Space for Quignard, Archilochus, Sappho

Pleasure and action make the time seem short. Like our valiant Moor though with barely the determination. Indebted in an odd way to some dreadfully ponderous journeys that opened space for reading, of course more of Pascal Quignard’s brooding.

The most ravishing of Seagull Books’ Quignard publications to date must surely be The Sexual Night, whose lavish production makes up almost for my inability to track down an original copy of Quignard’s Sex and Terror, by all accounts equally striking. Quignard’s probing of being, sexuality and our origins is constructed around depictions of sexual imagery from across the ages. He questions how art is used as metaphor and artifice for the sexual night, that darkness that precedes our birth.

Quignard writes, ‘Desire is a much “blacker” thing, a much more “atrocious” thing than modern societies present it as being. The inner meaning of desire is a “ray of darkness”.’ He turns once again to myth to trace out the nature of this blackness and its essential nature. Sex, reading in its broadest sense, nature and death: the quintessence of being.

His On Wooden Tablets: Apronenia Avitia, a less necessary, odder publication from Burning Deck, not without charm; like scrabbling to brush the dust off some fragments in order to piece together the narrative of a life from shopping lists, to-do lists and diary jottings.

Otherwise this week, thinking on flowerville’s a song for staying in, and continuing to explore Jaeger’s Paideia Volume 1, this week’s chapter on Archilochus who took Homeric epic and turned it inward to express both personal and mass sentiment, and Sappho, tenth among Muses, who went further inward to describe innermost sensation with a simplicity and sensuousness that is rarely matched,

16 thoughts on “Space for Quignard, Archilochus, Sappho

  1. Quignard has been a great discovery thanks to you, Anthony. As Curioso the Great wrote on twitter, ‘you deliberately take your time to prolong the pleasure.’ Abysses was the first I read and so brilliant. Took your advice on the Agamben and Ferrando thematic link to Sex and Terror, so I read The Unspeakable Girl… and then got sidetracked when The Roving Shadows arrived. I love this kind of happy sidetrack that reading brings. It’s so strange how circumstances intersect in life from time to time. I’ve been immersed in butoh recently – to move my tired body around in creative and exhilarating ways – and I’m writing a piece about the experience – so I needed to switch (sidetrack) to a biography of Hijikata, the originator of the form, but knowing that the Quignard was waiting for me ‘on the other side.’ The whole butoh ethos fits in so well with The Unspeakable Girl, too. Lots of creative ideas to explore here. And now Seagull has a new Krasznahorkai short story collection that’s on its way. So many books. I’ll finish the Hijikata biography today and then I can get back to The Roving Shadows. Sex and Terror and The Sexual Night to follow no doubt. Best wishes.

    • I’m delighted, Des, that you are getting so much from Quignard. It is thanks to you I discovered dear Denton. I’m also going to read some Malcolm Lowry this year. I’ve been following with interest your Krasznahorkai posts as I adore everything of his that I’ve read with the exception of Seibobo There Below, which I found rather disappointing. Best wishes, Anthony

  2. Funny, although I do have Sex and Terror and I am quite intrigued by it, this book holds little to no appeal for me. The reasons are complex and mine alone, I’m sure it is a wonderful book – just not for me, not now.

  3. Ah, but you might find The Wandering Shadows even more interesting. It certainly is more formally satisfying, and The Silent Crossing perhaps even more so.
    I entered in to looking at this blog out of a shared interest in the books you like and the way you see things. Thus truly it is not in the spirit of promotion that I mention that Wakefield Press will bring out in March a translation I and my 90 year old neighbor did of Quignard’s A Terrace In Rome.
    I got involved with translating this book about the peregrinations of a 16th Century engraver since the way the story, descriptions of drawings and an abstract sensibility are so beautifully and hauntingly conjoined.

    Among other authors I’d be most interested to hear your thoughts on are Malaparte, Junger, and Cossack.

    Be it all as it may, thank you so much for this blog.

    • Thank you so much for your comments and tipping me off about your Quignard translation, which I very much look forward to reading.

      I’ve read The Roving Shadows and The Silent Crossing and written a little about both on this blog. Both are extraordinary works.

      I’ll check out the writers you mention. I’ve read some Junger before (a long time ago, pre-blog). Coincidentally I’ve just read in an essay about Frisch and Dürrenmatt of their distaste for Junger. Nossack and Malaparte both look of interest to me. Thanks for the suggestions.

      • Junger is seriously creepy. He made a kind of moral aesthetic out of being a warrior experiencing the violence, pain and destruction of war. His poems from WWI and and the more allegorical books between the wars are elegant in a marmoreal sort of way.His diaries of WWII when he spent a lot of time swanning about Paris are also strange. He lived to a great age and was also a distinguished entomologist. There’s just a strong whiff of sulfur around him. I’ll look through the rest of your posts. Such a pleasure. Thank you.

        • I think Storm of Steel was what I read, as a schoolboy so I remember very little. Your description, that hint of sulphur, makes me curious to revisit his work.

  4. I’ve been reading back through your Quignard blog posts and was particularly struck by the one on The Silent Crossing: a book to add to the list for sure. I took some time away from Quignard to read Akimitsu Takagi’s The Informer, an altogether different experience and a fascinating insight into everyday Japanese culture (to which I seem to be attracted lately as very much of an outsider to that culture.) I have a pile of Kobo Abe’s books on the desk at the moment but I’m ready for Sex and Terror now while waiting for The Silent Crossing to arrive. (And the new Krasznahorkai.)
    What struck me in your blog post on The Silent Crossing were the references to Badieu and to the ‘non-existence’ of the ‘Other.’ It made me reflect on how much of academic discourse is conditioned by its language: that an assumption of the concept that such a thing as the ‘Other’ exists locks the mind into believing that concept: turning back the other way, likewise for the ‘Self’. All these modes of identification are so limiting. It’s very liberating to break them up.
    Looking forward to mpduke’s translation of A Terrace in Rome.

    • This is precisely Quignard’s point isn’t it? We are slaves to language and its conceptual frameworks. Trying to imagine how to view the world without language and identities is (possibly) impossible.

      • I’ve been meaning to reply for a while but I’ve been caught up in all kinds of linguistic (and physical) activities. I suppose I feel excited when reading Quignard to recognise a kindred spirit with regard to language and conceptual frameworks, especially after I’d just read an academic article on ‘othering’ that left me with a profound sense of dismay at its conceptual limitations and would-be impositions. The possibility or not of ‘viewing the world without language and identities’ is something that I work with a lot. I am convinced that ‘Eastern’ systems of ‘meditation beyond meditation’ point to a state of being beyond language; but the paradox of ‘finding “oneself” there’ in these systems has become enwrapped/enrapt in the guru/disciple relationship. I’m sure this relationship can work as a means of transmitting knowledge but then it so often degenerates so that the disciple always remains disciple. This is a cultural phenomenon that Westerners (and Easterners, too) are often eager to embrace and then never let go. The famous Zen aphorism, ‘If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him,’ alludes to this no doubt. I was glad to read Agamben and Ferrando’s The Unspeakable Girl that notes the existence in a Western tradition of the unspeakable as state of being. The next part of the puzzle is trying to remain within that unspeakable state as a ‘free individual’ (individual as becoming) while the speakable, perceivable, conceptual and identity-making part goes on. Anyway, I’m not trying to convince you of anything. These are my random thoughts and obsessions. Thanks as always for the book recommendations that fuel the fire.

        • So interesting, Des, thank you for those comments which I’ve been thinking about for a few days. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said about finding in Quignard a kindred spirit. In following where Quignard leads, the paths lead into and through philosophy, mysticism and religion. I also think late Freud is very interesting in thinking about the social self-identity (which lead oddly to Max Frisch’s work). Like you I’m very struck with this idea of languageless reality, beyond the semiotic metaphors — at the moment I’ve been dipping into Hegel and Heidegger.

  5. I wanted to take the liberty of returning to the themes of night and darkness that appear in your initial post.

    There is an interview in which Quignard says that the most important discoveries of the the late 16th Century were the counter-reformation in the way it developed at Porte Royale and mezzotint (discovered or invented by 2 distinguished soldiers von Siegen and Prince Ruprecht von Rhine). As to the latter, Quignard, emphasizes that in mezzotint, the technique requires that the whole plate is roughened with a burr and the figures are brought forth by shooting down the surface to varying degrees; thus in this method, light is brought out of total darkness.

    And to introduce something quite different: In Suzuki Roshi’s astonishing and beautiful commentary of the Sandokai (published as Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness), the eighth chapter is called: “Within Light There is Utter Darkness”. This contains an exploration of the way in which darkness and deepest night are a state in which all outer distinctions dissolve and are thus a metaphor for and the reality of (what we sometimes call) enlightenment or the awakened state.

    It is fortunate to encounter such apparently contradictory views; they do not contradict each other so much as they enrich our experience.

    • I love both views. Thank you for leaving them here. There is a very beautiful mezzotinto portrait in the collection at Versailles, of printmaker Alexandre Boudan by Isaac Sarrabat. It shows wonderfully the depth that can be brought to the surface through the burnishing used by printmakers using Prince Rupert’s engraving method.

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