chance is that words sink back into the page, saying nothing. Or that words, lightening themselves, form and disperse like great clouds.
No one suffers here. Time is kind to us. Our lives are sweet and placid. We are calm and languid. There are no words invented that could let us speak. We cannot be apprehended by thought. There is thinking — we know that (but what do we know?). We will be with you when the wind from the impossible tousles your hair. With you — but that is not the expression. Unless I could write, with you and without you, or speak of what is outside, always outside, even as it also falls between our separate bodies.
Persistence without point. Sweet monotony. We interest no one, not even ourselves. We have withdrawn, and first of all from ourselves. Are we asleep? Awake? I do not know if we dream. We are fragments — but of what? From what have we been broken?
You detain me — is that the word? Detained — but from what? What was I doing? Something failed to happen, that’s true. Or was it that what happened was broken from the course of time?
What does it want? To be remembered? To be freed into forgetting? We are detained; we are held here, and we will always be held. This is the crossing, the crossing point. Why were we chosen, the weakest ones? Why when we will always be unequal to ourselves with respect to what occurred?
But it is by that weakness that we were chosen. Or weakness is its sign, that choice, that choosing. Henceforward, you will belong to the detour, that is what is said. You belong to what you cannot accomplish. It is by weakness that you will be responsible, and to the point of wanting to repeat what happened, to let it happen again, and as if for the first time.
‘Let it happen again, and this time so that I can master it. Let it happen, and be brought under my control. I will make it happen. I will bring it under control.’
But this desire is only a sign of your weakness, and of your failure to complete the event. How can it be brought back into the course of life? How can it be let go, neglected, so that it joins the other moments that pass so quickly? But it will not allow itself to be neglected. Or it is neglect itself — it is what turns its face away from us. This is what we suffer, and suffer together.
‘I can’t help it.’ — ‘We can’t help it.’ — ‘I’m too weak.’ — ‘We are each too weak.’
Thought of exhaustion, exhausted thought. I would like to come to the end of thinking; would like for thinking to leap up in my place. I will give myself to thought. I will let thought come to itself.
Come with me. Meet me there where you have no strength to think; let us meet there where we have fallen. Then will thought take place, and take our place. Then will it hold us in its own arms.
Fall down: no one will catch you but the earth. But to fall thus is to be scattered across the earth like dice. You have fallen; the world knows your blessedness. You are a saint of chance.
Come with me. Follow me there, to where we will fall together. There where thought needs our weakness to come to itself. Where thought desires only to hold itself, to touch itself as I would touch you. But thought will not be kept. Thought keeps us. It would keep us, the exhausted ones, who have fallen from everything but thinking.
‘I would like to learn how to fall.’ — ‘But you cannot learn.’ — ‘I would like to fall.’ — ‘But falling must be what you do not want.’
We are exhausted. Thought crowns us. Thought is joined to itself in our exhaustion, and there it unjoins the world. For that is what thought demands, impossible gift: you will think as no one; no one will think in your place.
‘I cannot bear it.’ — ‘It is the unbearable. Thought cannot be thought, but only borne, and to the point of the unbearable.’ — ‘I cannot bear it.’ — ‘Then you must come with me, we must both fall, and thought will burn between us.’
Break the day from itself. Think as fragment, and the day as fragment.
‘Fall.’ — ‘The arms of chance cannot hold me.’ — ‘Fall.’ — ‘Nothing will hold me.’
I think. Thought is with me. Join me here, where thought is present. Come, to where failure is absolute. You have no chance. You have no hope. Or: there is hope, but not for you. There is a future, but not for you.
Memory does not enclose time, but is opened by it. Memory opens like an oyster’s shell. The pearl: the moment thickened, the opacity of time. I do not keep what I remember; it keeps me, but without regard for me; it turns aside. And I am kept by what turns aside, by a moment that ignores me, but for all that, enlists me as a witness.
I saw, I heard; I touched you. No: it was you that touched me; the touch came from without; it arrived as from a great distance. And you saw yourself in me, by way of me. Sometimes I flatter yourself that you found peace in me; that you lay down inside me and closed your eyes, that I provided a shelter for what does not rest, but turns in itself.
You never stopped turning, and turning away from me. You never stopped forgetting me.
Moses spoke with a too-thick tongue; he stammered, which meant his speech was doubled by the impossibility of speaking. And wasn’t that, too, his prophecy: not of liberation, but of the impossibility of liberation; not of the promised land, but of what fails to promise itself in every land?
How to stammer in writing? How let it double itself, such that it fails and succeeds each time in failure? It is language itself that must thicken itself in your mouth. Language itself — and that doubles what is said with the impossibility of saying it.
How to endure language itself? How to let it pass, without getting in the way?
‘I haven’t said a thing’, you will say, but your tongue is thick. Why are prophets inarticulate? Why are they said to stammer? I think prophets speak only of speech, and of what is to come by way of speech. Of the return of what was never there, noise at the edge of sense, language lost before reference and across it. Language that never comes to sense, never arrives, and belongs for this reason to the future.
To give, to be given: do I envy what Gorchakov would have protected when he held a lit candle in cupped palms and went across the drained pool? Twice the flame was snuffed out by the wind; twice it was relit, until, on his third crossing, he fulfilled the promise he made to the madman. Then a groan, off camera. The sound of a fall. Gorchakov has fallen; has he died?
Then I remember the letters Blanchot wrote to inquirers, ‘Although I might like to meet, the circumstances of my work make it impossible …’; ‘Henceforward I live in such retirement that …’ He no longer saw even his closest friends, he told one inquirer, and Jabès, in an interview, said his communication with Blanchot consisted only of those short letters, written in an exquisite hand, such as all his correspondents received.
Then, as he approached his tenth decade, his hand became unsteady, and those epistolatory exchanges, often marked by long breaks, began to cease altogether. What was he protecting, what did he need to protect, so that he could meet no one, and that what he called friendship passed only by way of the exchange of letters?
‘His life is entirely dedicated to literature and the silence that belongs to it.’ The silence of literature: that is one name, but it says very little. Silence? Rather a kind of murmuring, an indetermination that makes the most decisive speech tremble. Did he need to be alone to let that experience be kept? Or was it that his whole life had been lived so it could best experience that lack of determinacy, so he could let it claim him as one who could not help but write?
Do I envy that retirement, that separation from the world? Do I envy the sense that it was only possible to speak in one’s own terms, or better, in the terms of that writing, that speech, that the course of thought, of a whole life was an attempt to honour? Light the candle; walk across the drained pool. Now I understand: to write here is also to protect writing. And to write of speech, of speaking is to attempt anew to cross the pool.
Of what would you write? Of what, by writing, would you keep of speech? What you write must respond to what comes from afar, and unexpectedly. With, not alone — but with whom? Alongside whom? First of all, alongside oneself, which asks for that separation between one who writes and the other who lives, who acts. To live alongside, to live that separation that shelters the lit candle as between cupped hands.
Do I envy him, the one around whom my hands are closed? But he is not here yet, as he will never come. Hope: I have cleared my life for his arrival. And what I have written is only that clearing. But there are others who also know that opening. Writers, readers: friends as they, too travel alongside themselves.
Are you stalled? Trapped? A last chance remains to you. Begin a fiction; send the spool of writing ahead of you and let it return. Fiction: the writer’s fort-da. Characters who live and act, mirrors of the living and dying of others in the world.
Tolstoy only knew his mother by a preserved silhouette; he made Nathalia in the image of the absence of image. He loved her, and we love her, too. Dick’s dead sister becomes the dark haired girl. Travel very far, write a great deal, but like Kelvin in Solaris, it is your father you will embrace, there on the surface of a faraway planet.
But what happens when you know it is not your father whom you hold but some ghost of writing? Not your dead twin’s double, but the undead one who supplants the living and will supplant everyone?
Now the truth of all characters, of all characterisation returns, like another version of Hamlet’s father, to prophesise the dying of the author who created him. Or to say to him: I am your dying gone bad, the corpse of Lazarus in his stinking winding sheets. And even your mother, Tolstoy, is death given life, and she will come apart, dust lost in the wind.
Write not to preserve something from death, but to die over and again. Writer, prophet: isn’t it the experience of language you touch as you dream of the farthest future? A dream that is the cause of your writing as it belongs to what is always to come?
Then what you have made by your novel is a ghost-ship; the Marie Celeste that everyone has deserted. What you have written, but also what gave you to think you stood at its origin, is part of the fort-da of writing; it is writing’s game that lives with you and lets itself die again with your death. It is writing that gave you life, and will withdraw it. Given and taken, and through everything you write and have written.
But then you, too are a character, the persona writing grants itself into order to travel into the world. Proxy, your substance is borrowed; the author is in search of his authority even before the characters come looking. And what would they find if they found you? Another character, not an author, and one already engaged on his own quest: to stand face to face with what called him, and to call it to account.
In truth, writing only writes of itself. Why does it need you? To give itself substance. To let you rise like an avatar, and live a life in the world. But then to fall back, with your death, into its deathlessness.
Who are you, proxy, writing’s idiot? Who are you, born into a life that was never yours? A character in the fiction by which writing lives. Do you pity it, then, language, for this desire to give itself flesh, to go out into the world in order to return? Do you pity it for its dependency, the love of the world immediately overlain with destruction? But there is no one to pity. Writing is not itself, or its ’not’ is also what it is.
Writing’s trial: living, dying, and unfolding the game of life and death in its own recurrence. Sense given and taken, fictions made and unmade, but everything pointing to what is still to come, not because it will save and redeem what has gone before, nor because it will complete it, but because it is from there that it will come again, the necessity of writing’s fort-da, the freedom it gives by way of its return.
I am never young enough, say that. I have never been young enough, say that. But doesn’t youth dream of itself in you? Doesn’t it call itself to itself, and spread the shore before you in its wide simplicity? And then you are young again. Then, and for the first time: young, when youth burned ardently inside you, and your resolve was pure, adamantine.
But this is a youth that has to be won. The origin is difficult to reach; how to leap upstream? How to struggle your way back? I would like to speak, say that. Now, for the first time, I would like to know what it is to speak, say that. Youth — at last. Youth — at the end of life, not the beginning.
How to train yourself to write at a stroke, at a single stroke, like a Zen calligrapher? How to live and die in the purity of an act that gathers all of you up, all your life, all experience, and sets it aflame by the light caught on the sword that flashes out in the dawn. Aflame — as if all that you lived was fuel for the fire by which you will burn.
The period of asceticism, in India, follows a life as a householder: you must have lived, married and had children before you can wander out as a sanyasin. Shiva, the ascetic god, was accused by the other gods of never having lived in the world. In an eyeblink, Shiva caused himself to be born a mortal; he lived, married, brought up his children and then allowed himself to die on earth. He opened his eyes to the gods who bowed and asked for his blessing.
And writing, too, can only die to a life already lived. What does it mean to write from experience? You must have lived, but must, too, be ready to sacrifice that life by writing, must heap it up on the funerary pyre and leap into it as it burns.
Kafka dreams of Palestine. What will he do there? Renounce writing; like Rimbaud, he will have left the world of writing behind him in order to step into the world of action. In this, he is like Mishima, too, who alongside writing his great tetralogy begins to practice manoeuvres in his own private army, which will lead him towards ritual suicide.
Renounce writing? Renounce, rather, the impatient renunciation which would measure the demand of writing by action in the world.
In the beginning was the Word, the non-Word. In the beginning, the non-beginning, from which no action will separate itself. Mishima, is this what you tried to resolve with your suicide? Did you dream of opening your insides to the sun? But our insides are infinite, and our intestines the labyrinth in which we all wander as through the corridors of memory.
Death is clouded with dying, writing with non-writing. In the beginning was the Word; but in the beginning, too, was what drew it back to the non-Word that allows nothing to begin.
And the day when you’ve had enough, when you have done enough reading, enough writing? When the day comes and you’ve had enough, when reading is impossible — the words mean nothing — and writing is impossible — the words mean nothing? It’s over — but what does this mean? It’s all over — what does it mean?
Do you mean to read from the book of nature? To disappear into manual work? To emigrate to a new country and a new life? There is nothing on the other side of reading, of writing. Unless this ‘nothing’ could be thought as a push or pressure within reading, within writing. As if it is experienced as a disjunction, as absent meaning, as the withdrawal of the measure of sense.
It’s all over. But wasn’t it over from the first? Wasn’t this ‘it’s all over’ what pressed against you in what you read? Pointlessness of reading, reading’s disinterestedness — was it at that point, exhaustion, that another kind of reading became possible? An exhaustion wherein it was still possible to read, but where what was read emerged as against the background of disjunction, absent meaning?
I’ve read everything, you could have said to yourself. I’ve read it all, and I’ve worn reading out, you might have said. I’ve followed reading everywhere, from book to book, and it’s led nowhere, I am where I began. I’ve followed it, reading; I’ve followed book to book, but what is it I’ve read?
The young Mishima felt words constantly falling within him. He wrote. Words and sentences and paragraphs. At sixteen, he was admitted into an elite literary club. His friend Kawabata — who eviscerated himself only a few months after Mishima (though he was Mishima’s senior, his advisor, and, unlike him, a Nobel laureate) — knew that such a writer only appeared every two hundred years.
No doubt — but Mishima also felt those falling words a sickness and sought to hone his body in the sun in recompense. No doubt he was right to fear those falling words, that made themselves, with him, into stories, essays, plays of all kinds, each in but a single draft, knowing that as they were given to him, they were also turned away.
Opaque pebbles. Markers on what gameboard? He didn’t understand. They played him. They fell, indifferently, into the abyss they’d opened in his heart. No stalagmite in him could reach up to touch the source of their streaming. For a long time, he bowed his head and words fell hard like rain across him. Then he raised his face, his eyes, and looked up through the words. High above, at the cave’s summit: the sun. And it was the sun that he would reach to himself.
I think it was the dream of his death that allowed his words to flash. Death, that would join him to a sun above writing. A dream, for certain. There is no silence, only roaring. Pythagoras was right: the universe is noisy. The planets turn in their gyres and a great roaring is heard. It is that we must stop hearing to hear. To speak with silence, and not words, if only to hear what will not be silenced.
What did Mishima hear as he died in the characters he let die by evisceration? The roaring of the sun, heard from within the sun. What did he see? Light, as it’s seen from within the source of light. He knew what would come to befall him. It was the object of his erotic fantasies, and he staged his death over and again in his stories. He rehearsed for death — but death had already reached him. He wanted to silence the words, to make his body all surface without depth. There would be no dark, interior space within which words would fall, only brightness, as rain falls flashing in the sun.
But what does this mean? That it is by some kind of break that writing might be allowed to echo the ceaseless streaming of language. Some break, some block, as though there had to be a rack upon which the writer is stretched. But imagine an agony that is owned by no one and a rack upon which no one is stretched. Is it the body of the night that is pulled apart? Is it light that is torn into jagged flecks?
Now I imagine it is all of language that turns there like a Chinese dragon. Turns, and is turned against us. Language seeks to attain itself. Molten language, words and sentences still, but running. Isn’t that what flashes up in Mishima’s novels?
What are their characters? Wicker men and women to be sacrificed. What are their stories? Offerings to be burned. What unfolds in the time of their narratives? The setting fire of time; the sacrifice that must always happen again.
A writer faces eternity or the lack of it every day (Hemingway). Eternity, then would be a passage of writing — to take that, at least from the day. And the lack of it? No writing; nothing done. What misery! But here I remember these lines from Duras: There should be a writing of non-writing. Someday it will come. A brief writing, without grammar, a writing of words alone. Words without supporting grammar. Lost. Written, there. And immediately left behind.
Of words alone? As though there were a word for each thing, for everything. And to place words a certain way would be as to paint a still life. Those words — there; perfectly placed, perfectly connected to one another, like Cézanne’s apples.
Writing of non-writing, language of non-language — it will come, beaching words without grammar. Words, just words — arranged, placed like sea shells on the sand at dusk. Sea shells placed and displaced by the sea. Lost — and then left behind.
The words placed themselves thus. They stranded themselves here; they asked to be lost here. Or: it was language that asked. Language weary from signifying; language tired of transporting sense. That said: I would like to lie down. I would like to lie down in words that lie down.
Eternity — or the lack of it, each day: but doesn’t this still bind the writer too strongly to what falls away from the divine? Doesn’t it make writing a matter of will, of the deliberate placing of words?
Only a god can neglect. Only a god can turn away from you as she faces you. I think that’s what the ancients knew in their sacred groves. I think that was what was known when names were invented for the gods of the earth and the sea and the sky. What was named thus — what gave themselves to name the gods — were words unplaced; lost words, words content to lose themselves, and which asked to be lost.
Eternity, the lack of it: there is a writing, a non-writing that dissolves this alternative. Words lost, and left to be found in their loss: eternal and uneternal, ordinary words that seem to call out to the farthest parts of the universe.
A writing of non-writing, a non-writing writing: the fragment gathers words to be neglected. Should I date them, as in a diary? But the date would only recall the unlimiting of the day, its blossoming.
Plato was wrong: it is not the immortality that is sought in the creation of the book, but the sweetness of obscurity. Not immortality — not the fame of a name that spreads from generation to generation, but the oblivion of a name, the St. Andrew’s Cross that is placed across it.
Begin — but to write what? Perhaps only to evoke the taste of madeleine on your tongue that first awoke your desire to write. But does that taste exist anymore outside the writing itself? Does it stand above writing in some vital way, as a mountain emerges rocky and snow-capped from the jungle?
It’s from the time before I wrote, you could say. The time before I disappeared into writing. Dim memory, but a memory now owed to writing; the jungle has enclosed the mountain top. Look back and you see a sea of words through which there runs a path of churning water — your story, the story you want to tell. But a story that is only a perturbation of the surface of the sea; a path of glistening light that will come to disappear. A path that you’re not sure is even a path, so transient is its appearance — light rocking on the waves.
Isn’t it as if you’d written nothing before? As if, like Honda at the end of The Sea of Fertility, nothing that you remembered ever happened. A dry sea, a sea of dust on the surface of the moon — the story you told was nothing but that. And now it’s blowing away, one particle after another. Were you ever here? Did the events you wanted to write about ever happen? The story wanted you; telling wanted you; but only to disturb the surface of language. Only to let a disturbance pass across the waves like a rumour.
And then I think this kind of book comes after something, or before — that it is the dispersing of the path that a ship runs behind it in the water. The dispersal of literature, of everything that literature has been, of all ‘universal classics.’ In some way, writing has attained itself through literature. Has come to itself, but blindly and unknowing, forgetting everything and dispersing it all like the sower of Van Gogh’s paintings.
All that was told will be untold, and the groove literature left in language will be smoothed over. Language will again be the shining sea across which no path passes. And now I think of Zarathustra’s last men, who have discovered happiness and blink. And of the way they reappear for Kojève: last men, capable of everything and of nothing in particular.
The deeds of the world are slowly disappearing. The suburbs will spread everywhere, and all writing henceforward will concern the absolutely ordinary, the everyday. There will be nothing of which to write but that. And language, meanwhile, will turn over like a sleeper. All of literature will have been part of its dream. And everything we’ve done, likewise. When it awakens, it will face us without a face and look at us with no eyes and speak in great long words that will be our words unravelled.