You do not describe the past by writing about old things, but by writing about the haze that exists between yourself and the past. I write about the way my present brain wraps around my brains of smaller and smaller crania, of bones and cartilage and membrane. . . the tension and discord between my present mind and my mind a moment ago, my mind ten years ago. . . their interactions as they mix with each other’s images and emotions. There’s so much necrophilia in memory! So much fascination with ruin and rot! It’s like being a forensic pathologist, peering at liquefied organs!
Mircea Cărtărescu, Blinding, translated by Sean Cotter.
[This struck me as worth reflecting on at length. For some reason it brought to mind something that stayed with me from Augustine about fallen time: experiencing time as a succession of self-erasing moments. I’m reading Blinding as preparation for reading Cărtărescu’s Solenoid, possibly next year.]
I was afraid the added light had made me lose my diffuse love. On my own I could certainly still be swept with enthusiasm, again and again, helped along by stillness, nature, pictures, books, gusting wind, as well as the roaring highway, and most powerfully by nothing at all, but I no longer took much interest in anything except certain thousand-year-old stone sculptures, two-thousand-year-old inscriptions, the tossing of branches, the gurgling of water, the arch of the sky, or at least I felt it was far too little interest, and far too infrequent.
Peter Handke, My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay, translated by Krishna Winston
Old Man Travelling
Animal Tranquillity and Decay, A Sketch
The little hedge-row birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
‘Sir! I am going many miles to take
A last leave of my son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital.’
Today, the arts are increasingly rendered profane and disenchanted. Magic and enchantment – the true sources of art – disappear from culture, to be replaced by discourse. The enchanting exterior is replaced with the true interior, the magic signifier with the profane signified. The place of compelling, captivating forms is taken by discursive content, Magic gives way to transparency. The imperative of transparency fosters an animosity to form. Art becomes transparent with regard to its meaning. It no longer seduces. The magic veil is cast off. The forms do not themselves talk. The language of forms, of signifiers, is characterised by compression, complexity, equivocation, exaggeration, a high degree of ambiguity that even reaches the level of contradiction. These suggest meaningfulness without immediately being reducible to meaning. All these now disappear, and instead we are confronted with simplified claims and messages that are artificially imposed on the work of art.
Byung-Chul Han, The disappearance of rituals, translated by Daniel Steuer
I am really amazed, really delighted! I have a precursor, and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: what brought me to him now was the guidance of instinct. Not only is his whole tendency like my own—to make knowledge the most powerful passion—but also in five main points of his doctrine I find myself; this most abnormal and lonely thinker is closest to me in these five points precisely: he denies free will, purposes, the moral world order, the nonegoisitical, evil; of course the differences are enormous, but they are differences more of period, culture, field of knowledge. In summa: my solitariness which, as on very high mountains, has often, often made me gasp for breath and lose blood, is now at least a solitude for two. Strange!
Friedrich Nietzsche, letter to Franz Overbeck, 1881. Translated by Christopher Middleton