Sunday, December 23, 2018

"He looked far above the horizon" Samuel Beckett - photos

“About thirty years ago, the beaches and streets of Tangier were haunted by an automaton. It was nothing but skin and bones, and I often lost sight of it, blinded by the sun. Its silhouette of a marsh-bird vanished in the middle of the crowd of Moroccans in djellabahs and indifferent tourists. Like me they ignored the fact that this skinny man was the great writer Samuel Beckett. His path seemed to follow the movement of a pendulum, adjusted to his own rhythm, his heels touching the ground long before his weight followed, the body leaning backwards. He looked far above the horizon, his ocean blue eyes hidden by big sunglasses, and tried to orientate himself. It troubled me so much not to be able to capture the real dimension of this figure that I often forgot to put a film into my camera.
As our paths kept crossing we finally met. So I abandoned the camera and stopped taking pictures. With his dark voice, he told me of the twenty seven books he couldn’t find a publisher for, of his wife Suzanne, of his friendship with Joyce, of his family in Ireland. He imagined how his mother would have been surprised by him getting the Nobel Prize, if ever she had known; he advised me to read “to learn how the others do it”. But I wanted to retain this attitude and his face, so I had to step away, to leave the treasure of his words, his opinions, and get back to the place that suits the photographer best: the one behind the lens.”

François-Marie Banier, Beckett

Photography by François-Marie Banier
Samuel Beckett died on 22 December 1989

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

ад, в котором мы живем каждый день/ the inferno where we live every day

Ад живых — это не что-то, что наступит, если такое и существует, то оно уже здесь; ад, в котором мы живем каждый день, который мы делаем, находясь вместе. Есть два способа не страдать от него. Первый многим дается легко: принять ад и стать его частью до такой степени, чтобы уже его больше и не видеть. Второй — рискованный и требует постоянных бдительности и изучения: искать и уметь распознавать — кто и что посреди этого ада, адом не является, и делать так, чтобы они продолжались, и создавать для них место.

Итало Кальвино (1923-1985), «Невидимые города» (1972)

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nabokov on poshlost': "corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations..."

“Poshlust,” or in a better transliteration poshlost, has many nuances, and evidently I have not described them clearly enough in my little book on Gogol, if you think one can ask anybody if he is tempted by poshlost.

Corny trash, vulgar clichés, Philistinism in all its phases, imitations of imitations, bogus profundities, crude, moronic, and dishonest pseudo-literature—these are obvious examples.

Now, if we want to pin down poshlost in contemporary writing, we must look for it in Freudian symbolism, moth-eaten mythologies, social comment, humanistic messages, political allegories, overconcern with class or race, and the journalistic generalities we all know.

Poshlost speaks in such concepts as “America is no better than Russia” or “We all share in Germany’s guilt.” The flowers of poshlost bloom in such phrases and terms as “the moment of truth,” “charisma,” “existential” (used seriously), “dialogue” (as applied to political talks between nations), and “vocabulary” (as applied to a dauber).

Listing in one breath Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Vietnam is seditious poshlost. Belonging to a very select club (which sports one Jewish name—that of the treasurer) is genteel poshlost. Hack reviews are frequently poshlost, but it also lurks in certain highbrow essays. Poshlost calls Mr. Blank a great poet and Mr. Bluff a great novelist.

One of poshlost’s favorite breeding places has always been the Art Exhibition; there it is produced by so-called sculptors working with the tools of wreckers, building crankshaft cretins of stainless steel, Zen stereos, polystyrene stinkbirds, objects trouvés in latrines, cannonballs, canned balls. There we admire the gabinetti wall patterns of so-called abstract artists, Freudian surrealism, roric smudges, and Rorschach blots—all of it as corny in its own right as the academic “September Morns” and “Florentine Flowergirls” of half a century ago. The list is long, and, of course, everybody has his bête noire, his black pet, in the series. Mine is that airline ad: the snack served by an obsequious wench to a young couple—she eyeing ecstatically the cucumber canapé, he admiring wistfully the hostess. And, of course, Death in Venice. You see the range.”


Vladimir Nabokov proposed rendering the Russian word пошлость as it is, transliterated but untranslated: "poshlost". Fifty years on, Wikipedia did just that: it has an English article on Poshlost, which says that "poshlost" has to do with triviality, vulgarity, a lack of spirituality, and even sexual promiscuity.

It is very difficult to capture the meaning of this word accurately and fully. Russia's most popular dictionary by Ozhegov defines the derived adjective пошлый ("poshliy") as "morally base, tasteless, and crass." The classical 19th century dictionary by Vladimir Dal had two definitions of it: an old, originally neutral one ("long-standing, anachronistic, age-old; ancient, old-time, time-honored") and a new one, already with negative connotations ("trite, common, outmoded; indecent, considered rude, common, base, ignoble, coarse; vulgar, trivial").

According to Nabokov, "poshlost is not only the obviously trashy but also the falsely important, the falsely beautiful, the falsely clever, the falsely attractive. By describing something as 'poshlost', we pass not only an aesthetic but also a moral judgment. Everything that is true, honest, beautiful cannot be described as poshlost."


Monday, November 12, 2018

Arthur Koestler - Man As Mistake

Артур Кестлер (Arthur Koestler, 5 Sep 1905 - 3 Mar 1983; a Hungarian-British author and journalist. In 1976 he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and in 1979 with terminal leukaemia. In 1983 he and his wife committed suicide at their home in London.)

В нашумевшем эссе «Человек — ошибка эволюции» (1969), ссылаясь на психологические исследования доктора Мак-Лина, полагал, что «природа наделила человека тремя мозгами, которые, несмотря на полнейшее несходство, должны совместно функционировать и быть в постоянном контакте друг с другом. Древнейший из этих мозгов по сути своей — мозг пресмыкающегося. Второй достался ему от млекопитающих, а третий — достижение высших млекопитающих, именно он сделал человека человеком».

Далее Кестлер пишет: «Мозг пресмыкающегося и мозг простейшего млекопитающего образуют так называемую вегетативную нервную систему, которую мы будем называть старым мозгом, в противоположность неокортексу — чисто человеческому «мыслительному аппарату», куда входят участки, ведающие языком (речью), а также абстрактным и символическим мышлением… Неокортекс человекообразных развился в последние полмиллиона лет, начиная с середины четвертичного периода, он развился со скоростью взрыва, насколько нам известно, беспримерного в истории эволюции. Однако взрывы не ведут к гармоническим последствиям». Результатом этого явилось то, что новые участки мозга не сжились как следует с другими, более старыми, и такой эволюционный промах создал широкий простор для всевозможных конфликтов. Кестлер утверждал, что эволюция схалтурила, «недовинтив какие-то гайки между неокортексом и мозжечком».

В результате нашему биологическому виду вполне присуща своего рода шизофрения, которая и порождает в существенной степени противоречия между животным (инстинктивным) и человеческим (разумным). Этой дихотомии мы, во многом, обязаны несоответствием между нашим эмоциональным и интеллектуальным поведением.

* * *
The Ghost in the Machine is a 1967 book about philosophical psychology by Arthur Koestler. The title is a phrase (see ghost in the machine) coined by the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe the Cartesian dualist account of the mind–body relationship.
Man As Mistake - By Robert Jay Lifton (source)
April 7, 1968

It is easy these days — this century — to defend the idea that something ails man. His extraordinary impulse to make war upon his own species in the name of his sanctified idols has reached grotesque proportions. Nor does he seem to be improving.

To the contrary, consider an up-to-the-minute example of something approaching collective madness. The most powerful nation in the world intervenes in a civil war (following upon an anticolonial one) in a small, faraway country and saturates that country with its destructive firepower and indiscriminate killing; is profoundly resented by virtually all factions there as well as by the rest of the world, and finds itself stymied both politically as militarily. It stations 5,000 men at a small outpost in an exposed valley surrounded by hostile forces of many times that number and insists (against prevailing objective military judgment) that the outpost can be defended; and to buttress that assumption, considers escalating the war still further, and even the use of tactical versions of man's ultimate weapons, though such measures could well result in general holocaust in which most or all of mankind would be annihilated. Yes, something ails man, but what is it?

In search of an answer Arthur Koestler — known principally for his novels but concerned in recent years with science and psychology ("The Sleepwalkers" and "Act of Creation") — posits "some built-in error or deficiency," or, more vividly, "a screw loose in the human mind." He takes us on a long journey through psychology and evolution to conclude: man's difficulty is his proneness to delusion; he suffers from "an endemic form of paranoia" which dominates his entire history and which is "built into the wiring circuits of the human brain."

This is so, Koestler goes on to tell us, because Homo sapiens is a "biological freak, the result of some remarkable mistake in the evolutionary process." The mistake resulted from the speed with which the hominid evolved (the whole thing took only half a million years), or from what is known as "explosive evolution." Koestler follows the neurophysiologist Paul MacLean in stressing the "unseemly haste" with which the specifically human areas of the brain were superimposed upon the phylogenetically older structures, resulting in "insufficient coordination" between older (emotional) and newer (intellectual) functions.

Koestler cites MacLean's theory of the "three brains" coexisting within the human skull: the oldest being basically reptilian, the next inherited from the lower mammals, and the third peculiarly human. The difficulty according to this theory is that each functions more or less autonomously. This means that man, in effect, sees the world through two television screens: one old and wired into brain areas responsible for "animal" feelings and functions, such as sex, hunger, fear and aggression; the other new and connected with brain areas attuned to the more "human" achievement of reason. The more crude screen — "the crocodile and horse we carry in our skulls"- insists upon supplying its own picture, upon "making up its own mind," and thereby undermines the more elevated images of the other screen. The result is a form of schizophysiology," an antagonistic split in function which is "built into our species." It is always the crude (animal) screen, detached from and inadequately coordinated with the nobler (human) one, which leads man to delusion and mass murder.

The thesis has an everything-falling-into-place aura, as it accounts for things that do not fall into place; it may therefore appeal to those who still believe, or wish to believe, that all truths, scientific or otherwise, are simple ones. But as an explanation for "modern man's predicament" and his "urge to self-destruction," I find this arbitrary dichotomy of the bad old brain and the good new one a misrepresentation of the way man's brain and mind work, and a neurological retreat from his psychology and history.

The shortcomings of the theory become painfully clear when it is applied to man's most difficult dilemmas. For instance, concerning man's uniqueness in knowing that he must die, Koestler claims that "the discovery [of death] originates in the new brain, the refusal [to accept death] in the old."
This all-important refusal is responsible for the witches, ghosts, ancestral spirits and gods which inhabit the human mind, and also for "comforting promises of eternal survival." And the cause of it all, Koestler believes, is "instinct," which "takes existence implicitly for granted, and defends it against threats in anger and fear; but it cannot conceive of its change into non-existence."
Yet one could just as well argue the other way around. The human infant possesses an innate (or "instinctual") sense of connection and a tendency known as "attachment behavior" toward other human beings. This innate tendency later finds expression in various relationships of blood, sexual love and friendship, as well as in more symbolic ties to various social groups and to past and future generations.

Maintaining this "instinctual" sense of connection greatly enhances man's always limited capacity to accept his own death, because he "survives himself through his attachments." On the other hand, man's "acquired" and ostensibly higher achievement of reason can greatly contribute to his refusal to accept death. For man's increasing knowledge of natural and human phenomenon has been accompanied by a trend toward individuation, and this in turn has weakened his sense of connection and presented him with the unacceptable prospect of death as total distinction.

The point is that our present understanding of man no longer permits us to posit a simple dichotomy of "instinct" (and "faith") versus "reason"; and the error is compounded by extending the dichotomy into such discrete anatomical and physiological assumptions about the brain. The dichotomy can be transcended by the kind of unitary approach which many writers have recently emphasized (including Lancelot Law Whyte whom Koestler quotes in other contexts). One must then consider the symbols and forms man requires in order to make sense of his world and act upon it — and the way in which these combine various elements of emotion (or "faith") and "reason" (or "logic"). As Susanne Langer has emphasized, man's lifelong mental task is one of continuous "transformation" of the "data" reaching him from within and without. And this "symbol-making function is one of man's primary activities, like eating, looking, or moving about... the fundamental process of his mind."

From this standpoint man's quest for "eternal survival" can be seen as symbolically realized by artistic and other cultural "works" he transmits to future generations, as well as by his simple biological continuity in families and nations. The quest is most likely to take dangerous forms during periods of historical upheaval when this symbolic community is impaired. At such times members of one group may feel compelled to reaffirm this immortality by murdering members of another.

Indeed the example of "collective madness" I mentioned before — the American stand at Khesanh — is, among other things, a product of distorted symbolization. Adrift in a revolutionary period of rapid historical changes and threatened nuclear apocalypse, we find old symbols (of family, religion or "American individualism") increasingly irrelevant, and authentic new ones extremely difficult to find.

Terrified by an image of the "death" of our culture (of "the American way of life") we grasp at false symbols. Khesanh thus becomes "a symbol of American determination to defend democracy" against "Communist expansion," even though the militaristic regime we defend has no popular support, and our adversary fights on his own soil and, quite understandably, sees us as the outside invader. The source of such tragedy and evil is not "the crocodile and the horse we carry around in our skulls"; rather it is the way in which this kind of distorted symbolism allies itself with the psychological potential for aggression, and above all with our murderous technology.

Throughout his elaborate re-examination of psychological theory, Koestler nowhere mentions recent work most relevant to man's predicament- that dealing with his present symbolic struggles, and with the general interplay of mind and history. Nor does Koestler stop to examine the possible limitations of MacLean's "three brains" theory, at least for the purposes he assigns it; or to consider alternative neurophysiological views. Jose Delgado, for instance, holds that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the anatomy and physiology of the brain, and that our problem lies in the cultural and educational patterns to which the brain is submitted. There are flashes of brilliance in Koestler's ambitious explorations, especially in his general ordering of evolution and in his compelling description of some of the radical new features of the post-Hiroshima world. But the book's erratic combination of unfocused and over-focused argument eventually renders it tedious.

Its ending is worse than that — an anticlimactic suggestion of a biochemical cure for man's deficiencies, so cursorily and simplistically stated as to make one wonder whether the author really believes in it. The issue he raises, that of chemical interference with man's genetic processes, is one which must be seriously confronted- but not by embracing it uncritically as a medical cure for the whole of human history. Earlier in the book Koestler angrily denounces remnants of the 19th-century mechanistic fallacies for their tendency to eliminate man, only to end up with a "chemistic" fallacy of his own which is more characteristic of the 20th century. But man remains our problem, whatever we put into him, and however shaky his future as a species.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Death is always the same...

"Death is always the same,
but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. George Carlin quotes

I am a personal optimist but a skeptic about all else. What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction. And please don't confuse my point of view with cynicism; the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything's gonna be all right.

Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.

• I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It's so fuckin' heroic.

• I don't like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn people: "Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no "I" in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an "I" in independence, individuality and integrity.'" Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, "We're the So-and-Sos," take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it's unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don't participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you're not a team player, congratulate them on being observant.

• The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it. I have always viewed it from a safe distance, knowing I don't belong; it doesn't include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood improvement committee; I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.
The larger the group, the more toxic, the more of your beauty as an individual you have to surrender for the sake of group thought. And when you suspend your individual beauty you also give up a lot of your humanity. You will do things in the name of a group that you would never do on your own. Injuring, hurting, killing, drinking are all part of it, because you've lost your identity, because you now owe your allegiance to this thing that's bigger than you are and that controls you.

• Here’s another question I have. How come when it’s us, it’s an abortion, and when it’s a chicken, it’s an omelette? Are we so much better than chickens all of a sudden?

• People who see life as anything more than pure entertainment are missing the point.

• It's important in life if you don't give a shit. It can help you a lot. [// Warhol’s “So what?”]

• Life is not measured by the breathes you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.

• I think the warning labels on alcoholic beverages are too bland. They should be more vivid. Here is one I would suggest: "Alcohol will turn you into the same asshole your father was”.
Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.

• When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to hear '27 months.' 'He's two' will do just fine. He's not a cheese. And I didn't really care in the first place.

• We're so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody's going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven't learned how to care for one another. We're gonna save the fuckin' planet? . . . And, by the way, there's nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are fucked! Compared with the people, the planet is doin' great. It's been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn't goin' anywhere, folks. We are! We're goin' away. Pack your shit, we're goin' away. And we won't leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.

• Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain's majesty above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.

• Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.

• When you're born into this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America you get a front row seat.

• There's no present. There's only the immediate future and the recent past.

• If no one knows when a person is going to die, how can we say he died prematurely?

• The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating …and you finish off as an orgasm.

• Religion is like a pair of shoes... Find one that fits for you, but don't make me wear your shoes.

• Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.

• People say, 'I'm going to sleep now,' as if it were nothing. But it's really a bizarre activity. 'For the next several hours, while the sun is gone, I'm going to become unconscious, temporarily losing command over everything I know and understand. When the sun returns, I will resume my life.'
If you didn't know what sleep was, and you had only seen it in a science fiction movie, you would think it was weird and tell all your friends about the movie you'd seen.
"They had these people, you know? And they would walk around all day and be OK? And then, once a day, usually after dark, they would lie down on these special platforms and become unconscious. They would stop functioning almost completely, except deep in their minds they would have adventures and experiences that were completely impossible in real life. As they lay there, completely vulnerable to their enemies, their only movements were to occasionally shift from one position to another; or, if one of the 'mind adventures' got too real, they would sit up and scream and be glad they weren't unconscious anymore. Then they would drink a lot of coffee."
So, next time you see someone sleeping, make believe you're in a science fiction movie. And whisper, 'The creature is regenerating itself'.

• I don't have to tell you (it goes without saying) there are some things better left unsaid. I think that speaks for itself. The less said about it the better.

sources: 1, 2; 3

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

I've been the one and only secretary of my own sensations. Cioran, misc

We are so lonely in life that we must ask ourselves if the loneliness of dying is not a symbol of our human existence.

Only those are happy who never think or, rather, who only think about life's bare necessities, and to think about such things means not to think at all.

• One of the biggest paradoxes of our world: memories vanish when we want to remember, but fix themselves permanently in the mind when we want to forget.

Bach: a scale of tears upon which our desires for God ascend. […] If there is anyone who owes everything to Bach, it is certainly God.

• In each letter I send to a Japanese friend, I have got into the habit of recommending one or another work by Brahms. She has just written that she is leaving a Tokyo clinic where she was taken by ambulance for having excessively sacrificed to my idol. I wonder which trio, which sonata was responsible. It doesn’t matter. Whatever induces collapse is thereby deserving of being listened to.

Man starts over again everyday, in spite of all he knows, against all he knows.

How important can it be that I suffer and think? My presence in this world will disturb a few tranquil lives and will unsettle the unconscious and pleasant naiveté of others. Although I feel that my tragedy is the greatest in history—greater than the fall of empires—I am nevertheless aware of my total insignificance. I am absolutely persuaded that I am nothing in this universe; yet I feel that mine is the only real existence.

A stroll through Montparnasse Cemetery. All, young or old, made plans. They make no more. Strengthened by their example, I swear as a good pupil, returning, never to make any myself — ever. Undeniably beneficial outing.

• I ponder C., for whom drinking in a cafe was the sole reason to exist. One day when I was eloquently vaunting Buddhism to him, he replied, “Well, yes, nirvana, all right, but not without a cafe.” We all have some mania or other that keeps us from unconditionally accepting supreme happiness.

• The more one has suffered, the less one demands. To protest is a sign one has traversed no hell.

• According to a Chinese sage, a single hour of happiness is all that a centenarian could acknowledge after carefully reflecting upon the vicissitudes of his existence. . . .

Music is everything. God himself is nothing more than an acoustic hallucination. […] Except for music, everything is a lie, even solitude, even ecstasy. Music, in fact, is the one and the other, only better.

• Only those moments count, when the desire to remain by yourself is so powerful that you'd prefer to blow your brains out than exchange a word with someone.

• When people come to me saying they want to kill themselves, I tell them, “What’s your rush? You can kill yourself any time you like. So calm down. Suicide is a positive act.” And they do calm down.

Read day and night, devour books—these sleeping pills—not to know but to forget! Through books you can retrace your way back to the origins of spleen, discarding history and its illusions.

• Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out everyday: Massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without hating each other to death?

• For animals, life is all there is; for man, life is a question mark. An irreversible question mark, for man has never found, nor will ever find, any answers. Life not only has no meaning; it can never have one.

• To be “happy” you must constantly bear in mind the miseries you have escaped. This would be a way for memory to redeem itself, since ordinarily it preserves only disasters, eager — and with what success! — to sabotage happiness.

History: a context in which the capital letters decompose, and with them, the men who imagine and cherish them.

• Everything I have undertaken, everything I have expatiated upon all my life is inseparable from what I have lived. I invented nothing. I've been the one and only secretary of my own sensations.

Emil Cioran; Goodreads

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Опыт тоски — это обостренное сознание времени/ Cioran, from interview (1986)

Западногерманский писатель и журналист Михаэль Якоб взял это интервью (на французском языке) в 1986 г., по-немецки оно опубликовано в 1994-м. Здесь переведено по книге: Cioran. Entretiens. Paris, 1995.

— Что если начать с вашего румынского детства? Вы его хорошо помните?

— Я его прекрасно помню. Я родился в Решинари, карпатской деревне, в 12 километрах от Сибиу-Германштадта. Ту деревню я любил больше всего на свете. В десять лет я покинул ее, уехал в Сибиу, поступать в лицей, и в жизни не забуду день, даже час, когда отец увез меня оттуда. Мы ехали в двуколке, я плакал, всю дорогу плакал, потому что чувствовал: мой рай закончился навсегда...

— Вас, можно сказать, буквально оторвали от родной земли?

— От земли и от всего первозданного мира, который я так любил, и от тамошнего чувства свободы. Я оказался в Сибиу, довольно крупном австро-венгерском городе — пограничном, с множеством военных. В нем — и, надо сказать, вполне мирно — уживались три национальности: немцы, румыны и венгры. Как ни странно, потом это не забылось: мне и теперь тяжело в городах, где говорят лишь на одном языке, меня тут же берет тоска...

— Вы и позднее не раз отрывались от почвы?

— Да, много раз. Сначала я был вынужден расстаться с детством. А потом и со своей жизнью в Сибиу. Чем он оказался для меня так важен? Тем, что в Сибиу я пережил свою главную драму, она потом длилась много лет и оставила во мне след на всю жизнь. Все, что я позднее написал, придумал, развил, все мои метания уходят корнями в ту драму: примерно в двадцать лет я потерял сон. Помню, как я часами расхаживал по городу — Сибиу очень красивый город, немецкий, построенный в средние века. Так вот, я выходил из дому в полночь и просто бродил по улицам, где было лишь несколько проституток да я, и больше никого, тишина, захолустье. Я часами шатался по улицам, как тень, и все, что я потом написал, передумано тогдашними ночами. Моя первая книга, «На вершинах отчаяния» [1934 год, на румынском], относится как раз к тому времени. Я написал ее в двадцать два года, написал как завещание, потому что решил покончить с собой. Но остался жить. Никаким делом я тогда не занимался, и это было самое важное. Ведь поскольку ночами я не спал, а разгуливал по городу, то днем мало на что годился и работать не мог. К тому времени у меня уже был диплом, я закончил философский факультет в Бухаресте и прочее, но я не мог служить учителем: попробуйте после бессонной ночи паясничать перед школьниками, мороча им голову тем, что вас совершенно не интересует. Вот из тех ночей и сложился потом мой взгляд на мир...

— Страдающий бессонницей по-другому переживает время?

— Абсолютно. Он живет в другом времени и в другом мире, поскольку нашу жизнь можно переносить лишь при одном условии: благодаря перерывам. В конце концов, для чего люди спят? Для того, чтобы не просто отдохнуть, но и забыться. Тому, кто встает утром, проспав всю ночь, кажется, что жизнь словно бы начинается заново. А для того, кто не сомкнул глаз, ничего не начинается. В восемь утра он ровно тот же, что в восемь вечера, и это неминуемо переиначивает весь взгляд на вещи. Думаю, именно по этой причине я никогда не верил в прогресс, никогда не дурачил себя подобными бреднями...

— И тоска эта составная часть особого, другого переживания времени?

— Именно. Тоска всегда связана со временем, с ужасом времени, страхом времени, откровением времени, сознанием времени. Те, кто не чувствителен к времени, не чувствует и тоски; жизнь можно переносить, только если не сознаешь, как убегает каждый миг, иначе ты пропал. Опыт тоски — это обостренное сознание времени...

— А почему вы приняли решение писать по-французски?

— Я решил никогда не возвращаться в Румынию. Для меня там все кончилось, все было, в самом точном смысле слова, уже в прошлом. Шел 1936 год, я жил тогда на море, неподалеку от Дьеппа, пытался переводить Малларме. И вдруг сказал себе: «Нет, это не для меня», — и тут же решил перейти на французский. Как ни странно, до того времени я не слишком интересовался французским, зато очень налегал на английский, даже учился в Сорбонне, готовился стать преподавателем английского.
Писать по-французски — как я совершенно внезапно решил — оказалось куда трудней, чем можно было подумать. Это была настоящая мука. Свою первую французскую книгу я переписывал четыре раза, от вида букв меня уже тошнило. Закончив «Уроки распада», я сказал себе, что не вижу больше ни малейшего смысла так изводиться. «Горькие силлогизмы» написались по инерции. Я не мог взять в толк, зачем составляю фразы и т.д. Но, как бы там ни было, дело шло, к тому же Полан [Полан Жан (1884—1968) — французский писатель, главный редактор авторитетного журнала «Нувель ревю франсез» в 1925-1968 гг. (с перерывами)] все время просил меня дать ему что-нибудь для «НРФ». Чтобы потом казнить себя за это, я согласился, дальше нужно было держать слово, и так я попал в шестерни. Я полностью принял свое положение на обочине. Я оставался совершенно не известным, но, в конечном счете, это было не лишено и своих прелестей. Да, годами вести писательскую жизнь, жизнь писателя без читателей, видеться лишь с несколькими людьми и больше ни с кем, — это, конечно, не всегда приятно в плане практическом, зато это было временем настоящего писательства: как будто пишешь для себя одного...

— Вы говорили, что больше не пишете. По-вашему, так будет продолжаться и дальше?

— Не знаю. Но, может быть, я вообще больше не буду писать. Я с ужасом смотрю на все эти каждый день выходящие тома... на авторов, выпускающих по книге, а то и по две в год... это какой-то психоз. Сам для себя я не вижу больше смысла писать, надо все-таки уметь вовремя остановиться. Меня это уже не захватывает. Нужен хотя бы минимум воодушевления, нужно чего-то ждать. Так что я говорю себе: ты достаточно препирался с миром и с Богом. Хватит.

Перевод с французского Бориса Дубина


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

мир перевернул меня/ Cioran - Écartèlement (1979)

Эпиктет: «Счастье — не в достижении и не в наслаждении достигнутым, а в отсутствии желаний». Мудрость определяет себя через противоположность Желанию, поскольку стремится поднять нас над обычными разочарованиями, равно как и над разочарованиями непоправимыми, ведь и те, и другие неразлучны с желанием, ожиданием, надеждой. Прежде всего, она хочет уберечь нас от главных жизненных разочарований — в этом смысле, мудрость совершенствуется в искусстве не уступать «жребию», а то и переигрывать судьбу. Из всех древних дальше всех в подобном искусстве пошли стоики.

С приходом христианства мудрец перестает быть примером. Он уступает свое почетное место святому — мудрецу периода потрясений, почему и более доступному для понимания масс.

Только что прочитал в биографии Чехова, что больше всего рукописных помет он оставил в книге Марка Аврелия.
Деталь, которая разом озарила для меня всё.

Что-то от меня зависит, а что-то нет, но как это разграничить? Я не возьмусь.
[...] Невозможно знать, когда и в чем ты свободен, а когда и в чем закрепощен. Если всякий раз доискиваться до точной природы своих действий, дойдешь не до конца, а до головокружения. Из чего следует, что если бы проблема свободы воли имела решение, философии незачем бы стало существовать.

Фокусничанье с важным видом, вот что такое философия. Но, в конце концов, все на свете фокусничанье, кроме слов, относящихся к тому порядку утверждений, который обычно не решаются пускать в ход, поскольку питающая их достоверность неподначальна разуму и существовала задолго до того, как человек взялся за ум.

В молодости я мечтал перевернуть мир. Теперь я в возрасте, когда о переворотах больше не мечтают: мир перевернул меня. А что лежит между двумя этими крайними точками? Можно сказать, ничего — или всё: неописуемая убежденность, что ты не тот и никогда уже не будешь прежним.

Каждый уходящий уносит с собой целый мир: разом умирает всё, совершенно всё. Высшим судом смерть узаконена и реабилитирована. Так уйдем же без сожалений, поскольку после нас не остается ничего. Единственная и неповторимая реальность это наше сознание: упраздняется оно, упраздняется и все остальное, даже если мы знаем, что, говоря объективно, это неправда, и как на самом деле мы ничего не берем с собой, так ничто и не исчезает вместе с нами.

В парке — табличка: «В соответствии с состоянием (возрастом и болезнью) деревьев будет предприниматься их пересадка».
И здесь конфликт поколений! Простой факт существования, даже растительного, и тот отмечен знаком гибели. Нет, дышать можно, только если забываешь, что ты жив.

Кажется, в Китае существует (или, скорее, существовало, настолько это отдает прошлым) такое тонкое удовольствие для самых изощренных, как внимательное прислушивание к тиканью часов. Подобная — на первый взгляд, столь материальная — поглощенность Временем есть, на самом деле, упражнение высоко философское, предаваясь которому достигаешь чудесных результатов в настоящем, именно в настоящем.

Так называемые простые люди, не желающие думать о конце, в общем правы — особенно если посмотреть, на что похожи те, кто лишь этими мыслями и занят.

Мы забываем о теле, а вот тело о нас не забывает. Проклятая память внутренностей!

Неповторимость любого существа неотрывна от его собственной манеры заблуждаться.

Первейшая заповедь — невмешательство: пусть каждый живет и умирает, как считает нужным, словно ему выпало счастье не походить ни на кого, быть этаким священным идолом. Оставьте ближних такими, каковы они есть, и они ответят вам признательностью.

У любого больного больше мыслей, чем у так называемого мыслителя. Болезнь это разделение целого, стало быть — рефлексия. Она всегда отрезает нас от чего-то, а порой и ото всего. Даже последний идиот, пронзенный чувством острейшей боли, тем самым возвышается над собственным идиотизмом, он осознаёт свое чувство и, почувствовав, что это он страдает, становится выше своего чувства, может быть, выше себя самого. Точно так же и животные должны обладать тем или иным уровнем сознания в зависимости от болезни, которой мучаются.

«Злословие, — провозглашает Талмуд, — грех столь же тяжкий, как идолопоклонство, кровосмешение и убийство». Допустим. Но если можно прожить жизнь не убивая, не ложась в постель со своей матерью и не кадя золотому тельцу, то как вы ухитритесь протянуть день, не ненавидя своего ближнего и себя в его лице?

Все-таки это чудовищное, хотя и переносимое унижение — нести в себе кровь народа, который никого и никогда не заставил о себе говорить.

Даже не в стихотворении, а в афоризме — вот где слово превыше всего.

В конце концов, старость это наказание за прожитую жизнь.

Если бы я ослеп, больше всего меня, думаю, удручало бы то, что я не могу теперь до полного одурения смотреть на плывущие облака.

Все утро какое-то странное самочувствие: желание высказаться, строить планы, диктовать заповеди, работать. Бред, восторг, упоение, неукротимый подъем духа. К счастью, скоро наваливается усталость и возвращает мне благоразумие, призывает к порядку, к обычному ежеминутному ничтожеству.

В повседневной тоске нет никаких желаний, даже охоты плакать. Другое дело — тоска, дошедшая до края: она побуждает что-то сделать, а плач — тоже действие.

По шумерской мифологии, потопом боги наказали человека за то, что от него слишком много шума. Хотел бы я видеть, что они с ним сделали бы за нынешний гвалт!

Время, соучастник губителей, плевать хотело на мораль. Кого теперь возмущает Навуходоносор?

Китайская пословица: «Стоит одной собаке залаять на шорох, и десять тысяч собак превратят его в гром». Для эпиграфа к любому рассуждению об идеологиях.

Любая утопия, становясь реальностью, напоминает похабный сон.

Эмиль Мишель Чоран – Разлад (Écartèlement, Paris, 1979)//

Фрагменты книги. Вступительная заметка и перевод с французского Бориса Дубина

Monday, September 17, 2018

Глоток кофе и сигаретная затяжка/ Cioran, misc

Цитаты из дневников, интервью и книг Чорана:

Мне нечего сказать людям, а всё, что говорят они, меня не интересует. И при этом я — человек, несомненно, общительный, поскольку оживаю только среди других.

• Чем больше читаешь — а читаю я слишком много! — тем чаще говоришь себе «нет, не то», а «то самое» опять улетучивается из книг, которые одну за другой поглощает твоя лень.
Ведь «то самое» нужно найти в себе, а не вовне. А в себе находишь одну неуверенность да рассуждения по поводу этой неуверенности.

• Из писателей я могу читать только самых больных, тех, у кого каждая страница, каждая строка освещена болезнью. Я ценю здоровье как усилие воли, а не как наследство или дар.

• Россия! Я всем существом тянусь к этой стране, которая превратила в ничто мою родину.

• Д., которому я рассказал, что вот уже тридцать лет живу в номерах и умудряюсь нигде не пускать корни, с гордостью еврея назвал меня «вечным гоем».

• Два величайших мудреца древности, идущей к концу: Эпиктет и Марк Аврелий, раб и император. Не устаю возвращаться мыслью к этой паре. Самое слабое и недолговечное у Марка Аврелия — от стоицизма, самое глубокое и прочное — от его тоски, иными словами — от забвения всяческих уроков. (То же самое — у Паскаля).

Глоток кофе и сигаретная затяжка — вот мои настоящие родители. Теперь я не курю, не пью кофе и чувствую себя обездоленным сиротой. Меня лишили достояния: яда, того яда, который давал мне силу работать.

• Я думал, что стану пьяницей. Я был почти в этом уверен. И мне нравилось состояние бессознательности, эта безумная гордость пьяницы. И я много любовался обычными алкоголиками в Решинари, которые каждый день были пьяны, пьяны, пьяны. Среди них был скрипач, который проходил мимо меня и играл, я бесконечно им любовался. Все люди работали в поле, а он был единственным на улице, кто приходил со скрипкой и пел. Я тогда бесконечно восхищался им, это был единственный интересный человек во всей деревне. Все что-то делают, и только он один веселится. Но через два года этот пьяница умер. Это был единственный человек, который что-то понял, осознал.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

...there does seem to me something sad in life/ Katherine Mansfield (1923)

. . .You see that big nail to the right of the front door? I can scarcely look at it even now and yet I could not bear to take it out. I should like to think it was there always even after my time. I sometimes hear the next people saying, "There must have been a cage hanging from there." And it comforts me; I feel he is not quite forgotten.

. . .You cannot imagine how wonderfully he sang. It was not like the singing of other canaries. And that isn't just my fancy. Often, from the window, I used to see people stop at the gate to listen, or they would lean over the fence by the mock-orange for quite a long time —carried away. I suppose it sounds absurd to you—it wouldn't if you had heard him—but it really seemed to me that he sang whole songs with a beginning and an end to them.

For instance, when I'd finished the house in the afternoon, and changed my blouse and brought my sewing on to the verandah here, he used to hop, hop, hop from one perch to another, tap against the bars as if to attract my attention, sip a little water just as a professional singer might, and then break into a song so exquisite that I had to put my needle down to listen to him. I can't describe it; I wish I could. But it was always the same, every afternoon, and I felt that I understood every note of it.

...I loved him. How I loved him! Perhaps it does not matter so very much what it is one loves in this world. But love something one must. Of course there was always my little house and the garden, but for some reason they were never enough. Flowers respond wonderfully, but they don't sympathise. Then I loved the evening star. Does that sound foolish? I used to go into the backyard, after sunset, and wait for it until it shone above the dark gum tree. I used to whisper "There you are, my darling." And just in that first moment it seemed to be shining for me alone. It seemed to understand this . . . something which is like longing, and yet it is not longing. Or regret— it is more like regret. And yet regret for what? I have much to be thankful for.

. . . But after he came into my life I forgot the evening star; I did not need it any more. But it was strange. When the Chinaman who came to the door with birds to sell held him up in his tiny cage, and instead of fluttering, fluttering, like the poor little goldfinches, he gave a faint, small chirp, I found myself saying, just as I had said to the star over the gum tree, "There you are, my darling." From that moment he was mine.

...It surprises me even now to remember how he and I shared each other's lives. The moment I came down in the morning and took the cloth off his cage he greeted me with a drowsy little note. I knew it meant "Missus! Missus!" Then I hung him on the nail outside while I got my three young men their breakfasts, and I never brought him in until we had the house to ourselves again. Then, when the washing-up was done, it was quite a little entertainment. I spread a newspaper over a corner of the table and when I put the cage on it he used to beat with his wings despairingly, as if he didn't know what was coming. "You're a regular little actor," I used to scold him. I scraped the tray, dusted it with fresh sand, filled his seed and water tins, tucked a piece of chickweed and half a chili between the bars. And I am perfectly certain he understood and appreciated every item of this little performance. You see by nature he was exquisitely neat. There was never a speck on his perch. And you'd only to see him enjoy his bath to realise he had a real small passion for cleanliness. His bath was put in last. And the moment it was in he positively leapt into it. First he fluttered one wing, then the other, then he ducked his head and dabbled his breast feathers. Drops of water were scattered all over the kitchen, but still he would not get out. I used to say to him, "Now that's quite enough. You're only showing off." And at last out he hopped and, standing on one leg, he began to peck himself dry. Finally he gave a shake, a flick, a twitter and he lifted his throat— Oh, I can hardly bear to recall it. I was always cleaning the knives at the time. And it almost seemed to me the knives sang too, as I rubbed them bright on the board.

. . .Company, you see— that was what he was. Perfect company. If you have lived alone you will realise how precious that is. Of course there were my three young men who came in to supper every evening, and sometimes they stayed in the dining-room afterwards reading the paper. But I could not expect them to be interested in the little things that made my day. Why should they be? I was nothing to them. In fact, I overheard them one evening talking about me on the stairs as "the Scarecrow." No matter. It doesn't matter. Not in the least. I quite understand. They are young. Why should I mind? But I remember feeling so especially thankful that I was not quite alone that evening. I told him, after they had gone out. I said "Do you know what they call Missus?" And he put his head on one side and looked at me with his little bright eye until I could not help laughing. It seemed to amuse him.

. . .Have you kept birds? If you haven't all this must sound, perhaps, exaggerated. People have the idea that birds are heartless, cold little creatures, not like dogs or cats. My washerwoman used to say on Mondays when she wondered why I didn't keep "a nice fox terrier," "There's no comfort, Miss, in a canary." Untrue. Dreadfully untrue. I remember one night. I had had a very awful dream— dreams can be dreadfully cruel— even after I had woken up I could not get over it. So I put on my dressing-gown and went down to the kitchen for a glass of water. It was a winter night and raining hard. I suppose I was still half asleep, but through the kitchen window, that hadn't a blind, it seemed to me the dark was staring in, spying. And suddenly I felt it was unbearable that I had no one to whom I could say "I've had such a dreadful dream," or—or "Hide me from the dark." I even covered my face for a minute. And then there came a little "Sweet! Sweet!" His cage was on the table, and the cloth had slipped so that a chink of light shone through. "Sweet! Sweet!" said the darling little fellow again, softly, as much as to say, "I'm here, Missus! I'm here!" That was so beautifully comforting that I nearly cried.

. . . And now he's gone. I shall never have another bird, another pet of any kind. How could I? When I found him, lying on his back, with his eye dim and his claws wrung, when I realised that never again should I hear my darling sing, something seemed to die in me. My heart felt hollow, as if it was his cage. I shall get over it. Of course. I must. One can get over anything in time. And people always say I have a cheerful disposition. They are quite right. I thank my God I have.

. . . All the same, without being morbid, and giving way to—to memories and so on, I must confess that there does seem to me something sad in life. It is hard to say what it is. I don't mean the sorrow that we all know, like illness and poverty and death. No, it is something different. It is there, deep down, deep down, part of one, like one's breathing. However hard I work and tire myself I have only to stop to know it is there, waiting. I often wonder if everybody feels the same. One can never know. But isn't it extraordinary that under his sweet, joyful little singing it was just this— sadness ? —Ah, what is it ? —that I heard.

Katherine Mansfield - The Canary
From “The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories” (1923)
Illustration - "First Light" by Harold Harvey (1874–1941)

Monday, September 03, 2018

nostalgia, music, Buddhism, weakness for cemeteries... Cioran interview (1986)

Wakefulness and Obsession: An Interview with E.M. Cioran by Michel Jakob (1986)

Q: I should like to try and to begin with something that lies far in the past, with Romania, with your growing-up between nations, between Romania, Hungary, and Germany... . Is anything of your childhood still present to you?

Cioran: It is quite extraordinarily present to me. I was born in a village in the Carpathians, twelve kilometers distant from Sibiu-Hermannstadt, and I loved this village intensely. When I had to leave it at the age of ten to go to the gymnasium in Sibiu, my world collapsed. I will never forget the day, or, rather, the hour in which my father brought me to Sibiu: we had rented a horse-drawn wagon for the purpose and I wept during the entire journey, wept incessantly, for I had a sort of premonition that Paradise had been lost. This village in the mountains, you see, had for me as a boy an enormous advantage: after breakfast I could simply disappear until midday and an hour after lunch I disappeared again. I wandered through the mountains, went simply everywhere, and this state of affairs lasted until, as I said, my tenth year.
There was another “advantage”: when my parents, as Romanians, were deported by Hungary during the war, we children, my sister, my brother, and I, stayed with my grandmother and with her we were really completely free. It was an ideal epoch for me. During this time I loved the peasants, the shepherds, more than anything. I had a real passion for them and when I had to leave that world, I had the clear premonition that something irretrievable had been destroyed. I wept and wept; I will never be able to forget it as long as I live.
Sibiu was just twelve, or at the most fourteen, kilometers from my native village of Rasinari, but I knew quite certainly that a catastrophe had occurred.

Q: When one hears you speak like this, one has the impression that you were completely ripped out of your native soil.

Cioran: Not only from the soil, but also from that primitive world, which I loved tremendously, and from the feeling of freedom that was, for me, tied up with it.
So I went to Sibiu, which at that time was a very important border-city in imperial Hungary, with an infinite number of soldiers. It was above all a city of three nationalities: Germans, Romanians, and Hungarians, who, I would say, lived together without drama. This situation, by the way, marked me forever, so that I can live in no city in which only one language is spoken; it would be impossible and I would be bored to death right away. There in Sibiu I learned to cherish the differences among the three cultures that existed side by side, although to be precise, one ought to say that the principal culture was the German, and the Romanian and Hungarian limped behind as a kind of slave-culture.
After the First World War these cultures wanted to free themselves, which they could accomplish only slowly, for they were still more or less in the throes of being formed. In Sibiu, then, I slowly found my way around and discovered there, among other things, a German library, which later, particularly during my student years, was to be of great significance. So I gradually became familiar with Sibiu and after Paris—except for my native village—it is the city that I love best in the world, or, more precisely, that I loved the best. And if the term “nostalgia” has any meaning at all, it means having to leave a city like Sibiu or one’s native village. Basically, the primitive world is a genuine world, a world in which everything is possible and nothing is actualized.

...after the loss of my childhood I had to change my way of life in Sibiu from the ground up. There began the drama that was to be with me for many years and marked my entire life, everything that I have written, thought, and planned, simply everything. All my broodings have their origin in that drama.
When I was about twenty years old, I lost my sleep and I am of the opinion that this is the greatest tragedy that can befall someone. It is much worse than sitting in prison, a thousand times worse. On account of this painful discovery, however, the wakeful nights of Sibiu were among the most adventurous moments of my entire life. I roamed the streets of the city for hours on end—the city is, by the way, marvelously beautiful, a medieval German city—I went out of the house at about midnight or later and roamed through the alleys. And there were only a few lunatics and me, all alone in the entire city, in which absolute silence reigned. For hours I strayed like a kind of phantom through the streets and everything that I thought in consequence and later composed was “born” during those nights.
At that time I also wrote my first book with the title Per culmea disperarii, that is, "On the Heights of Despair". This book was something of a twenty-two-year-old’s testament and I thought that, after this book, I would commit suicide. That it never came to that point has a specific reason: the fact that I had no profession kept me from it. Because I could not sleep at night and roamed about through the city, I was naturally useless during the day and could therefore practice no profession (which for me has always been very important). I had in fact ended my studies in philosophy, had an MA and so forth, but I could not teach. If one stays awake all night, one cannot hold one’s ground before students. The nights of Sibiu thus became the source of my view of the world.

[...] another important experience that I had as a twenty-year-old. I must say beforehand that my mother was not religious, which perhaps had to do with my father’s profession as a minister. She was, in any case, a much more independent spirit than my father. Anyway, I remember very precisely, and that I do shows how extraordinarily important this experience was for me and still is, that we, my mother and I, were alone in the house one afternoon and suddenly I threw myself on a sofa and said: “I cannot live any longer. I simply can’t bear it,” whereupon my mother replied, “Had I known that at the time, I would have aborted you.” That made a tremendous impression on me; not, however, a negative impression in any way. Instead of being shocked, I merely smiled. The scene was a sort of revelation for me. The experience of having been an accident and not a necessity meant a certain liberation for me and this feeling has had a continuous effect to this day.
My mother read, by the way, the things I wrote in Romanian and she more or less accepted them, while my father was obviously very unhappy about them. He was a believer, not fanatical in his belief, to be sure, but it was a faith that his profession as a minister simply brought with it. Everything that I wrote bothered him and he didn’t know how to react. But my mother understood me. Oddly enough, I almost despised my mother until the day she said to me that for her there was nothing in the world but Johann Sebastian Bach. From that moment on I knew that we were alike and I have in fact inherited some of her failings and with them, perhaps, other qualities as well.

[...] You see, life is basically quite simple: people get up in the morning, work, are tired after work and go to sleep, wake up again, and begin a new day. The extraordinary thing about sleeplessness is that it affords no discontinuity. Sleep breaks up the state of waking life, but for the sleepless one, who remains lucid in the middle of the night, there is no difference between day and night. He lives in a kind of ceaseless, endless time. It is another time and another world.
Life in essence can only be sustained because of the discontinuity. Why else does one sleep? Not to rest, but above all to forget. A person who wakes up after a night of unbroken sleep has the illusion of beginning something new. When one instead remains awake the whole night long, nothing new begins. At 8 in the morning one is in the same condition as at 8 at night and one’s perspective on things is naturally completely different.
I think that the fact that I have never believed in progress, that I have never allowed myself to be seduced by “progress,” has to do with that. One has simply a completely different attitude toward time: not time that passes, but time that will not go away. That alters a life, naturally. If one could prevent mankind from sleeping, I am convinced that a massacre without end would ensue; it would mean the end of history.

In any event, this phenomenon opened my eyes once and for all and my vision of things is the result of this years-long wakefulness. I might almost call it, although it may sound pretentious, the wakefulness of the spirit. I should perhaps add that I had studied philosophy and loved philosophy more than anything. I even loved philosophical language; I was completely infatuated with philosophical terminology. And this naive superstitious belief in philosophy was simply washed away by sleeplessness, for I saw that there philosophy could not help me at all; it had no power to make my life more bearable.
Shestov played a great part in my life, but I must by rights add that he was popular in Romania, a fact that is unknown in the West.

I love everything that Dostoievski produced. To tell the truth, at that time I loved only the great writers who were ill. A writer who is not in some way ill is for me almost automatically a writer of the second rank.

With this book [Of Tears and the Saints, 1937] about the saints a very unusual state of affairs developed in my life. I was at that time in Kronstadt-Brasov and it was the only year in my whole life that I went after a job. I taught philosophy in a gymnasium and thus all of a sudden had a profession, a position, which for me had appeared impossible. I constantly had but one idea in my head: to abandon the teaching profession, to go to France in order to escape from this impossible situation. For even though I had passed all the examinations to become a gymnasium teacher, my time in Brasov was a catastrophe. There were unbelievable altercations with students, colleagues, and the director of the school; in short, with all the world. And in this same year, 1937, in which I also underwent a religious crisis, I wrote Of Tears and the Saints. It was a very important experience for me, for with this book I comprehended that there would be no future for me in religion; it became clear that religion was neither the spiritual nor the philosophical way for me. [...] For me it had to do with something fundamental, for I lost at that time a very decisive illusion. Even today I cannot quite insist that I was completely unreligious, but I am sure of one thing at least: the impossibility of being able to believe.

[...] Bach is a god to me. Someone who does not understand Bach is lost; it is actually unimaginable, though it does happen. I believe that music is the only branch of art that has the capacity to construct a deep complicity between two human beings. Not poetry, only music. Someone who is insensitive to music suffers from an enormous handicap. That is simply the case and it is completely normal for music to construct a bond between people. It is unthinkable that they hear anything by Schumann or Bach, anything that they love, without being stirred. But I can understand how someone might dislike this or that poet.

I listen to music all the time, especially now that I have stopped writing. I don’t feel that it is worth the effort to continue, and music more than makes up for this dryness. To live without music would be a torment for me, an absurdity. One can very well not write. One ought not to write, because one desires, without admitting it, to bring about through words what only music can accomplish. An emotion whose origin is musical gets lost in verbal transposition, whereas in the music it reveals its sense directly. Why should one write anymore, in that case, and why write at all, why always want to add to the immense number of books, why want to become an author at any price? These days, too much has already been written. We live in a period of absurd and completely unnecessary overproduction. The whole world writes these days, especially in Paris. I myself originally thought that I would write only a little, but one allows oneself, unfortunately, to be seduced. Nevertheless, I now understand that I can no longer play out this comedy. Earlier on it had nothing to do with comedy; it was a kind of necessity for me. It offered me the possibility of acquitting myself, for the only way to simplify everything is to express oneself.
I have noticed, by the way, that those who do not write have more resources, because they store up everything within themselves. To have written something down means to have dragged it out of oneself, to have uttered definitively everything that came from inside. A writer is someone who gives away that which is most original to him, finally losing, in this manner, his whole substance. That is why writers are so uninteresting as a rule and I mean that quite seriously: writers are people who have exhausted themselves.

[...] I was always ready to refuse any kind of impersonal work, except for physical activity. I could have easily accepted being a street sweeper, but never some kind of second-rate writing job, journalism and the like.
Thus I had to do everything I could, as one might put it, not to earn my living. Every form of humiliation is preferable to loss of freedom and that has always been, by the way, something like the program of my way of life. I had accommodated my way of life in Paris to this demand very well, although it didn’t always work out just as I planned it. For example, I enrolled as a student at the Sorbonne for a year and could eat at the Mensa, until I was 40 years old. When I turned 40, someone took me aside to tell me that there was an age limit of 27. With one blow, all my plans were brought to nothing. I lived at that time in a hotel not far from my present address, in a mansard room, which I liked very much, and when I came home after this news, I said to myself, “This is very serious,” because I didn’t have the means to eat in a restaurant and I really didn’t know which end was up. I won’t say that it finally represented a true turning point in my life, but it was an incident that complicated things, since I had sworn to myself to do anything not to have to work.
I still had my hotel room, an exquisite lodging on rue Monsieur le Prince, which I loved to idolatry and really cost practically nothing. Nevertheless, as if that were not enough, I saw one day that all the renters were beginning to be thrown out, except for me, because I knew the owner and he simply didn’t dare to put me out on the street. I knew, though, that it would happen one day, and I decided to find something new without fail, or it would have meant the end. This happened in 1960 and I had just published a book, with the title History and Utopia. I knew a lady who was in real estate and who had once promised to help me. I therefore sent this woman, whom I knew only fleetingly, my book and only three days later I had the apartment I am still living in, for a ridiculous monthly rent. It’s the old Paris rent system with frozen prices, and the owners simply can’t do anything about it, which is actually exceptionally unjust. But for me, who fears getting old, this was a very important thing and in this way I was able to solve a great problem without having to go near a regular job.

One doesn’t live altogether in Paradise—pardon me—as a parasite! Naturally I apprehended that I had to write, that it somehow answered a deeper requirement.

[...] to be unknown can sometimes also have something very bitter about it, it is fundamentally a blessing. At one time I liked to drink whiskey and because I naturally could not allow myself to buy a bottle, I went to literary salons, where I was introduced for years as the friend of Ionesco and Beckett. But it was a very pleasant situation and why then should one want to be famous?

In the summer of 1936 I was in Dieppe, at the seashore, and I tried at that time to translate Маllarmё into Romanian. All of a sudden it became clear to me that my undertaking was senseless, because I had no talent for translation. And almost in the same moment I undertook from then on to write only in French. Oddly, until that time I had neglected French in Paris. I had studied a lot of English and had also taken a number of courses in English literature. But my sudden decision to write in French turned out in the first instance to be much more difficult than I had originally thought. The work on my first book, Precis de decomposition, was a regular torture, not the first copy, of course, but the attempt to write the book. In the end I reworked it four times and thereby almost lost all pleasure in writing.

Q: I am also thinking that you often speak of Buddhism in your most recent works, of far Eastern ways of thought and living, of Nirvana. Do you have a nostalgia for a philosophy of peace, for a philosophy, I might almost say, of healthful sleep?

Cioran: I have since put this phase of which you speak behind me, though it has indeed played a great role. My interest in these things reaches at least ten years back and I must admit that I was always somewhat inclined toward Buddhism, if one can be “somewhat” Buddhist. If I really had to decide upon one form of belief—let us say now and forever, under threat of death, etc.—then I would certainly opt for Buddhism. Buddhism is the religion, though, that best agrees with me; several aspects excepted, of course, it is in my opinion an acceptable and almost “comfortable” religion.

There are, naturally, things that one accepts and others that one cannot agree with; for example, to accept the concept of transmigration certain assumptions are necessary. Thus the basis of Buddhism, what it asserts about suffering or death, is completely acceptable. The negative side of it compelled the Buddha to renounce the world. All that is acceptable, but we cannot accept many rules of Buddhist doctrine, which simply don’t correspond to our style and our own tradition, for example metempsychosis, the conception of the diverse stages of preexistence, or existence, and so forth. Thus, though Buddhist doctrine, the dogma, remains unacceptable, the spirit of Buddhism, that is, the system of thought which the foundations of Buddhism set forth, can very well win us over. And finally, Buddhism is the religion that requires the least investment of faith, if I may put it so, quite different from Christianity and Judaism, which both demand specific things. In those religions, if one cannot bear to follow certain precepts, one is lost from the outset, and it makes no sense to go on. Not so in Buddhism which permits compromise. The conditions that compelled Buddha to withdraw from the world can be carried out by almost anyone and one can accept them without further ado, provided one also has the courage to take on the associated consequences. Completely different in Christian belief, wherein one must obey this and that command. Buddhism requires from a person not one bit of confession, and no gratitude either; one must simply bring with one a certain vision, a certain way of looking at things.

[...] I have not traveled much. I have undertaken very few trips and visited only a few countries. And now I hardly travel at all. My last trip took me to Greece, not exactly because I wanted to travel there, but more because I was compelled to go, since someone else simply paid for everything for me... Nevertheless I have gotten around a little bit, because a long time ago I had a great passion for bicycle riding—I even went to England just to ride around there. Indeed, I was at that time a lot younger. It was more than twenty years ago, and the bicycle still seems to me the ideal means of transportation: one is “out of doors,” one is in the country, and at the same time one is underway, always in motion. I loved it chiefly because I got to talk to strangers and on my bicycle tours through France I spoke with an infinite number of people, obviously not with intellectuals. I love talking to simple people, with common folk, if you like, and I still do it and still chat now as before with anyone, regardless of intellectual level. On the contrary, I like uneducated people much better and that is obviously my Romanian heritage.

[...] I have a weakness for cemeteries, though they aren’t so beautiful anymore, because they are simply overpopulated! When I meet friends or people I know who are going through a difficult period, I usually have this advice for them: “Go for twenty minutes in a cemetery and you'll see that, though your worry won’t disappear, you’ll almost forget about it and you’ll feel better.”
Just a few days ago I told a young woman who was suffering fearfully from an unhappy love, “Since you don’t live far from Montparnasse, take a walk through the cemetery, just half an hour, and you will see that your misery will appear bearable.” In such a situation, it is much better to do that than to go to a doctor; there is no medicine that can help. To visit a cemetery in such a situation is a lesson, a lesson in wisdom! I have always practiced such methods, or recommended them, although it may not seem altogether serious, but it has been effective in every case. What can one say that is meaningful to someone in despair? Absolutely nothing, or almost nothing. My advice shows immediate results. I am, by the way, quite compassionate, which might sound surprising to many people, but I am very sensitive where the pain of my fellow man is concerned, and have always been that way. I have helped many people, many more than you might think.

[...] I overcame insomnia after only seven “wide-awake” years, in 1937, when I came to France. And it came about when I rode across France on my bicycle, as I said already. I was underway for a month and I passed the nights mostly in youth hostels, and the physical exertion of putting at least 100 km a day behind me cured me. When one rides 100 km a day, one must sleep; one cannot do otherwise, and in this way I overcame the crisis. That is, not through reflection, complaining, or the like, but solely by means of physical exertion, which suited me, I must admit. I was also always “out of doors” and there, for the first time, I really comprehended France, because I met many simple people, workers, young people, and so forth, and it was for me in that regard a very, very fruitful experience.

[...] it’s very likely that I won’t write any more. All these books that come out constantly disgust me; the fact that each author publishes at least one book a year is unhealthy, false. I prefer not to write anymore, would like to be able to give it up, and now it pleases me less and less to write than it did earlier.

Extracts; full text

Friday, August 31, 2018

Some people are at home in hospitals, but I’m not one of them/ Larkin, letters to Monica (1961)

11 February 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest bun,
Here is “Naturally[‘Naturally the Foundation will Bear Your Expenses’: completed February 1961, published “Twentieth Century” (July 1961). L. evidently did not ‘try it’ on Alan Ross at the London Magazine]. You know, I don’t think Cox really got it. He said something that suggested he thought it was a bit hard on the Queen. What do you think of it? Seriously? Shd I try it on Alan Ross? Or is it just not good enough? It ‘came to me’, I think, when washing up after listening to the Cenotaph Service last November & thinking how much sooner I’d be there than going to India - in fact the two situations presented themselves so strongly in opposition that I was greatly stricken, and dyd Seek to Compose vpon Itt. [...]

2 March 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] Sunday. Very fine morning: I am wearing my trendy trousers & the purple jumper. Bunny news is that there is beetles & woodworm in the church roof. I bet! Beetles with long ears, etc.

How are you feeling? It’s funny you should sleep so long, but it isn’t likely to do you any harm, is it. I should find it hard to walk as far as you do, but I suppose it seems natural to you by now. It is a long way, though.

Now I have had lunch & shall go out on my bike for a bit, though I have endless things I could do. You’ll be amused to hear that my sister, ill in bed so that my mother had to be fetched to get food for Walter & Rosemary [L.’s brother-in-law & niece], nevertheless managed to rise from the sickbed to attend a dress rehearsal involving the last-named. God, that my skirling laughter were a flame-thrower to extinguish such a nest of stupidity.

11 March 1961
Ward 6 [Kingston General Hospital, Hull*]
P.S. - I’m afraid this becomes rather a ‘frightened’ letter, & isn’t much fun to read for that reason. There’s no news.
I have got a ballpoint pen now, as likely to last longer & be less trouble than a pen, an ink pen I mean. It is Saturday & I’ve just had some lunch: it’s 10 to one. There is nothing much to report. I haven’t been x rayed yet, or brain-waved, as I believe they intend to do.
[*On 5 March 1961 L collapsed during a Library Committee meeting and was taken by ambulance to Kingston General Hospital, Hull, for ‘neurological investigation’. When he was discharged, he was looked after at Needier Hall by Peter Coveney. In April he spent two weeks in Fielden House, London, being examined by Russell Brain. The diagnosis was ‘epilepsy of late onset’ with ‘no positive evidence of an organic cure’.]
I feel about the same - that is, there is something wrong with my vision, wch makes me have to focus specially sometimes, & I feel rather distant from my feet: this is all summed up by being aware of my right eye. […]

Today the doctor came round and said there were many more tests still to be done, but that nothing had been revealed up to now. It isn’t heart, anyway. Of course I can’t help worrying a good deal about it. I dread hospitals, & the very fact of being in one is enough to frighten me. The very phrase ‘results of the x ray’ makes my blood run cold. Some people are at home in hospitals, but I’m not one of them. What the hell is wrong? […]

To me there seem two diseases, really: the ‘virus’ that brought temperature & lack of appetite & coated tongue & sore bowels & eye-ache, & the longer-term focussing trouble centring on the right eye, & wch isn’t accompanied by any other trouble except slight ache - only very slight - in the right eye. How can one fit the two diseases together? And why should I have fainted? […]

I must thank you, dearest dearest love, for coming to see me so quickly, and for sending me cards & letters. Our meetings were pitifully short, even on Wednesday, & I don’t know what I said - I was quite muzzy on the early days of the week. One thing that makes me ashamed is my refusal to let you use my flat. This has been a worry all through, & springs from the fact that I had left a few private papers & diaries lying around. Such things, which I suppose I keep partly for the record in the event of wanting to write an autobiography, & partly to relieve my feelings, will have to be burned unread in the event of my death, & I couldn’t face anyone I thought had seen them, let alone being willing to expose you or anyone else to the embarrassment & no doubt even pain of reading what I had written. This is just the kind of situation I feared might arise. Let me say how ashamed I am of it & of having to explain something of my reasons to you. What this will lead me to do about such things in the future I don’t know - assuming there is such a future. Perhaps destroy them right away.

[…] Later on. […] A slight focussing disability - wch is really how this began - is a wonderful symptom for something terrible. Oh dear, I’m really a horrible coward. Can you imagine all the fearful things that are passing through my imagination? In a time like this one has to keep all the fright and anxiety to oneself - there is no point in expressing it, yet one, I - think things, & construe things, & imagine things, & all to the very blackest end. I shall be TERRIFIED of seeing the doctors after the x-ray!! […] Shall I end up in a London brain clinic? I have a nervous dread of x rays - in fact I’m so unhappy altogether, I can’t bring myself to do anything but lie either whining to you or shuddering to myself. I am not finding it easy to read, as I suppose I should if I were getting better. I’m not getting better, at least as far as my sight goes. I know that. And it’s a long time now - six days. I shd be getting over anything trivial, shouldn’t I? Oh dear, does this read like the contemptibleness of a very fainthearted kind of person? You'll read it on Monday, the day I expect when I am x rayed. My sentence. My dear, I'm sorely afraid at the thought of all I have to go through. I can only tell you so over and over again with variations.

Later. I’ve tried to read, but I can’t seem to take it in. The bloody TV is on - it’s 5.20 - & this doesn’t help. But of course the real trouble is I’m rigid with funk. […]

I hardly know if I ought to send letters like this. You see, darling, I’m afraid I’m seriously ill, & really this is all that’s in my mind, and nobody can give me any comfort. It would be comforting to have you here to talk to, if you could stay all the time, but it wdn’t be any ultimate comfort, wd it.

[…] Sunday morning […] I’ll write one or two other letters now — last Sunday seems so far away! & close this later in the day. Oh darling, please have patience with me - I’m so low in spirits.

[…] 10.30 a.m. The time drags by. […] You know what horrors are associated with livers for me, through my father. You know the kind of thing that’s passing through my mind - well, I wish it were passing through: it’s settled down to stay, I’m afraid. I lie remembering all the details of the past few weeks that might be relevant… […]

My dear, this is a rotten sort of letter to send you. Do you mind? You are all I have to talk to, to ease my mind. If your ideal man is strong & silent then I am a long way short of your ideal: I am weak & babbling. I shall give this to the visitors to post, & probably start another one pretty quickly. […]
You know my sister’s telephone number, 4160, in case you shd want to telephone her. I don’t know why you should at present, but it’s as well for you to be prepared.

A new inhabitant has just been wheeled in - he ‘looks healthy enough’, wch is what one immediately asks oneself. Mr Cooper. [The final words of Anthony Thwaite’s poem ‘Mr Cooper’ are: ‘And Mr Cooper dead’.]

11 June 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
Dearest one,
[…] How are you? I can remember of course that you were here, & what we did, but you slip so easily into my life, making no disturbance, it’s almost like trying to pick out a rabbit among bracken. Not that rabbits have lovely legs like yours. Your legs are the only legs I ever see the point of, except for walking about on, of course. [...]

9 August 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
If I were to make a will here & now I suppose I should have to think of a literary executor - say, Bob - leave him something, leave something to Rosemary [L.’s niece, born 1947], and divide the rest somehow between you and mother. I suppose there are a few institutions or people I might remember in a small way. But it isn’t a topic I relish thinking about. No doubt I ought to follow the advice ‘If there’s something you have to do, do it from choice while you are strong.’ But I shd quite genuinely be rather at a loss to know what to do. […] I’m sorry I’m not naturally adept at wills. They are one of a long list of subjects that never seem to have been discussed much in my life. Don’t please think of me as being deliberately stupid or obstinate. […]
8 October 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
I’m sitting down after a quite busy though fairly enjoyable day - didn’t get up till 10.40 ogh ogh, then, it being a fine sunny morning, I got on my bike & went out eastwards: had a drink at Pauli, a village on the Humber, & round through Hedon & home. About 30 miles in all. On the wall of the Pauli pub there was a notice saying “old golfers never die, they simply lose their balls.” Bucolic humour. A dull ride on the whole, but I felt in better physical shape - isn’t it odd that on Friday I was so feeble, just going to town tired me, yet today I could cycle a long way without feeling exhausted. And do the bed & laundry & wash socks & make a proper supper of two very nice lamb chops, rice and onions. This sounds like boasting, but when I feel low I tell you, so when I feel well I might as well tell you that too. [...]
2 November 1961
32 Pearson Park, Hull
[…] This reminds me that Bob’s new book (!), ‘The Pasternak Affair’ [Robert Conquest, “The Pasternak Affair”], arrived this morning. It’s dedicated to wch will no doubt mean a new file in the Kremlin. […] The book looks typical Conquest exposé of life in the U.S.S.R., full of appendices giving verbatim translations from Russian sources. […]

Philip Larkin - Letters to Monica

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