Do Not Become What You Are

Pindar wrote in his second Pythian ode: Genoi autos essi mathon. Become what you are. No, do not become what you are. What individualises is the proper name or, in other words, the language in which it has its place – that is to say, social control through the internalised voice or, in other word, endless servitude. Do not become the slave of your people in the patronym they gave you within the collective language they taught you. Otherwise, the name they gave you will take the place of your flesh.

Pascal Quignard, The Silent Crossing

10 thoughts on “Do Not Become What You Are

  1. I like the quotes you have been posting but I have to say, your man Pascal better be worth it. I searched Sex and Terror to go with The Unspeakable Girl which I hope to get to by month’s end and the first price I found was $148! Ordering direct or through my local Seagull distributor with exchange and shipping runs to $64. I kept searching and found a price I can just about justify but have to think on it yet. My only consolation is that I got Girl for an exceptionally good price.

    Books, my one luxury.

    • Our reading is all so personal but one of the reasons I read so hungrily is to see what life looks like through the eyes of the Other. It is often fascinating, always interesting and very occasionally so profound as to change ones life in subtle and not so subtle ways. Quignard, for me, falls into that latter category and I expect the force of impact to be significant and long- lasting.

      I read The Roving Shadows 3 years ago but the effect of rereading that, Abysses and The Silent Crossing (3 out of the 8 in the Lost Kingdom series-and, irritatingly not in order) close together is so much more powerful. Sex and Terror is no less wonderful and also a powerful part of Quignard’s vision that I’ve only begun to fully understand.

      If it is ever easier for me to buy a book here and post it to you do let me know. It is strange to think that even in this globalised market books are subject to quirky localised market forces.

      • My reading this year is off to a slow start due to all the messy life stuff that keeps intervening and the fact that I am deeply immersed in the book I am reading for Numéro Cinq – On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes. It’s a big book (by my standards) and I can read no more than about 20 pages without stopping and filling several pages of my notebook. It is quite stunning, but I will be glad to have a review written and submitted and be on to other things.

        This year more of my reading will be directly targeted at informing my own writing, now that I have a clearer vision of how I want to approach the personal experience that I am trying to articulate, namely the groundlessness and inauthenticity of being in the world as a person who has migrated from one publicly gendered existence to another. What I read, therefore, in the fragment you quote above, is likely – and rightly – unique to me, but leaves me very curious to find out where Quignard’s writing might lead or challenge my own thought processes.

  2. How is that who I am or may become is presumed to be nothing more than “a slave of my people”? Is there no other option?

    If I don’t become who or what I am, what then do I become? Not myself? Some other to swallow me up? A mime? What?

    It’s odd that Quignard doesn’t include the rest of the sentence, which my/our
    “collective language” gives me/us much room to interpret.

    Become such as you are, having learned what that is (Pythian 2, line 72)
    Variant translations:
    Be what you know you are
    Be true to thyself now that thou hast learnt what manner of man thou art
    Having learned, become who you are*


  3. Pingback: Quignard’s The Silent Crossing – thoughts on society | Time's Flow Stemmed

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