Wakeful glimpse of the wonder

Quote

‘Celebration . . . is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder – the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.’

Martin Heidegger, quoted as the epigraph to the first chapter of Richard Polt’s Heidegger: an introduction.

I’m preparing for another attempt to read Being and Time, encouraged by Danyl McLauchlan’s Tranquility and Ruin. I read the latter out of curiosity, thinking I was reading against the grain, but instead found his writing on metaphysics, meditation, Heidegger and effective altruism thought provoking. It’s another rabbit hole, but not so different from the Andrei Bely-Nietzsche train of thought I was chasing before reading McLauchlan’s book.

Uniting Life With Mystery

They are not frequent visitors, the uncommon threshold moments when you read something that reverberates deeply, leading you to a cognisance of something you’ve always known but never found a way to express. Often, I’ve looked at the bookshelves that house my pantheon of tutelary thinkers and wondered what draws them together as an external reflection of what I can only call my soul. They are powerful voices who are destined to unite life with mystery.

The passage below is from Andre Bely’s Olenina-d’ Alheim, an essay in the collection Between Crisis and Catastrophe. I didn’t start to read these essays expecting understanding. I’ve not yet read Bely’s famous novel. I picked up the book of essays to read something new, an attempt to smash a reading block.

To unite life with mystery: I will not put it into quotation marks or italics here as it is now mine, a response to converging lines of writing, music, painting and dance. But I will quote a passage, written ostensibly about a famous concert singer at the beginning of the 20th century:

‘The epoch of geniuses and great thinkers has passed. Here and there they are being replaced by personalities in whom we see a prophetic pathos and who are destined to unite life with mystery.

Olenina-d’ Alheim unfurls before us the depths of the spirit. On how she unfurls these depths and what she reveals before us lies the shadow of prophecy. That is why we feel strongly that she herself is a link uniting us with mystery.

Our consciousness is a fine boundary between the subconscious and the superconscious. Different relations between given psychic spheres cause variations in this boundary. By introducing new combinations of emotions into our soul through symbols that are being unfolded, we provide new material for our nerves. And since the variable atmosphere of nerve effects can lead to new regroupings of the material of our conscious activity, this atmosphere is capable of affecting variations of the boundary between the superconscious and the subconscious . . . By changing our psychic structure we will be able to change not only the particular elements of consciousness but also the general forms of the latter.

Defined externally, religion is a system of successively unfolded symbols. This inner connectedness of symbols differentiates religious revelation from artistic creation. From the external side there is no boundary between art and religion. There is only a difference in the quality and quantity of internally connected images. The purpose of art is to express ideas; the deepening and purification of every idea invariably extend this idea to a universal significance. Thus, all ideaness in art has a religious nuance.

The symbol that is deepened and expended analogously to an idea is therefore connected with the universal symbol. This is the final and invariable background of all symbols. The relation of the Logos to the world Soul as the mystical principle of humanity is such a symbol. That is why the foundations of symbolism are always religious.’

Talismanic Identifications and Ghostly Demarcations

There was a time when I drifted between reading books of poetry and fiction without a thought for the writer; choosing what to read next— there was no enduringly impatient stack—was a function of where the endlessly reflective waves induced by the last book led me, or more prosaically, whatever caught my attention when browsing in my nearest bookshop.

Around my early twenties, a different whole seemed to fall into shape and I begun to pay attention to certain writers and, setting a pattern that has followed throughout my reading life, to read them to completion, seeing the inevitable minor works as a pathway to answering the thousand questions that arose around the major books.

Once I drew up a list of best books, what I termed a personal canon, but this would prove a shot-silk, a slippery list that refused stability. What, after all, is best? The Canon? Or those books that once read refused to be forgotten, crystal-carbon in memory? What of those evanescent books thought of as favourites, where little lingers beyond perhaps an atmosphere, or a single character?

Instead, in what I optimistically term my maturity, I choose writers over specific books, and my choices embody what Anthony Rudolf in Silent Conversations terms: “magical thinking, talismanic identifications and ghostly demarcations”. There is a distinction between those I read that will probably always be read whilst there are literate readers to be found, say Samuel Beckett, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce and Charles Baudelaire.

There are those I read closely because I am, for reasons not always fully understand, intrigued by the way they think or observe the world, for example Peter Handke, Gerald Murnane, Dorothy Richardson, George Oppen, Clarice Lispector, Christa Wolf, Mircea Cărtărescu and Enrique Vila-Matas. Time and the quick sands of taste will decide whether each find a home in posterity.

There is a far stranger category of writers I have only sampled, yet fascinate me deeply: Maurice Blanchot, Ricardo Piglia, Marguerite Duras, Hans Blumenberg, Laura Riding, Arno Schmidt are all examples, but I could name a dozen others. These interest me as much for the lived life as the work, though I always plan to explore the latter more deeply.

Reading books becomes a way to find the writer, or at least to see a glimpse of that writer’s mind. In doing so, I find that I am a part of all that I have read, that reading is a process to becoming. The more I contemplate the act of reading and of what I read, the stranger it seems. I understand less than I did when I began. Where once writing seemed certain and assured, as I moved toward the depthless prose of the writers that I came to consider part of my pantheon, the more I felt strangely included in that writer’s thought process.

Easter Sunday

Yesterday, a superb day, though already unpleasantly warm. For the second time I go to the Bonnard exhibition. This morning I found my notebook entry from 14 February 1998 about the last Bonnard exposition in London. I was more easily satisfied then. I find pleasure in the high-key broken colour palette, but unlike twenty years ago, it is now the gracefully decomposing still-lives I find most mesmerising.

Looking through my photographs of Maria Gabriela Llansol’s Lisbon library I spotted Stefan Zweig’s Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky book. I’ve read little of Zweig, deterred mostly by the scale of his oeuvre. Being a completist I have an irrational nervousness about being drawn to writers with monstrous bodies of work, also an idea that if he wrote so much, a lot of it must be mediocre. Surely? I read enough of the Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky book online to be compelled to reread Le Père Goriot (Dr. Krailsheimer’s ‘generally accurate’ translation) until 4:00 A.M. Devoted to Balzac in my twenties, and on my fourth or fifth reading of Goriot, it fascinates me how my reading of Balzac has changed since my youth; how much more real his creations seem now I’ve met such ambitious, venal people outside of literature.

Good Friday

In the Isabella Plantation, I read Mircea Eliade’s Journal I, 1945 – 1955 (translated by Mac Linscott Ricketts). Sitting on the bench in the sunshine, in this quiet woodland garden, surrounded by the first flowering of the Japanese azaleas, sensing for the first time the imminence of another summer. Where is it that Dostoevsky writes of the possibility of our realising a form of existence which one could consider “heaven” on earth? Later I looked it up, but at the time I was pleased not to have brought my mobile, and given in to the urge to follow my train of thought online. I stayed in the moment and was able to spot a Kirin, the pale, pink flower within a flower.

Mircea Eliade’s Journal is mainly a series of everyday reflections on books, artists, memories of Romania and observations on life in Paris during the post war days. They are intelligent and precise, and I’d like to read all four volumes, and perhaps his autobiography, being interested to know more about his time in Asia. If you know Eliade’s work, perhaps you could suggest what of his work is worth reading. I realise that I’ve lost interest in stories, preferring fragmented narratives, journals, works of philosophy and poetry.