Gerald Murnane’s Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs

It seems from the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs that Gerald Murnane is a writer that writes for his own pleasure and necessity. Murnane describes himself as a technical writer who is compelled to find words to explore the contours of his thoughts, a phrase he finds in Herbert Read’s English Prose Style, explaining that it “is a magical phrase for me. It has helped me in times of trouble in the way that phrases from the Bible or from Karl Marx probably help other people.”

My reading is obsessive by nature, often sending me into what is now a frequent pattern of reading a writer until exhausting all available work, reading some secondary material and, in some cases, reading the books that they acknowledge as influences. An earlier version of my reading self read Barley Patch nine years ago and, though I recall appreciating Murnane’s evident pleasure at playing with language, the book failed to trigger the sort of obsession I’ve experienced with Virginia Woolf, Dante, J. M. Coetzee, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Denton Welch, Christa Wolf, or Clarice Lispector. Triggering such an obsession required, firstly, for me to be the reader I am today, and secondly the essays in Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs.

What I find in Murnane’s essays is not just a writer that inspires a reader to reflect on existential questions, part of why I read what I read, but also a writer that opens blissful landscapes where I find colossal, quiet spaces. Murnane describes his own discovery of such spaces in discovering Jack Kerouac’s On The Road: “The book was like a blow to the head that wipes out all memory of the recent past. For six months after I first read it I could hardly remember the person I had been beforehand. For six months I believed I had all the space I needed.” It is from experiences like this that my love of literature comes, why I discover ecstatic spaces from human beings that I am never likely to meet, but considers companions in navigating this often ghastly world around me.

 

 

Temporal continuity

Quote

“Promising, commitment and fidelity, for instance, are genuinely temporal practices. They bind the future by continuing the present into the future and linking the two, thus creating a temporal continuity that has a stabilising effect. This continuity protects the future against the violence of non-time. Where the practice of long-term commitment (which is also a form of conclusion) gives way to increasing short-termism, non-timeliness also increases, and is reflected at the psychological level in the form of anxiety and restlessness. Growing discontinuity, the atomisation of time, destroys the experience of continuity. The world becomes non-timely.”

Byung-Chul Han, Non-Time, from The scent of time (trans. Daniel Steuer)

The vita contemplativa

Quote

“Not the least cause for today’s temporal crisis is the absolute value attached to the vita activa. This leads to an imperative to work, which degrades the human being into an animal laborans. The hyperkinesia of everyday life deprives human existence of all contemplative elements and of any capacity for lingering. It leads to a loss of world and time. So-called strategies of deceleration do not overcome this temporal crisis; they even cover up the actual problem. What is necessary is the revitalisation of the vita contemplativa. The temporal crisis will only be overcome once the vita activa, in the midst of its crisis, again incorporates the vita contemplativa.”

—Byung-Chul Han. preface to The scent of time (trans. Daniel Steuer)

Berardi: The Risk of Reactionary Nostalgia

“The consciousness of living in a condition of abstract domination, the consciousness of the increasing control that technical automatisms are exerting on the social and cultural life of populations, has led me to develop a sense of aversion towards the potency of technology, and a sentiment of nostalgia for political freedom and for the authenticity of life. But I don’t like these sentiments, I don’t recognise them as a part of me. They have successfully conquered some part of my mind because I fear my own impotence. But this fear is the impotence: there is no impotence except in the fear of it.

My philosophical formation, my political experience and my personal character do conflict with these sentiments of reactionary nostalgia, and of fear of the process of post-human development.

. . .

These sentiments . . . are also linked with the process of decline of my mind, of my body and my sexuality. I must consciously come to terms with impending senility, in order not to mistake this personal condition as universal.

I ask myself: how deeply have I been influenced by the reactionary philosophy that descends from the humanist critique of technique and from the nostalgia for authenticity? My intention is to disjoin the understanding of the crisis of humanism from the reactionary nostalgia conveyed by this understanding.”

—Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, Futurability.

Byung-Chul Han’s elegant critique sent me back to this Berardi that I’ve not read properly. I discovered Berardi from Federico Campagna’s The Last Night. I think often of this passage.

Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society

“The attitude toward time and environment known as “multitasking’ does not represent civilisational progress. Human beings in the late-modern society of work and information are not the only ones capable of multitasking. Rather, such an aptitude amounts to regression. Multitasking is commonplace among wild animals. It is an attentive technique indispensable for survival in the wilderness.”

“Not just multitasking but also activities such as video games produce a broad but flat mode of attention. Recent social developments and the structural change of wakefulness are bringing human society deeper and deeper into the wilderness.For example, bullying has achieved pandemic dimensions. Concern for the good life, which also includes life as member of the community, is yielding more and more to the simple concern for survival.

We owe the cultural achievements of humanity—which include philosophy—to deep, contemplative attention.”

Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society (t. Erik Butler)

The devastating effects of an excess of positivity on the social and cultural realm are explored in Han’s book. It’s a bleak portrayal of a post-Freudian west distracted by low-level stimuli in order to stave off inner emptiness. For a book published in 2010 it seems quite prophetic. Nine years later there seems little doubt of the gulf between the political establishment and a population for whom celebrity culture, consumerism and wealth acquisition have become the principal ideologies.