Friday, December 17, 2010

"Morning Passages"

To J.


Your flickering eyes
Small birds suckling the nectars.

When you wept
The king hearkened not.

When you fell
The world did not return
To void-and-chaos.

Mephiboshet, you dreamt
Of a more innocent friendship.

You sickened at the wisdom
Of the ancient serpent,

O Son of Jonathan!

(Zelda Mikhovsky-Schneerson, translation is mine)

"I want to learn to be alone, to find it nourishing and not just a mere wait"
-Susan Sontag

The scenery seemed to have changed abruptly at the realization that there is no such a thing as an empty room, he conjured up images of Abyssinia, everything disappeared under the spell of unlikely sights. He sat across the blank page in the attempt to write something for himself that would not grow into a will of consolation, counting the hours on and on, imagining that that night would never end and that it would be possible to take posession of it well into the next morning, and the morning after and yet another morning after that. He could remember every detail, every practical detail, the journey from home all the way to the wooden panels that furnished the walls and the well-known inability to swallow the freshly baked goods so that he would not miss one single second of the conversation. Then strolling around the city jolts, the pleasure he could often take in the noise and the evening traffic as a mere spectator in the tireless search for a moment of beauty with himself; the fearless panic that devoured courageously the tips of the fingers and bruised the skin from beneath the fibers of tweed and wool, the unwillingness to let go of the scarf and other pieces of clothing; it was almost a matter of shame, this almost sensuous desire to want not to be seen in any way, hiding from the viewer across the table, the fibrilous pulsations of the blood running through the neck back and forth in between brain and heart, the delicate wrists that could have been made out of fresh bread and not of old flesh, even the eyes too eager to look always elsewhere, a rather frantic desire at mere contemplation, and that total avoidance of oneself.

Yet all of the essential details were elusive through and through, they seemed to form knots at the height of the throat, that were pulled back from displaying, by a forceful and naive serenity that rested around the belly but were never to be seen. The greatest gift that one receives from a stranger is always that warm sensation that there's no destination in plain sight, that the person, in spite of his covetousness, is not willing to let himself be seen at all, that absolute solitude is the greatest evening companion when it's shared with somebody else, that every fabric of the conversation is yet another desperate attempt to cling forcefully to one's solitude. This is how we set ourselves to spy on our fellow human beings in the companion of yet another veteran soldier, to realize that we have somewhat aged, and that it is a good thing because one of the most merciless demands of beauty is that it be contemplated with glee and love only after the moment when it's no longer in your posession, when it's no longer a presence, when its symbols become undechiperable to the hand that drew them and carelessly casted them into the world. This type of beauty has manifold shapes but in common between them all, it is only the fact that they deliberately avoid perfection and completion; the simplicity of the interminability resides precisely in that this beauty cannot be wholly grasped when observed from the outside, lest it become a corpse, a corpulent structure of dead matter that can no longer be touched or felt by the bare hand of the passer-by.

What a great melancholy there is, I thought for myself, in that kind of beauty in which you're allowed to participate but yet cannot keep even the simplest bread crumb, used-up napkin or vanishing cube of ice for yourself, "It seems that he was permitted to find the Archimedean point only under condition that he would use it against himself". Every form of modern art in the world is aimlessly attempting to do just that, to cling onto the rawest materials of our own consumption in order to create a memory that just like in classical art, could last forever, yet the enterprise is so completely futile because those are memories that we no longer want to keep; in the moment they are turned into memories they should be washed off from the basin at the top of the repository of things we find beautiful and not. There are elixirs too, easily available, sometimes in the shape of a glass but often times also in the shapes of faces and hands and strokes of the hair, elixirs that make ugliness disappear and turn every single second of the day into that kind of beauty we would like to participate in, joining this party of the dead, shortlisting the information and selecting what we find most nourishing. It is like the metaphor of loving someone at the airport, through the window panes that separate the different waiting rooms; imagining scenes of suffering from one to the next station of the Cross, out of the simplest glass of whiskey held by the hand, out of the watch missing from the wrist or the ring from the finger, thinking that maybe it was stolen by a lover or asked to be turned in after a sentimental disaster. This is a rather voyeuristic price to pay, that of the artist and the writer, the infinitely aesthetic pleasure of experiencing love and desire from the vantage point of the most absolute and impossible distance, there's no pity and no mercy in this loving observation, it's riddled by the most objective form of cruelty. The unwillingness to interfere in the slow lane of biological processes, avoiding the nearness of the lips with the only intention to avoid not a bad aftertaste but with the firm resolution to supress and surpass all guilt. Guilt must be supressed insofar as it is rememberable.

This could happen to anyone and anywhere, the geography is irrelevant when it comes to anatomy, this is no common sense like the astronomy of the planets, but not altogether irrational; the present is entirely dead just one minute thereafter, how can five years be rendered irrelevant by one single moment? It's easier to cancel out five years than one single moment, because the nature of time itself makes the momentarily far more fixed in our minds in the sense that attempts to understand what is just happening and suddenly has passed, are to no avail. If I had any talents with painting, the landscape of that very night, it would be more like a double-faced muse bleeding to death with a glass and a smitten smile in between her finger tips. To write even, it is like a little death, it would steal away everything that is essential to tell about a story and that's when a teller knows that he's ought to stop at the expense of making up a fairy tale that could be far more convincing that a list of deeds in the Stations of the Cross, for there's nothing more brutal and unlawful than stealing from oneself, from one's own pleasure, from one's own righteous sense of enjoyment and imperfect beauty, it's tantamount to observing one's own death. The next morning thus, was not different than it should have been, it wasn't entirely free of guilt or consumption, one day less of sun for you and one more for the world, the continuity had been broken like in every other possible art work, life hadn't changed and that's where the cruelty of making works of art out of such raw material resides, for the creator - it's God's own loneliness after the wrongdoings of the creation - life is not bereft of its own autonomous powers. Philosophers of history would however point a finger to the fallacy: Everything in the world is qualitatively changed, everyday, by every person, by every casual encounter, even in spite of the domineering fear, the fear of the stranger for each and every one of his own kind. The next morning was fresh like the beginning of the tides in summertime, it felt opulent, scandalously privileged, full of frenzy and bright as lust. That's why the story of a night not always needs to be told as such, this is the privilege of those who seek no consolation from life, and whose guiding principle is more risk than patience.

"If someone comes and declares "This will be the historical redeemer of mankind, I know its name" - then we might easily identify him as the prophet of the false Messiah. The prophet of the true Messiah remains silent. He does not know. But he knows one thing - that one should not say that the Messiah will never come. One should never let the empty chair be occupied by a pretender (and every occupant is a pretender), but it is better if one does not remove the empty chair. My conviction, or rather, my feeling, suggests that I leave the chair there, in the middle of the room at the head of the table, where it remains all the time exposed in its emptiness. The chair speaks to the denizens of the absolute present honestly only in its emptiness. My intuition suggests that only emptiness is fullness for the moderns, that there's no other kind of hope beyond hope, at least not for those who assume the position of reflected postmodernity".
-Agnes Heller

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