n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out of place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.
The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.
Gertrude Stein, from Everybody’s Autobiography (via itsquoted)
September 1961 by Denise Levertov
This is the year the old ones,
the old great ones
leave us alone on the road.
The road leads to the sea.
We have the words in our pockets,
obscure directions. The old ones
have taken away the light of their presence,
we see it moving away over a hill
off to one side.
They are not dying,
they are withdrawn
into a painful privacy
learning to live without words.
E. P. “It looks like dying”—Williams: “I can’t
describe to you what has been
happening to me”—
H. D. “unable to speak.”
twists itself in the wind, the stars
are small, the horizon
ringed with confused urban light-haze.
They have told us
the road leads to the sea,
the language into our hands.
our footsteps each time a truck
has dazzled past us and gone
leaving us new silence.
One can’t reach
the sea on this endless
road to the sea unless
one turns aside at the end, it seems,
the owl that silently glides above it
aslant, back and forth,
and away into deep woods.
But for us the road
unfurls itself, we count the
words in our pockets, we wonder
how it will be without them, we don’t
stop walking, we know
there is far to go, sometimes
we think the night wind carries
a smell of the sea…
The aesthetic of brokenness, of jarring incompleteness, stands against the perfection of Water Lillies, or Brundage’s father’s last “empty” paintings of a field, where his own ashes are scattered after his death. It’s an homage to the jagged aesthetic of underground music itself, a tradition that stretches back past the Sex Pistols to the Dadaists. But this also implies a more fundamental view of how artists keep creating. By the end of the novel, Brundage accepts that there is nothing to be hoped for except this incompleteness, and the possibility it creates for more work, for more possibilities: “I cannot begin to understand what it is to feel the weight of the work drop away and be unable to retrieve it … I cannot understand it, I do not want to understand it.” In the work of art itself, Brundage says, we “salvage what we can” — echoing T.S. Eliot: “These fragments I have shored up against my ruins” — a paradoxical act, an act of rebellion against both loss and permanence.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Adam Zagajewski, from “Try to Praise the Mutilated World”, translated by Clare Cavanagh (via hiddenshores)
The Widow’s Rules by Adrienne Marcus
Until my fingers learn
The way your fingers taught me,
Fumbling, I find the keys, one
By one, by rote, by feel, by sheer
It is like learning a new
Language, a new way of thinking
How vowels and consonants
Console one another,
As if they could contain grief
By boxing it into tiny squares.
Not having your voice
But only my own to echo
Back, what words can I say
To ease the silence.
How to pronounce singular.
This is the widow’s grief.
To know what can,
And cannot be done,
Which places are safe alone,
Which rooms must not be entered.
Nobody will ever love you as much as an artist can. On your worst days, they will find poetry in the knots of your hair.
[…] Everyone tries to make his life a work of art. We want love to last and we know that it does not last; even if, by some miracle, it were to last a whole lifetime, it would still be incomplete. Perhaps, in this insatiable need for perpetuation, we should better understand human suffering, if we knew that it was eternal. It appears that great minds are, sometimes, less horrified by suffering than by the fact that it does not endure. In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one day. One morning, after many dark nights of despair, an irrepressible longing to live will announce to us the fact that all is finished and that suffering has no more meaning than happiness.
Albert Camus, from The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt
In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limit it discovers in itself—a limit where minds meet and, in meeting, begin to exist. Rebellious thought, therefore, cannot dispense with memory: it is a perpetual state of tension. In studying its actions and its results, we shall have to say, each time, whether it remains faithful to its first noble promise or if, through indolence or folly, it forgets its original purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny or servitude.
[…] In absurdist experience, suffering is individual. But from the moment when a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience. Therefore the first progressive step for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to realise that this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that human reality, in its entirety, suffers from the distance which separates it from the rest of the universe. The malady experienced by a single man becomes a mass plague. In our daily trials rebellion plays the same role as does the “cogito” in the realm of thought: it is the first piece of evidence. But this evidence lures the individual from his solitude. It founds its first value on the whole human race. I rebel—therefore we exist.
Albert Camus, from The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt