I am terrified, it is true, everything terrifies (To make (something) terrible. Obs. rare.) me, there is always this deathly feeling, creeping up from my chest to the back of my throat, where it then remains, constantly threatening to choke, without actually doing so, so that one inevitably wishes above all else to strangle (said of a wild beast, a devil. Obs.) oneself, and be done once and for all with this choking feeling, which is constant, which does not choke, and only nauseates, so that everything one does is done through this constant nausea, so that, eventually, one desires above all to do nothing, well, nothing but to die, Z. thinks, for in death, perhaps, there will be no more nausea, no more pain, no one, nothing to terrify, nothing at all, not even relief (That which is left by a person. Obs.), since relief is nothing if not the promise of more terror yet to come, not now, but in the future, which is intolerable, well, everything is intolerable, excepting nothing, as they say, nothing at all.
like you want to
I never want to see you again, Z. thinks, but of course Z. doesn’t think this, because he could never see it through in practice, as they say, being either too cowardly or too brave to make such a definitive and violent break, even if from something (or someone) so unendurable. It is simply impossible that Z. would think this, so I never thought that, Z. thinks, I never thought I never want to see you again, and, of course, Z. never did.
But, you know, Z.’s weakness, perhaps his only weakness, certainly his principal (Of, belonging to, or befitting a prince. Obs.) weakness, is that he cannot, or will not, admit weakness. Now, Z. loves this word admit, and thinking about admittance, or admitting. What does it mean to admit the truth? Is the truth something that has to be admitted, can it be admitted, in every sense of this word admit? That is to say, is it self-evident, is it sovereign?
'Has he always been like this?'
‘No, he became this way while at the University.’
'A love affair?'
‘No, reading the works of Søren Kierkegaard.’
But yes, before we were mislaid, we were about to discuss (To shake off, remove; to separate. Obs.) Z.’s weakness. But what do we mean when we say weakness? And what do we think of when we think of Z., if we think of Z.?
Z. would of course claim that he would rather not be thought of, precisely so that we would contemplate his rather unique and profound attitude towards remembrance, which is so Kafkaesque, as they say, or in fact not as they usually say, not in this particular (Ingratiating. Obs.) instance.
'Everything you say is boring and incomprehensible,' she said, 'but that alone doesn't make it true.'
You know, we should talk about something (or someone) else. Talk about what, you ask me, about you? Or me? Are we really that vain? All is vanity, I reply, and you laugh. That’s something that Z. would say, you say, and I wonder. No, I think, that’s exactly something that Z. would think and not say, which is the fundamental difference between Z. and me. It is precisely the reason that, even if we are similar in many other ways, and indeed identical in most things, Z. is not me, and I am not Z..
'Z. as in “zee”? Or “zed”?'
'What do you think?'
What are you thinking about, you ask me. Nothing much, I say. Z. told me that he never wants to see me again, you say, but I think he was probably lying. I don’t know why he lies, that’s why I like you, because you never lie, or maybe it’s just that you’re a better liar than Z. is. But I know, you go on, that you wouldn’t say that you never want to see me again, not to me, unless you really meant it.
I never want to see you again, I say, and you laugh, and I laugh too. But what about Z.?
Z. is perhaps in his room, at his desk, on his computer, typing something, undoubtedly about us, with fear and trembling, for that is the proper attitude with which one should perform (To make up for (the lack of something). Obs.) the work of writing, or so Z. would say, if he were here with us, to make us laugh, but he is not here, and hence must remain silent.
Well, I never want to see Z. again.
i’m okay, how about you?
Now we are serious, now we are talking seriously about God, and our conversation is stimulated (Pricked, stung, afflicted. Obs. rare) by Z.’s tendency to mistake profundity for truth. So he goes:
There is a god in whom I do not believe
Yet to this god my love stretches,
This god whom I do not believe in is
My whole life, my life and I am his.
And of course we start laughing, and Z. is beside himself with laughter, but if only he could be two, then, as they say, one could stay and one could go, no? Oh, but leave this sentimentality at once, leave it.
Power and cruelty are the strengths of our lives, and only in their weakness is there love. But Z. suspects that in the weakness of power and cruelty there is only more power and cruelty, which is to say that love bears no relation at all to power and cruelty. Well, who is the more naive in this case, Stevie Smith or Z.? Who the more cruel?
The most important thing in life is to be generous (Of noble or aristocratic lineage; high-born. Obs), and Z. is not generous, he is least generous out of anyone he knows. Enough is enough, as they say, so Z. will be generous henceforth. But he cannot, it is so difficult to be what one needs most to be. As for me, I want to die, but I should be so lucky, as they say. Still, if one more person tells me
to be myself or do what I really want to do
off to the gallows I shall go, well, and then what?
Nothing is better than this life.
Goodbye to all my friends,
it would be the easiest thing of all
to say, and then what?
It is probably impossible to understand Coetzee without understanding Weil. It is probably impossible to understand Weil, I mean for you and me. Well, it is possible that Weil understood nothing, or not much, I mean for you and me. So it is possible that Weil understood the truth, impossible for you and me. Well, here comes Coetzee, does he understand Weil? Perhaps not. Then, can we understand how he misunderstands Weil, who understood nothing, and misunderstood nothing, simply impossible for you and me?
some door to open
They say one always ends up failing, doing the wrong kind of penance, so that one’s suffering always, each time, amounts to nothing.
Stevie Smith, she was generous. And she wanted to die but oh, she wrote, that is nothing, that death feeling, it is nothing at all.
There is nothing what will walk upon the ceaseless earth, but for a little mirth. Isn’t there? I think to myself, I want to die, I want to die, it is that old Robert Lowell deathly selfish feeling.
What am I afraid of, I am afraid of nothing. Which is of course a lie, it is merely the case that I have not yet found that which I fear, nothing yet. Still the wrong kind of penance, again.
Again and again. It is like Bishop’s insistence on objects; why yearn for the gaze of a knife, why speak of a teakettle’s tears? Pathetic fallacy? No, it is the other way around; objects inscribe us with their emotions, spuriously.
Well, we do it to them too. But this too, the wrong kind of penance.
It is not that life is so awful, but that I am, there is no end to the pain and fear, and to the general shiftiness of my character. What one admires in Smith: shiftiness, fausse-naivete (as Larkin would have it), also courage.
And love; you know, I tell C., S. gives us so much love, and the world will never give her enough love in return. There is not one thing in the whole of life to make it bearable.
Penance is only a word, it is said. It is something stolen, and amounts to nothing.
But, you know, I am afraid of nothing yet. I grit my teeth, as they say, and I am afraid of nothing.
Let us posit that a forest exists for itself, that is to say, even independently of the trees of which it is composed, though if it continues to lose its trees, then certainly it will, at some point, cease to be a forest, the question being, of course, at what point? And do trees exist independently of the oxygen that they breathe? Which is another way of asking if a dead tree is still a tree. Is a mother still a mother without her child? Is a daughter still a daughter without parents? Do daughters exist for themselves, that is to say, in mourning?
valediction: forbidding mourning
What we need is not conferences, seminars, discussions, debates, meetings, understandings, no, none of these, aren’t you sick of it at all, these people telling you that, without literature, life is hell, no, indeed life is hell because of literature, and everyone who knows anything about literature knows this, that literature is at once the origin and the site of our suffering, all of us know that the world is a paradise and that it is literature which damns us all. I know what you will say, that the world is not a paradise, ah, but you are a utopian, and all utopians have poor ideas of what paradise looks like, which is why they are invariably bad writers and bad philosophers as well, so look to it, rid yourself of your utopianism, this is paradise as such, it is because of your literary mind that you fail to see it as it is. We should burn every book, every library, and, while we’re at it, burn all readers of good literature as well, then finally humanity will cease to ask the question: what is the use of poetry?, and discover paradise, for it is poetry that uses us, some poet or another said it once, and once we are rid of it, then we are unbastilled, free forever from the yoke of poetry. Perhaps you will tell me that there are greater yokes, and of course there are, hunger, slavery, indeed all these are greater, systemic yokes, while literature is a decadent, luxurious yoke, to admit this is to cease lying to yourself, to stop pacing around the room wondering how you can render this scene without verbs, or grammatical agency, or as little as possible of each, maybe you will succeed, no better than failing, which is the proper way to inhabit hell, or else you could kill yourself, and let them have their paradise, for the world deserves better than poetry, than literature, too much better, it deserves so much more than words, especially your words.