2010 :: Issue 7/Fall :: Solitude
Again: whisper it: it spreads your life like a reflection on a night window, black and bottomless. The void that calls writing forward; the black blood that surges before the beginning.
It is early now—or very late—and I cannot sleep. It is very late; it’s early. No dawn—not for a few hours. I hear the rushing of water from the kitchen—somewhere a pipe has broken. Somewhere it is leaking still, for all that the water company came out yesterday. I hear the heating coming on and then turning off again, and the crack of the water bottle from which I drank snapping back into shape.
I am awake now, as only writing can awaken me. Who writes? The river that looks to find itself—to return flowing to flowing, breaking apart the funerary flowers, and carrying away the ashes of the dead. To return to itself: as though writing wanted only to complete a circuit, to come back to itself by recounting a life, and the stories that speak of that life.
I lost my place in the night; I slipped from my place and all places. I should be asleep; I am not asleep. I should be dreaming, and my dreams anchored by my sleeping body, but I do not sleep and if I dream, it is merged with my wakefulness. It is very late or very early; this is the crossroads of the night where the soul wanders from its home.
It is said that everything is recalled at the moment of death—you remember it all again, the whole of your life. And at the moment of awakening? It is as though you recalled your death—that it is death that remembers, like the night behind your image in the mirror. What do I remember? Death remembers itself in me; death—forgetting—destroys my memory.
Am I dead or alive? For myself, now, it is as though I surprised myself returning from the day—as though I had met myself returning from the future. I crossed myself here, before dawn; my future came towards me and my past rose up to meet it. And who was I, at the crossroads?
Dawn is coming. Purple light; the outline of the pipe that runs along the kitchen’s edge, the white wooden door to the lane; the wheelie bin. Purple and black and white: those are the colours of this threshold. This morning—is it morning?—I feel as though I have kept vigil all night; that I have seen to it that the body of the departed was watched over. I watched; I was vigilant—but who was it that died?
I kept vigil over my own death; I was awake beside the corpse I am. You should not die alone and no one should be alone in their death. Of course, it is in the memories of others that you will live—they will give you a kind of life. But as long as they remember, you will remain in limbo; neither in this world or the next. When will they release you into forgetting? When they, too, are forgotten. But when will that day come?
Last night, this night, which is becoming morning, I outlived myself. Upstairs I can hear my neighbours passing from one room to another. Water drips from their bathroom into mine: there are others around who are alive. But last night, was I alive? Who was I, who watched over my own death? Who was I, companion to the one who died?
Ulysses passes among the shades, but where do I pass? Alongside myself; among myself—but that is not right either. The body is a stone withdrawn into itself. The body has turned aside from the world; its attention is turned to its heart. That is sleep: the body is turned to the heart and the heart expands to become the whole night. And you who watch over your body? You, awoken, who watch over your own sleep? Witness, vigilant one, who are you that withdraws from me now, on the shore of morning?
Light in the bathroom of the house opposite; the sky is light blue, and the colours of the world reveal themselves. It is 8:00 AM; two hands wrote this page. As night crossed into morning, so was there a crossing from death to life. The body has awoken; its attention is drawn into the world. The companion withdraws; no one is required to keep vigil.
Begin with the yard, end with the yard. Open the curtains, there it is: the yard, still there, with the rotting plants and the grime on the concrete and one of the bins—where is the other?—on the other side of the back wall, over there in the lane.
Between its walls, you will have lived your life. New clothes-pegs, straggly plants…. This morning, though it is still early, it is as if I’ve already lived and died in this yard. Everything that can happen will happen here. Everything will happen; the sky will brighten and then the sky will darken. What day is it? Every day. Who am I? Anyone, everyone who passes beneath the day.
What day is this? The first day, the supernumerary day. The page that has dropped out of the calendar. What day is it?
Dawn, the head of the day. Why get up early? To catch the day’s arrival—to be there as it comes to itself. You will have at least seen it appear, you for whom later the day will come apart. But isn’t that also the day: dispersal, the stagnancy of time? Is that what is dawning today, in the return of the first day; not the beginning, now, but the day as interruption—the first day as the last day, as the coming apart of days?
What does it want with me, the day? To attest to itself. To summon a blindness commensurate with its own blindness. To fog the glass of writing so that nothing is communicated.
Breath on glass, opacity—you see what you once allowed you to see. The medium no longer mediates; the glass speaks, invisible surface. It speaks, boundary, of what separates the world from writing. It speaks, the mirror is fogged, a kind of blindness spreads across the surface of writing.
Botched—the day is ruined. No: the day is ruin; today is the ruin of all days, today is the ruination of all days, their coming apart, their failing. Today I will fail—but today you will always have failed; this day is always the last day and the very last.
Accompany it, the day, as it comes to ruination. Be with it, the day, as it wears away the day. Today: the return of the nothing-will-happen. Today: the wearing away of the day, of every day.
Today is today, it is nothing but itself. What happened today? What has ever happened? The same room, the same day: how can you pass from hour to hour? There is no passage; the day returns as the day; today is today, there is no future. Today is today—what returns except the same, and the same of the same?
Who looks out from the mirror, his arms limp at his side? An old man, a man impossibly old. A man out of use, for whom the world never had a place. His gaze has congealed; it cannot reach me. And who do I see, in the failure of his seeing? My own blindness; the blindspot of sight. Whoever sees God dies; and whoever sees his own blindness?
No day that does not unfold itself in the eternal Day, in the event that does not come as itself, but in every other guise.
Today, who am I today? I remember that scene in Mirror where the boy who, we learn, lost his parents in the siege of Leningrad, is questioned by his drill-sergeant. What is he asked? Specific questions that need specific answers. How does he reply? Without specificity, at once vaguely and determinedly; he speaks with firmness of what has no firmness. So too does the day ask to be remembered here. To be remembered, which is to say, to remember itself by way of my memories. By way of them, but not contained by them, the day having judged them and become their condition.
Write, erase writing. Write, and find by erasure what asks first of all to be written. So is writing a kind of sacrifice, so writing burns up without anything being destroyed. The words remain, the same as before, but they are blazing. But nothing is blazing. There are words, only words, and nothing besides.
What time is it? Any time, every time. What time is it? All hours cross here; all of time is present here. Nothing begins, but everything is gathered for the beginning. Nothing begins—this is where beginning fails, where the day is folded back upon itself, unable to dawn.
It will not begin, not today, today of all days. Not today—all the days that did not begin are here, all of them. All the days pressed and concentrated here, in this non-day. Up early—and for what? Ready to work—but for what? Pulling the chair to the table—but for what?
What is the opposite of déjà vu? You know that the marks you leave on the page today will be absorbed by the page you will see tomorrow. For it is the same page as today’s and yesterday’s: the same as it calls for writing and refuses to disappear beneath it.
The past and the future meet here, in the moment of writing. They witness each other and they pass, each in their own direction.
Bad faith: to say to yourself: here I am, I survived, I learned, I can write about my experiences, I brought it all back home. But you know that what happens refuses this mastery. That, writing, each event eludes you now, today, tomorrow, echoing what eludes you in every other event, in everything that happens.
Write. Write until nothing is said, or when what is said does not matter. Write until indifference blows through your words as the wind through the fields.
A sharp pencil and a new notebook, but what is there to write? Say nothing; say it again, and by means of what you would write. Write of your life, and of everything that has happened to you, but say nothing; let nothing say itself again.
One day—when?—writing will complete itself. One day, the tautology of writing will be complete, and writing will speak where I am not. Immortality? No; the page will be turned when I die. The surface of the page will be testimony to that death which continues to return inside me. Serene pages, without me. Serene for that absence, which lifts itself from the yard, from the new clothes-pegs and the straggly plants.
Not, then, that I want to live forever, but I want never to have lived. Never to have lived, and from that death that reaches into my past, that cancels my life.—‘You took a wrong turn; the whole of your life was that turn.’—‘Yes, that is true.’—‘You lost yourself; you were lost.’—‘Yes, that is true.’
And isn’t writing a way to undo that loss? Let it come to itself, let it come, the tautology. Until it speaks of nothing but itself; until it speaks of everything but its exhibition. Writing that is not yet. Writing that is the life of the future without me. How to offer everything I have lived to its sacrificial flame?
Tautology: it will complete itself, there where I am not. It will come to birth, wings opening in the sun. Then will it act, writing, and without me. Then it will complete itself in a single gesture. Impossible day. Writing comes to itself; it does not come. That coming non-coming is the blank page of a notebook; it is a sharpened pencil.
‘I remember.’—‘Memory desired you. Memory wanted to be born a mortal. The power of memory asked for a body. You are the avatar of memory.’
‘I remember.’—‘Avatar, you are the game memory plays with itself. Yours is not the power of memory; you do not own it. The power to remember is given, not taken, and what is given can also be withdrawn.’
‘Do you remember? That is not your power. Remembering happens; memory invents a body for itself, the event delimits itself so it can grant itself the thickness of a life.’
‘I remember.’—‘Memory remembers itself; memory is the pearl that invents the shell; who are you that are born from the chance of remembering? Who that comes to himself when memory deigns to give itself an agent?’
Precision: to write what is essential, to uncover the Word, to let it speak. But what if the Word is the undoing of words? What if it turns all words from themselves? 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.
Pressure of writing not yet written. Steady pressure, like rain in fine droplets. What would you like to do? To round off—to write and finish writing in a single gesture? No more drafts, no more rewriting—unless writing is always that, rewriting, and what would complete itself will need again to be completed. ‘Begin again.’—‘But I never began.’
Fragment, day, I know you are alive only as you separate yourself from narrative, from narration. Fragment, I know you live by your separation from the whole. Nothing about you adds up to anything important; you leave nothing behind, no evidence, nothing in which your image might be caught.
I will not sum you up. I will not let the negligible substitute itself for you. Speak, then, across these words. The wind comes: all these words bow their heads. Day, fragment, you are that wind. Day—fragment—these words, bowing, speak of you.
Brahma to Vishnu: ‘Without a sacrifice, nothing can be received. To create a new world, what shall I sacrifice?’ Vishnu: ‘sacrifice me.’—‘What shall I use as the sacrificial knife, the sacrificial altar and the sacrificial post?’—‘Use me.’—‘Where do I find the sacred fire and the sacred chants?’—‘In me.’—‘Who shall be the presiding deity?’—‘It will be me. I will also be the offering and the reward.’
There is a fire that does not consume, but that burns in all things and in what can be written of those things. You must offer what happens by writing to sacrifice. You must repeat, through sacrifice, the burning of things. Sacrificial writing, pyre of the world, let the day offer itself to itself. For is fire not already the day, burning in everything?
‘Then the day sacrifices itself to itself?’—‘The day is sacrifice; returning to itself through the burning of things.’—‘But nothing is consumed. Nothing is destroyed.’—‘Every word is already a destruction. Everything, as it is brought to stand by the word, is already destroyed.’—‘But where is destruction? Why can’t I see it? Touch it?’—‘Because you are also burning. You are also sacrificed.’
‘Why does the day need writing? Why does it need this mediation, this detour on its return to itself?’—‘Because it can only approach itself through detour; because that detour is the whole world, and everything in it as it is retold. Write of the world—tell everything as it happens, the most extraordinary, the most banal, and you will point to this detour without naming it.’
‘Then it is something more than a detour, or it seems to hold itself back from the events of the world.’—‘It is held back, and held back, too, from the recounting of the world, its telling.’—‘Then how to approach it? How to stand facing it, as I face the sun at noon?’—‘All telling is indirection, like the magician who tricks you by distracting your attention. You will not face it. There is no sun. The day is not itself, it is only the approach to itself, and you, writer, are the means of that approach.’
‘Imagine it this way. Just as the sun sends out great flares from itself, great fiery loops which arc back to its surface, so is what you write an arc of the day. Imagine a sun that is made of such arcs; that is nothing more than their leaping. You, writing, are an arm of that sun, a mirror held up to the day, and by which the day will know itself.
‘But this, too, is analogy, for what can the day know? Its first trait is blindness. It does not see. Its second trait is unconsciousness. It does not know.’
‘Sometimes I imagine that it dreams, and its dreams are those solar arcs. Or imagine that, as a writer, I am like the astronauts who orbit Solaris. The day speaks; I write; but it does not know that it speaks, and I do not know what I write. Am I dreaming? Or is it that the day dreams in my writing, that to write is also to dream with the day?
‘Now I know: my first trait is blindness. My second trait is unconsciousness. I am an arm of the sun, of the day, by which it continues to forget itself. To unknow, to forget: isn’t that the task the day sets for writing? To betray the day: isn’t that what it wants? To betray it, yes, but only by way of telling the day—of speaking of those events, great and small, that belong to the continuity of time.’
‘Tell. But the sun arcs through you. It speaks, and you do not. It dreams, and what you write cannot reach it. But you know its return. You know it by writing, by the whole of your writing, as the day uncouples itself from itself.’
The same: the day comes to itself each morning. Comes to itself: the same day, the same each time. Why is it necessary to accompany it with writing? Why, if not to help the day complete itself, to complete it in a written act that sets its seal on its coming? The day comes to itself on the page. Or what is written marks its completion and redoubles it.
The day has arrived: that’s what writing says. But writing keeps its arrival; it does not need to come to itself anew. The day has come: write it now and it’s written forever. Why rewrite it, then? Why does it have to be rewritten?
Now I wonder whether writing marks what the day does not have; whether it is in writing, and writing alone that the day can come to itself. Is that why it asks to be written, and each morning? Is that what it seeks, in the writing it asks for?
Mark the day; mark the turning of the day. Mark what can never complete itself, once and for all, as the day’s coming. Set the seal on its coming; write: it has arrived; the day has come, even if, as you write, you know the day cannot come, or can only come to itself in writing.
Write at dawn, as day lifts itself from night. The day is coming: write that. The day has come: write that. So is its arrival lifted into eternity. The white page: there, alone, can writing arrive, for look, outside: soon evening will come; soon the day will fall from itself. Then the white page is the day, and more day than the day: the eternity of sense, the supernumerary day of black on white.
The flag of writing flaps in the wind of time. Time mocks it: ‘You say the day has come, but it has not come’, but writing mocks time: ‘The day completes itself on my page.’
Night comes. Time says: ‘Isn’t night the ink of writing? Doesn’t the day live by the blood of night?’ Time pauses and goes on, ‘You have killed the day to make the day. Writing is also a tomb, and the words “the day has come” is the trail of blood running from the lips of a dead man.’
And writing laughs and says, ‘You know my secret. In truth, I can only write of the day in the ink of night; I bring the day only by way of forgetting. Somewhere else, another day is rising, a brighter sun. Somewhere else is rising the day to which all days are mere indices. How to write of the day itself, free from night? How to write in white ink on a white page, or in darkness upon darkness?
‘I know this is your dream, time, which is why you look for me.’
I think there is a god of the same, and of the Same of the same. A god who is lost in the heart of the turning of the days and has gone mad there. Mad because it turns in the same element. Because the same can only happen again.
Why write, why begin? Why seek to make a beginning? I think it is to translate the eternity of the day into a new eternity: to mark by beginning what fails to begin. Only to mark it again—to let the interminable quiver, the incessant. Perhaps writing is only the attempt to make a mark. To double up the day, to lend it another kind of consistency. To give it form, even as that form is allowed to tremble.
But why write, why begin? Are you the child that would make a yo-yo of the day, like Freud’s grandson, sending the death of his mother away from him and back, as if to master absence? To master the day, or the Same of the day. Not to be trapped. Not to endure its blind turning. (I think it is writers who are most closely attuned to the Same, who suffer it. Who suffer the everyday as what it is: blank time, dissolution.)
It is from a kind of exhaustion you must begin. An exhaustion so great it dissolves you. Only there’s a minimal doubling up, a minimal reflexivity. Something of you is there. Something of you crawls to mark a place, like the flag in the Sea of Serenity. But what you’ve made is only part of the day, a change, an alteration, and nothing else. And what you are is only a limb of the day, a way the Same can know itself.