neurosis – creation – proust


Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions, and composed our masterpieces. Never will the world know all it owes to them, nor all they have suffered to enrich us.

– Marcel Proust

proust on memory and the image: the last lines of swann’s way

Image:Grave of Proust.jpg

When Proust ran out of time.

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.


—Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin).

proust on memory and the image: the last lines of swann’s way

When Proust ran out of time.

The places we have known do not belong only to the world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. They were only a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; the memory of a particular image is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

 

—Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (1913; translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin).

 
 

james merrill’s ouija board: the opening of the book of ephraim

Known in popular circles as “the Ouija poet”—one who composed with assistance from the spirit world—Merrill was always most popular with scholarly audiences. As Brigitte Weeks noted in the New York Times Book Review, “Mr. Merrill’s artistic distinction is for the most part acknowledged, particularly in the academy, where he has already become part of the permanent canon. With his technical virtuosity and his metaphysical broodings, he is, like Wallace Stevens, an ideal seminar poet whose complex work lends itself to exhaustive explication.” . . . 

It was “The Book of Ephraim”—which appeared in Divine Comedies—that prompted many critics to reevaluate the poet. Among them was Harold Bloom, who wrote in the New Republic, “James Merrill . . . has convinced many discerning readers of a greatness, or something like it, in his first six volumes of verse, but until this year I remained a stubborn holdout. The publication of Divine Comedies . . . converts me, absolutely if belatedly, to Merrill. . . . The book’s eight shorter poems surpass nearly all the earlier Merrill, but its apocalypse (a lesser word won’t do) is a 100-page verse-tale, ‘The Book of Ephraim,’ an occult splendor in which Merrill rivals Yeats’ ‘A Vision,’. . . and even some aspects of Proust.” . . .

The twenty-six sections of “The Book of Ephraim” correspond to the board’s A to Z alphabet, the ten sections of Mirabell: Books of Number correspond to the board’s numbering from zero to nine, and the three sections of Scripts for the Pageant (“Yes,” “&,” and “No”) correspond to the board’s Yes & No. The progression of poems also represents a kind of celestial hierarchy, with each book representing communication with a higher order of spirits than the one before. Humans in the poem are identified by their initials—DJ and JM; spirits speak in all capitals. By the time Merrill transcribed the lessons of the archangels in book three, he offered nothing less than a model of the universe. “Were such information conveyed to us by a carnival ‘spiritual adviser,’ we could dismiss it as mere nonsense,” observed Fred Moramarco in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, “but as it comes from a poet of Merrill’s extraordinary poetic and intellectual gifts, we sit up and take notice.”  

In the first book, Merrill’s guide is Ephraim, “a Greek Jew / Born AD 8 at XANTHOS,” later identified as “Our Familiar Spirit.” Over a period of twenty years and in a variety of settings, Ephraim alerts DJ and JM to certain cosmic truths, including the fact that “on Earth / We’re each the REPRESENTATIVE of a PATRON” who guides our souls through the nine stages of being until we become patrons for other souls. Witty, refined, full of gossip, Ephraim is “a clear cousin to Merrill’s poetic voice,” Kalstone wrote in the Times Literary Supplement 

Other spirits also appear in the poem, many of them family members or old friends who have died: Merrill’s mother and father, the young poet Hans Lodeizen (whose death Merrill addressed in The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace), the Athenian Maria Mitsotaki (a green-thumbed gardener who died of cancer), as well as literary figures such as W. H. Auden and Plato. They form a community, according to Ephraim, “WITHIN SIGHT OF ALL CONNECTED TO EACH OTHER DEAD OR ALIVE NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT HEAVEN IS IT IS THE SURROUND OF THE LIVING.” As Helen Vendler explained in the New York Review of Books, “The host receives his visible and invisible guests, convinced that . . . the poet’s paradise is nothing other than all those beings whom he has known and has imagined.” For this reason, Vendler maintained that “The Book of Ephraim” is “centrally a hymn to history and a meditation on memory—personal history and personal memory, which are, for this poet at least, the muse’s materials.”  

Aware of the incredulity his spiritualism would provoke, Merrill addressed this issue early in book one: “The question / Of who or what we took Ephraim to be / And of what truths (if any) we considered / Him spokesman, had arisen from the start.” Indeed, Vendler said, “for rationalists reading the poem, Merrill includes a good deal of self-protective irony, even incorporating in the tale a visit to his ex-shrink, who proclaims the evocation of Ephraim and the other Ouija ‘guests’ from the other world a folie a deux [mutual madness] between Merrill and his friend David Jackson.” 

In a Poetry review, Joseph Parisi suggested that Merrill used “his own doubt and hesitation to undercut and simultaneously to underscore his seriousness in recounting . . . his fabulous . . . message. Anticipating the incredulity of ‘sophisticated’ and even cynical readers, the poet portrays his own apparent skepticism at these tales from the spirit world to preempt and disarm the attacks, while making the reader feel he is learning the quasi-occult truths . . . along with the poet.” 

As the experience proceeded, Merrill’s skepticism declined. And while the reader’s may not, Judith Moffett suggested in American Poetry Review that disbelief is not the issue: “Surely any literary work ought to be judged not on its matter but on the way the matter is presented and treated. . . . The critical question, then, should not be, Is this the story he ought to have told? but How well has he told this story?” Moffett, as well as numerous other critics, believed Merrill has told it very well: “‘The Book of Ephraim’ is a genuinely great poem—a phrase no one should use lightly—and very possibly the most impressive poetic endeavor in English in this century.” 

—from the James Merrill page at Poetry Foundation

 

 
 

 

THE BOOK OF EPHRAIM

 

 

Tu credi ‘l vero; ché i minori e ‘ grandi 

                                                                   di questa vita miran ne lo speglio 

in che, prima che pensi, il pensier pandi. 

Paradiso XV 


Admittedly I err by undertaking

This in its present form. The baldest prose

Reportage was called for, that would reach

The widest public in the shortest time.

Time, it had transpired, was of the essence.

Time, the very attar of the Rose,

Was running out. We, though, were ancient foes,

I and the deadline. Also my subject matter

Gave me pause–so intimate, so novel.

Best after all to do it as a novel?

Looking about me, I found characters

Human and otherwise (if the distinction

Meant anything in fiction). Saw my way

To a plot, or as much of one as still allowed

For surprise and pleasure in its working-out.

Knew my setting; and had, from the start, a theme

Whose steady light shone back, it seemed, from every

Least detail exposed to it. I came

To see it as an old, exalted one:

The incarnation and withdrawal of

A god. That last phrase is Northrop Frye’s.

I had stylistic hopes moreover. Fed

Up so long and variously by

Our age’s fancy narrative concoctions,

I yearned for the kind of unseasoned telling found

In legends, fairy tales, a tone licked clean

Over the centuries by mild old tongues,

Grandam to cub, serene, anonymous.

Lacking that voice, the in its fashion brilliant

Nouveau roman (even the one I wrote)

Struck me as an orphaned form, whose followers,

Suckled by Woolf not Mann, had stories told them

In childhood, if at all, by adults whom

They could not love or honor. So my narrative

Wanted to be limpid, unfragmented; 

My characters, conventional stock figures

Afflicted to a minimal degree

With personality and past experience–

A witch, a hermit, innocent young lovers,

The kinds of being we recall from Grimm, 

Jung, Verdi, and the commedia dell’ arte. 

That such a project was beyond me merely

Incited further futile stabs at it.

My downfall was “word-painting.” Exquisite

Peek-a-boo plumage, limbs aflush from sheer

Bombast unfurling through the troposphere

Whose earthward denizens’ implosion startles

Silly quite a little crowd of mortals

–My readers, I presumed from where I sat

In the angelic secretariat.

The more I struggled to be plain, the more

Mannerism hobbled me. What for?

Since it had never truly fit, why wear

The shoe of prose? In verse the feet went bare.

Measures, furthermore, had been defined

As what emergency required. Blind

Promptings put at last the whole mistaken

Enterprise to sleep in darkest Macon 

(Cf. “The Will”), and I alone was left

To tell my story. For it seemed that Time— 

­The grizzled washer of his hands appearing

To say so in a spectrum-bezeled space

Above hot water–Time would not;

Whether because it was running out like water

Or because January draws this bright

Line down the new page I take to write:

The Book of a Thousand and One Evenings

Spent With David Jackson at the Ouija Board

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Touch with Ephraim Our Familiar Spirit.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backdrop: The dining room at Stonington.

 

Walls of ready-mixed matte “flame” (a witty

Shade, now watermelon, now sunburn).

Overhead, a turn of the century dome

Expressing white tin wreathes and fleurs-de-lys

In palpable relief to candlelight.

Wallace Stevens, with that dislocated

Perspective of the newly dead, would take it

For an alcove in the Baptist church next door

Whose moonlit tower saw eye to eye with us.

The room breathed sheer white curtains out. In blew

Elm- and chimney-blotted shimmerings, so

Slight the tongue of land, so high the point of view.

1955 this would have been,

Second summer of our tenancy.

Another year we’d buy the old eyesore

Half of whose top story we now rented;

Build, above that, a glass room off a wooden

Stardeck; put a fireplace in; make friends.

Now, strangers to the village, did we even

Have a telephone? Who needed one!

We had each other for communication

And all the rest. The stage was set for Ephraim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Properties : A milk glass tabletop.

 

A blue-and-white cup from the Five & Ten.

Pencil, paper. Heavy cardboard sheet

Over which the letters A to Z

Spread in an arc, our covenant

With whom it would concern; also

The Arabic numerals, and YES and NO.

What more could a familiar spirit want?

Well, when he knew us better, he’d suggest

We prop a mirror in the facing chair.

Erect and gleaming, silver-hearted guest,

We saw each other in it. He saw us.

(Any reflecting surface worked for him.

Noons, D and I might row to a sandbar

Far enough from town for swimming naked

Then pacing the glass treadmill hardly wet

That healed itself perpetually of us—

Unobserved, unheard we thought, until

The night he praised our bodies and our wit,

Our blushes in a twinkling overcome.)

Or we could please him by swirling a drop of rum

Inside the cup that, overturned and seeming

Slightly to lurch at such times in mid-glide,

Took heart from us, dictation from our guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But he had not yet found us. Who was there?

 

The cup twitched in its sleep. “Is someone there?”

We whispered, fingers light on Willowware,

When the thing moved. Our breathing stopped. The cup,

Glazed zombie of itself, was on the prowl

Moving, but dully, incoherently,

Possessed, as we should soon enough be told,

By one or another of the myriads

Who hardly understand, through the compulsive

Reliving of their deaths, that they have died

–By fire in this case, when a warehouse burned.

HELLP O SAV ME scrawled the cup

As on the very wall flame rippled up,

Hypnotic wave on wave, a lullaby

Of awfulness. I slumped. D: One more try.

Was anybody there? As when a pike

Strikes, and the line singing writes in lakeflesh

Highstrung runes, and reel spins and mind reels

YES a new and urgent power YES

Seized the cup. It swerved, clung, hesitated,

Darted off, a devil’s darning needle

Gyroscope our fingers rode bareback

(But stopping dead the instant one lost touch)

Here, there, swift handle pointing, letter upon

Letter taken down blind by my free hand—

At best so clumsily, those early sessions

Break off into guesswork, paraphrase.

Too much went whizzing past. We were too nice

To pause, divide the alphabetical

Gibberish into words and sentences.

Yet even the most fragmentary message—

Twice as entertaining, twice as wise

As either of its mediums–enthralled them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“we never experience an affect for the first time; every affect contains within it an archive of its previous objects.”

 

Is dwelling on loss not necessarily depressing?  Jonathan Flatley argues that embracing melancholy can be a road back to connecting with others and enable you to productively remap your relationship to the world. Aesthetic activity can give one the means to comprehend and change one’s relation to loss.

Flatley’s argument shares with Freud an interest in understanding the depressing effects of difficult loss and with Walter Benjamin the hope that loss itself can become a means of connection and the basis for social transformation. The affective maps artists like Henry James produce can make possible the conversion of a depressive melancholia into a way to be interested in the world (cribbed from Flatley’s publisher).

Affective Mapping

 

The decisively new ferment that enters the taedium vitae and turns it into spleen is self-estrangement.

 

—Walter Benjamin, Central Park

 

In his influential 1960 book The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch explored the ways residents internalize maps of their cities. These cogninitive maps give one a sense of location and direction, and enable one to make decisions about where one wants to go and how to get there.1 A later scholar helpfully defined cognitive mapping as “a process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, stores, recalls and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of the phenomena in his everyday spatial environment.”2 Lynch studied three different cities—Boston, Los Angeles, and Jersey City—and found that some cities are more “legible” to their residents than others. That is, “the ease with which [the city’s] parts can be recognized and can be organized into a coherent pattern” varies from city to city.3 In a nongrid city like Boston, with notable points of reference like the Charles River, Boston Common, and Boston Harbor, residents were quite able to assemble usable cognitive maps of the city through repetitive experience of it. Jersey City, on the other hand, organized by an incomplete grid, was found to be more undifferentiated and thus less legible. Many of its residents, Lynch found, had only fragmented or partial images of the city. Since an image of the total system in which one is located is of course a crucial element in establishing one’s confidence in one’s ability to live in the world—see friends, get to the hospital, buy groceries, go out to dinner, arrive at the train station on time—the lack of such an ability can produce a sense of anxiety and alienation.

 

In his essay “Cognitive Mapping,” Fredric Jameson expanded the use of the term to suggest that just as one needs a cognitive map of city space in order to have a sense of agency there, one requires a cognitive map of social space for a sense of agency in the world more generally.4 Such a map’s function is “to enable a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole.”5 In other words, in its negotiation of the gap between local subjective experience and a vision of an overall environment, the cognitive map is an apt figure for one of the functions of ideology, which is, in Althusser’s now classic formulation, “the representation of the subject’s imaginary relationship to his or her real conditions of existence.”6 We all need such representations, no matter how imaginary, in order to make sense and move through our everyday lives. By the same token, “the incapacity to map socially is as crippling to political experience as the analogous incapacity to map spatially is for urban experience.”7

 

The difference with the social map is that where the totality of Boston is quite representable, the “totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole,” conversely, is not. And the socioeconomic systems we all must negotiate on a daily basis are becoming ever less representable.8  Increasingly, Jameson argues, the distance between the structures that order everyday life and the phenomenology and datum of that life itself have become unbridgeable.9 Cognitive mapping in this context would be an essential part of “a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system.”10 Without such a picture insights remain partial and fragmented; we remain mired in the logic of the system as it exists.

 

*

 

So then what is this thing I have been calling affective mapping? In the context of geography and environmental psychology, the term affective mapping has been used to indicate the affective aspects of the maps that guide us, in conjunction with our cognitive maps, through our spatial environment.11 That is, we develop our sense of our environments through purposive activity in the world, and we always bring with us a range of intentions, beliefs, desires, moods, and affective attachments to this activity. Hence our spatial environments are inevitably imbued with the feelings we have about the places we are going, the things that happen to us along the way, and the people we meet, and these emotional valences, of course, affect how we create itineraries. For instance, I live in downtown Detroit, and when I am in the suburbs around Detroit, I often get the sense that some people in the suburbs who have not crossed over the city limits for years carry around with them a map on which Detroit is a large, hazily defined space, but a space clearly marked by some mixture of fear, anxiety, sorrow, and nostalgia. They avoid Detroit not because of poor urban planning or a lack of landmarks but because of the emotions they have associated with the city space of Detroit.

 

Thus, by way of analogy, I would suggest that social maps are also marked with various affective values. To return to the example regarding the suburban resident who avoids Detroit, this is an affective map of social space as well, in a way that parallels ideology. For in all likelihood the person from the suburbs of whom I write is white, and Detroit is largely African American, and this split is of course overwritten by a class divide, so emotions about Detroit as a space are, for these suburban residents, inevitably also emotions about class and “race” and racism. In short, it is not just ideologies or cognitive maps that shape our behavior and practices in the world but also the affects we have about the relevant social structures of our world. The term affective map in this sense is meant to indicate the pictures we all carry around with us on which are recorded the affective values of the various sites and situations that constitute our social worlds.

 

I should perhaps reemphasize here that “map” is meant in a particular, metaphorical sense, a metaphorics that I hope does not too seriously limit the concept. The affective map, like Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic map, is neither fixed nor stable: “The rhizome refers to a map that must be produced or constructed, is always detachable, connectable, reversable, and modifiable, with multiple entrances and exits, with its lines of flight. The tracings are what must be transferred onto the maps and not the reverse.”12 Such maps must be able to incorporate new information as one has new experiences in new environments; but this does not mean they are entirely self-invented. Rather the maps are cobbled together in processes of accretion and palimpsestic rewriting from other persons’ maps, first of all those defined in infancy by one’s parents, and later the maps that come to one by way of one’s historical context and the social formations one lives in. 

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credos: proust, eliot, blake, mccarthy

 

the method: t.s. eliot, “these fragments I have shored against my ruins . . .”  

 

One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself.

— Marcel Proust, Selected Letters

  

  

 

the motive: william blake, “the marriage of heaven and hell”  

 

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees. 

 

Whatever exists, he said. Whateverin creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent. 

 

He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. 

 

What’s a suzerain?

 

A keeper. A keeper or overlord.

 

Why not say keeper then?

 

Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements.

 

Toadvine spat.

 

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

 

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can aquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

 

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

 

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

 

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

 

That would be a hell of a zoo.

 

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

 

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West

 

nadine gordimer’s homage to kafka

“But what happens if something from a fiction is not interiorised, but materialises? Takes on independent existence?
         It has just happened to me. Every year I re-read some of the books I don’t want to die without having read again. This year one of these is Kafka’s Diaries, and I am about half-way through. It’s night-time reading of a wonderfully harrowing sort.”

c19425 

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black

by

Nadine Gordimer

 

 

 

 

“Gregor”
By Nadine Gordimer

 

ANYONE who is a reader knows that what you have read has

influenced your life. By ‘reader’ I mean one from the time you

began to pick out the printed words, for yourself, in the

bedtime story. (Another presumption: you became literate in

some era before the bedtime story was replaced by the

half-hour before the Box.) Adolescence is the crucial period

when the poet and the fiction writer intervene in formation of

the sense of self in sexual relation to others, suggesting—

excitingly, sometimes scarily—that what adult authority has

told or implied is the order of such relations, is not all. Back in

the Forties, I was given to understand: first, you will meet a

man, both will fall in love, and you will marry; there is an order

of emotions that goes with this packaged process. That is what

love is.

 

For me, who came along first was Marcel Proust. The strange but
 
ineluctable disorder of Charles Swann’s agonising

love for a woman who wasn’t his type (and this really no fault

of her own, he fell in love with her as what she was, eh?); the

jealousy of the Narrator tormentedly following a trail of

 

Albertine’s evasions.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Swept away was the confetti. I now had different expecta-

tions of what experience might have to take on. My appren-

ticeship to sexual love changed; for life. Like it or not, this is

 

what love is. Terrible. Glorious.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

But what happens if something from a fiction is not

interiorised, but materialises? Takes on independent existence?


It has just happened to me. Every year I re-read some of the

books I don’t want to die without having read again. This year

one of these is Kafka’s Diaries, and I am about half-way

through. It’s night-time reading of a wonderfully harrowing

sort.


A few mornings ago when I sat down at this typewriter as I

do now, not waiting for Lorca’s duende but getting to work, I

saw under the narrow strip of window which displays words

electronically as I convey them, a roach. A smallish roach about

the size and roach-shape of the nail of my third finger—

medium-sized hand. To tell that I couldn’t believe it is under-

statement. But my immediate thought was practical: it was

undoubtedly there, how did it get in. I tapped the glass at the

place beneath which it appeared. It confirmed its existence, not

by moving the body but wavering this way and that two

whiskers, antennae so thin and pale I had not discerned them.


I proceeded to lift whatever parts of the machine are acces-

sible, but the strip of narrow glass display was not. I consulted

the User’s Manual; it did not recognise the eventuality of a

cockroach penetrating the sealed refuge meant for words only.

I could find no way the thing could have entered, but reasoned

that if it had, shiny acorn-brown back, fine-traced antennae, it

could leave again at will. Its own or mine. I tapped again over-

head on the glass, and now it sidled—which meant, ah, that it

was cramped under that roof—to the top limit of the space

available. This also revealed bandy black legs like punctuation

marks. I called a friend and she reacted simply: It’s impossible.

Can’t be.


Well, it was. I have a neighbour, a young architect, whom I

see head-down under the bonnet, repairing his car at week-

ends; there was no course of action but to wait until he could

be expected to come home that evening. He is a fixer who can

open anything, everything. What to be done in the meantime?

Take up where I left off. Send words stringing shadows across

the body. Indeed, the disturbance might hope to rouse the in-

truder somehow to seek the way to leave.


I am accustomed to being alone when I work. I could not

help seeing that I was not; something was deliberately not

watching me—anyway, I couldn’t make out its eyes—but was

intimately involved with the process by which the imagination

finds record, becomes extant.


It was then I received as I hadn’t heard in this way before;

Can’t be.


Night after night I had been reading Franz Kafka’s diaries,

the subconscious of his fictions, that Max Brod wouldn’t

destroy. So there it all is, the secret genesis of creation. Kafka’s

subconscious was nightly conducting me from consciousness to

the subconscious of sleep.


Had I caused that creature.


Is there another kind of metamorphosis, you don’t wake up

to find yourself transformed into another species, wriggling on

light-brown shiny back and feeling out your space with wispy

sensors, but the imagining of such a being can create one, in-

dependent of any host, physical genesis; or can imagination

summon such a live being to come on out of the woodwork

and manifest itself?


What nonsense. There are no doubt the usual domestic

pests living clandestinely among and nourished by whatever

there is to be nibbled from piles of paper and newspaper cut-

tings. Who else eats the gilt lettering on book jackets? Next

morning he/she/it was still there, no ectoplasm of my imagina-

tion, flattened under the glass and moving, with long intervals

of watchful immobility, a little way laterally or vertically as the

 

machine warmed in use.

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

My neighbour had come and studied the situation, or rather

Gregor’s—I had come to think of the creature that way, never

mind. The young architect found that the array of tools he

owned were too clumsy for the Italian finesse that had gone

into the making of the machine. He would try to borrow a

jewellers tools. Two more days passed and I continued not to

be alone as I wrote. At first I wanted the thing in there to die;

how could it exist without water, food—and air. As the glass

display seemed hermetically sealed, wouldn’t any oxygen

trapped within be exhausted. Even a beetle, a roach, whatever,

must have lungs. Then I began to want it released alive, a

miraculous survivor, example of the will to live evidenced be-

yond its humble size and status in the chain of life. I saw my-

self receiving it from the deliverer and releasing it on some leaf

in the garden. I called the firm from which I had bought the

typewriter two years ago to ask for the visit of a know-how

mechanic and was told they didn’t service obsolete business

machines any more, handled only computers.


He, my creature, didn’t die; when I would pause a moment

to acknowledge him, there under my words, and he was per-

fectly immobile, I would think, he’s gone; that other sense of

‘gone’, not escaped. Then the remaining antenna would sway,

the other had broken off, no doubt in patient efforts to find the

secret exit by which he came in. There were times when he

hid—I had seen him slip into what must be some sliver of

space below where the glass window was flush with its casing.

Or I’d glance up: no, not there; and then he’d appear again. My

young neighbour had warned, I hope it doesn’t lay eggs in

there, but I thought of the prisoner as male—maybe just

because I’m a woman, assuming the conventional partner I’ve

had in intimate situations faced together. On Friday night I

happened to go back into my work-room to fetch a book,

turned on the lamp, and there he was, moving up his inch of

vertical space and then arrested, frustrated that what he seemed

to have forgotten, the way he got in, the way he might get out,

was not found. He looked darkened, flat and shiny beetle-

black, but that aspect was by lamplight.


Saturday mid-morning my young neighbour arrived with

German precision tools arranged like jewellery in a velvet-lined

folder. The tenant of the display window was not to be seen;

tapping on the glass did not bring him up from his usual

hiding-place in that interstice below level of the glass. My

neighbour studied more informedly than I had the com-

ponents of the typewriter as described in Italian, German,

French, Japanese and English in the User’s Manual and set to

work. The machine slowly came apart, resisting with every

minute bolt and screw and the rigidity of plastic that threat-

ened to snap. At last, there was the inner chamber, the glass

display. It would not yield; the inhabitant did not rise into view

despite the disturbance. We halted operations; had he found

his egress, got out; then he might be somewhere in the cavern

of the machine exposed. No sign. My neighbour was not going

to be defeated by the ingenuity of Italian engineering, he tried

this tiny implement and that, managing to unwind the most

minute of pin-head screws and disengage complex clamps.

With one last thumb-pressure the glass lifted. The shallow

cavity beneath, running the width of the machine, was empty.

Where was he who had survived there for five days? Had he

freed himself and was watching from among papers and

newspaper cuttings instead of on a garden leaf. We continued

to search the innards of the typewriter. No sign. Then I ran a

finger tracing the narrow space where certainly he had been,

existed, hadn’t he, and felt a change in the surface under my

skin. Peered close, and there he was.


His own pyre. Somehow consumed himself.


A pinch of dust. One segment of a black leg, hieroglyph to

be decoded.

 

 

camilo jose céla on the novel: “to rejuvenate themes grown old and to revivify the eternal myths”

The Novel as Concept

 

by Camilo Jose Céla

I

On occasion, I have compared the process of making a novel with the process of having a child. The concept is not really original and may even be pedestrian, vulgar, and commonplace. I don’t say it isn’t. Still, to have a child, just as to have a novel, to write it, a set of circumstances must occur, for without them neither child nor novel can be produced. Savants, those who pass their idle hours combining substances in retorts or staring through a microscope or pouring over blurred palimpsests, have children in the same way as foremen on cattle ranches, the same as stevedores or bus drivers. If anyone proposed to make an analysis of a child and determine its desirable parts for combination in a laboratory, who knows what would result? Perhaps stock for soup, or shoe polish, or even dynamite, but as for a child, not likely …


It’s the same with the novel. If a Spaniard, a German, a Russian can put together the necessary ingredients, count on the required circumstances which no one can enumerate, and put their minds to the task, they can produce novels, perhaps magnificent novels. If they were to imitate the savants, they would be lost; the laboratory technician may not engender a viable child, but he can turn out utilitarian objects; novelists-a-la-savant can only produce aberrations.


The life of a child, however short it lasts, completes a cycle: the child is born, grows, dies. In addition, it cries, laughs, sucks a teat, wets itself …


In a letter, a friend tells me: "A novel is the description of a complete circle, an enclosed horizon of life, with no void spaces, just as there are none around us." This friend is quite right: the cycle may be closed—by the death of the child or the end of the novel—but it cannot be interrupted.


To speak of the novel is like speaking of the sea. The novel simply needs to be written. Dogmatic pronouncements are useless.


There is no point in trying to fit it into a Procrustean bed. And no one should forget its inexhaustible sources—of action, of aesthetic beauty, of sustained interest—sources with names like Balzac, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal. Divagations and lucubrations are of little value here.


Proust wrote: "Une oeuvre ou il y a des theories est comme un ob jet sur lequel on laisse la marque du prix." Proust knew whereof he spoke: it would be frightful to give birth to a child who, instead of causing a fuss and setting up a din, as natural law requires, stood up in his cradle and pontificated: "O parents and brothers: the economic theory of free competition …" Such a child would deserve capital punishment.


A novel has no business expressly defending anything, absolutely anything at all. It will inevitably be seen that it plays some part in life, but those novels which are known to be, before they are opened, intent on defending this or attacking that, are devoid of any importance whatsoever.


The nursery of proletarian novelists which the Communist Party nurtured with a view toward overawing the Western world came to a sterile end, a blasted crop even though the Russians are exceptionally gifted for developing the genre. The great writers of the nineteenth century, who developed and came to fruition under the twin scourges of persecution and imprisonment, a very poor environment indeed for the production of luxury goods like the novel, were never bettered or even equaled by the Soviet hacks whose names are already forgotten—not even by Gorky, the best of the lot.


The concept of the novel must come from within, like the taste of a pear or the odor of a flower or of the sea. It cannot be severed, separated, or cast aside like an orange peel or a banana skin, for therein lies the danger: that the whole will be thrown away with the parings.


It is difficult indeed to conceal the scaffolding of a book from its reader. But it is a necessity. In the novels of Pio Baroja, if we take as an example the most noteworthy and most universal of modern Spanish novelists, we never stumble on the joints or the scaffolding, however much we turn the work about, hold it up to the light, or sniff around in general. For the body of Don Pio’s work is like a seamless tunic, without stitching. It is spawned—just as a boy-child or a girl-child is born—altogether and once and for all.


In contrast, let us mention Valle-Inclan, Don Ramon with his goat’s beard. His plots are more obvious than protruding ribs. What about this plank sticking out here? That board is Barbey, the French writer. And this other protrusion? That belongs to Casanova, the gentleman-writer. And so on … The fact that Don Ramon manages to emerge triumphant simply implies genius, something a bit apart from the point we are making.


The novel requires a gut truth, a whole-bodied verity, one which has been digested and redigested by the author. The novelist by rights should have four stomachs, like oxen. Thus equipped, he would constantly be ruminating his gut truth, and his book would always be well born.


Balancing acts are not permissible in the making of a novel, because if the author ever loses his balance, he falls into the abyss and breaks his neck. The great lacuna in the history of the Spanish novel, which stretches from the time of the writers of the Generation of ’98 until … until when, O Lord? … is filled with castaways who tried balancing acts.

II


A starving man is more sound in his reasons than a hundred men of letters.


It would be convenient to know, so as not to lose ourselves in a labyrinth whose secret key we do not possess, something about the function of literature. It would also not be amiss to find a way of weighing the worth of literary ingredients, of determining the soundness of the building materials with which we are working. While we are about it, why not plumb, within reasonable limits, the rarefied nature of the writing profession itself? We might then be in a position to guess whether the art of the novel is some kind of scientific paradox or if it is instead a manifestation of wondrous chance—of a pure, if truncated, kind of stern destiny.


To Carlyle’s way of thinking, writing is the greatest miracle of man’s imagining—perhaps simply a miraculous curse. For Goethe, it seems a laborious way of relaxing, perhaps a form of relaxation which will let us die wearing the frightful grimace of a person succumbing to overwork.


A writer’s singular office may be compared to a disappointing game of blindman’s buff: the principal actor dances in desperation before a chorus of invisible and phantasmagoric spectators. "To write is to arouse interest, but the interest we manage to arouse may be no more than a tiny bell tinkling in a great desert waste, and it may make us forget the blindfold around our eyes and prevent us from properly assessing the materials with which we will have to work: that is, the prose which will give only a poor idea of things, and the poetry which will yield only an inexact notion." Thus spoke that tormented and blindfolded Spaniard, Angel Ganivet, who committed suicide in the Dwina River.


And to write novels, to "novelate"? To novelate is to die step by step on a dusty road leading nowhere. And to go down smiling, the better to please the world’s lurid tastes, the better to endure its mockery, all the while being beaten while fending off the Tyrians, who play with a stacked deck because they are not allowed to lose, and taking additional blows from the Trojans, who jump into the ring bearing arms forbidden by all codes of honor because, according to the laws promulgated by themselves, their side must always win.


To write novels is to uproot oneself, to venture forth carrying one’s roots in the air above one’s head, and to let oneself be cut down by the first fool one encounters without a show of resistance and in the full knowledge of one’s own ignominy.


Today it is not enough to possess a purely artistic understanding of the hara-kiri involved in novelating. A genius may raise his particular science to the heights of art, but the artist lacking genius may be merely a fraud, a dealer in contraband. It’s for the likes of the latter that literary prize contests are organized: fraudulent novelists write novels with a thesis—proletarian novels, inspirational novels, redemptive novels, sex novels—and the host of nonsense books that are invented for the stultification of man, who was once called, in happier times, the measure of all things.


The novelist does not know where he is going. The same is true of the north needle on a compass. The novelist allots himself a certain amount of terrain, applies the technology he has mastered, and awaits to see what he produces: if it’s a boy he’ll know by its lap, likewise if it’s a girl; if it’s bearded he can call out San Anton, if not, he can speak of an Immaculate Conception.


Science, like life or death, does not allow subterfuge. Art, like love, does. Thus, for the latter, fraud is a distinct possibility. The point is to avoid, with a measure of precision, concepts as such, and also to avoid confusing love with alterations in the nervous system. No novelist would ever think "to tell a book by its cover," and neither would he confuse an underground tuber with its leaves, for he must begin by knowing what leaves are and what a tuber is. George Santayana affirmed that the function of literature is to convert events into ideas. This conversion or transformation, be it understood, cannot be attained by exclusively artistic means, or by purely intuitive, nondeliberated means, which would amount to the same. The present crisis in literature is due to the inability of the novelist to dominate modern technical means. Beyond Faulkner’s interior monologue, for example, which can be carried on through talent alone, there rises, like a giant mountain, the terra incognita of strict objectivity. Objectivity in itself is a difficult bone to gnaw, especially with the teeth provided by art. Nevertheless, if the novelistic genre is not to atrophy, science must sooner or later sink its teeth into the matter.


Today’s novelist should surely give up his affair with the likes of Madame Bovary and turn his attention to a Lazarillo, the archetypal picaro of the picaresque. The novel should no longer concern itself with the amusements of featherbrained housewives, maudlin dreamers who whore around, in body or soul, at the far corners of provinces. Such things as hunger and bad faith are still prevalent, as is the wretchedness of the servant with a hundred masters.

To rejuvenate themes grown old and to revivify the eternal myths: that is the business of the contemporary novelist, assuming he does not want to go into cold storage, where, as with multicolored cats at night, all things are a monotone.


If it’s all a matter of killing time—a role assigned literature by all its detractors and a goodly number of those who cultivate it—everything we have said is superfluous. Still, something greater may be involved, though it have so many names we dare not name it with any one name.


The art of novelating is clearly, more clearly each day, seen to be an affair of two or three world novelists who work with energy and faith above and beyond the orbit of art. In physics, the same was true with Planck, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, and even true before them.


Ortega’s figure of a divine somnambulist no longer serves. That time is done. In the field of the novel, the seer exchanges his walnut wand for a radar installation.


All this does notmean the death of the genre. It may represent its birth. In Galdos’s time the novel was still in its intrauterine stage.

 
 

—Translated by Anthony Kerrigan. First Published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, issue 4.3 (Fall 1984).

 

CAMILO JOSE CÉLA, born in Spain, has published over fifty books of fiction, criticism, and travel writing. His novels include The Family of Pascual Duarte, Hive, San Camilo, and 1936. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989.

 

le clézio on lautréamont and co.: “man’s freedom to seek & reveal himself through visions & dreams”

J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Freedom to Dream”

 

We could begin the story this time around 1867, when the young Isidore Ducasse—not yet Comte de Lautréamont—decides to move into a furnished room on the Right Bank of Paris, and when, in 1868, he gives "Le Premier Chant" of Les Chants de Maldoror to the publisher Balitout. This act, perhaps one of the most important of modern literature and thought, begins an epic tale of dreams that ends in death and oblivion. Indeed, between 1868 and 24 November 1870, when the young poet dies at the age of twenty-four, in the solitude and abandonment of the Parisian winter, the story unfolds of one of the most burning and disturbing dreams that poetry has ever known—a dream that throws off flame and consumes the dreamer, in the silence and indifference of those around him, and whose waves will not touch his fellow man until long after, like one of those stars whose fixed and silent explosion seems to outrace time.

Freedom of dreams: this seems paradoxical, since dreams are clearly the freest expression of life. But it is this very freedom that is frightening, because it is a threat to reason and the moral order, which is why society’s prohibitions, censorship, and propriety have sought for so long to obscure or stifle it. Dreams are free, but locked up in the prison of silence, thrown into the dungeon of memory. Dreams are the hidden fire that man must steal off with in order to reveal the other side of himself, in order to attain real freedom.

In the chilly aloofness and hypocrisy of Europe’s nineteenth century, Lautréamont’s sacrifice has something truly cruel and despairing about it, but it allows us to see the error that corrupts the mind of civilized societies at the outset of the Industrial Age. Through its indifference and forgetting, nineteenth-century bourgeois society in its entirety casts Lautréamont out into another world, in both senses of the term: it sends him back to the world in which he was born, to Montevideo, the overseas territories, tomb of the banished; but it also throws him back to a world from before civilization, a primitive, violent, magical world, one to which the rationalism and bankers’ reign of the Second Empire could not give credence. It casts him back toward dreams—that is to say, toward the deepest past of mankind.

It is indeed a question of a return toward our origins. The freedom to dream, and to live one’s dreams, takes us back toward another world, that of prehistorical societies (in Lévi-Strauss’s sense of the term). In the Indian societies of the New World, for example, the social structure in most cases is that of a "loose democracy,"1 founded on equality and the self-sufficiency of the family, where each person can be at once warrior, preacher (or shaman), doctor, artist, or orator. The Indian societies of North America (the Iroquois, Sioux, Comanches, Apaches), of the subtropical forests (the Carib, Tupinamba, and Amazonian tribes), and of South America (the Araucan Indians of the pampas) all testify to this full expression of man, which seems to precede the specializations of the hierarchized and sedentary societies (Mexicas, Mayas, Quechuas). But the importance of this full expression of man is apparent even in the most urbane and organized of societies. The Amerindian religious rites all express these influences—magic, concepts of recurrent and cyclical time, the possibility of man’s identification with the gods—which in a sense form the foundation of "savage" philosophy and which the conquering Europeans will try (successfully) to extinguish.

It is in dreams that the original civilizations of the Americas found their explanations for existence. For the ancient Mexicans, as for the Tupi-Guaranis or the Quechuas, dreams were a soul’s journey outside the body, which enabled contact with the beyond and knowledge of the future. The Mexicas, Purepecha, Carib, and Quechua nations were troubled by dreams (or auguries) to such an extent that they couldn’t find the force to resist the conquering peoples from the East whose coming had been announced by the auguries. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, the omens multiplied: visions of death and of peoples in chains, lakes of blood, comets, and swarms of insects. As in the books of the Yucatec Mayas’ Chilam Bilam or in the apparition of the gods meeting on the mountain of Xanoata Hucatzio in the Relación de Michoacán, the most ancient dreams associated with the prophecies thus meet up with reality, but only to bring about the destruction of the dreaming peoples.

The first Spanish writers captured this final moment of the dreamers’ society, manifested in its strange rites, dances, and sacrifices. The Relación de Michoacán, chronicle of the Purepecha Indians, shows us a people wholly given over to their omens and dreams. The kings’ power and their destiny depend upon their dreams, during which the supreme gods (Curicaueri, god of fire, or the moon goddess Xaratanga) appear before them and strike up alliances. Father Bernardino de Sahagún recounts that the cruel and bloody festivals of the Aztecs took place in this mytical incarnation of gods dancing among men, as in the ixnextiua festival: "It was their belief that on this festival all the gods were dancing, and therefore all the natives who danced were dressed in diverse fancy costumes, some impersonated birds, others different animals; some represented the bird called ‘tzinitzcan’ [hummingbird], others butterflies; some dressed like drones, others like flies, still others like beetles; some carried on their backs a sleeping man who, they said, represented sleep."2

This magical society, this society of dreams and auguries, will be destroyed by Western civilization in the name of rationalism. For the conquering Spaniards, Portuguese, and, later, Anglo-Saxons or French, these magical societies are antiquated. They must be transformed, confined to reality, in order to integrate them into the rationales of productivity and causality on which the modern world rests. This will also be the Christian church’s role, shared among its millennial illusions and its will to destroy religious and philosophical concepts in contradiction with those of the conquerors.

As has been said, for the Renaissance mind, belief in magic and dreams is absurd and illogical. Founded on the sciences, on observation, nascent humanism can only condemn these obscure aspects of the human soul, since the new ideas come about precisely as a response to the beliefs and superstitions of the Middle Ages. In order to affirm this new "man," it is necessary to kill the old one, the one who lives off dreams and chimeras.

The new era is also that of absolute powers: Charles V, Francis I, and Henry VIII each demonstrate the supremacy of true power, armed force, and merchant empires. Curiously, however, it is in these periods when political powers are most extreme—the immense power of gold and silver, the Spanish flotilla, the Holy Roman Empire, the world divided between Spain and Portugal, the birth of the English Empire, the slave trade, the colonization of the Americas—that the place of doubt, dreams, and magic seems the largest, the most troubling. In France, the biggest witchcraft trials, in Louvain and Pau, take place first under first Louis XIII, then under Louis XIV. The peak of Spain’s rise corresponds in fact to the Baroque Age, which is the age of doubt and questioning.

The dreams of the Baroque Age are a questioning of reality, power, and money and mark the appearance of a certain relativity (as one would say today in this other baroque age which is our own). Time, value, love, goods, and the pleasures of our lives are ephemeral. Who is not familiar with these magical lines from Francisco de Quevedo? "Yesterday has gone; tomorrow hasn’t arrived; / Today is going away without stopping for one one moment; / I am a ‘was’ and a ‘will be’ and an ‘is’ tired."3

Or these mysterious and moving lines from Luis de Góngora:

 

While, to compete with your hair, gold burnished in the sun gleams in vain; while, with scorn, in the midst of the plain, your white brow regards the lily fair; while each lip is pursued by more eyes than follow the early carnation; and while with proud disdain your neck triumphs over bright crystal: enjoy neck, hair, lips, and brow, before what was in your golden youth gold, lily, carnation, crystal bright, not only turns into silver or a crushed violet, but you and all of it together into earth, smoke, dust, shadow, nothingness.4

 

The Baroque is not merely a literary mode or school. It is a philosophy, a natural tendency of man, the expression of his nocturnal side, of his dreams and worries. Approximately one hundred years before Góngora’s verses, Quevedo, and La vida es sueño, in the Aztec world on the verge of disappearing, the great Netzahuacoyotl, Lord of the Acolhua people from Tetzcoco, sang the same elegies and laments that would make up the poetry of the English Romantics and of Novalis. One finds here as well the themes of the fragility of happiness, time, the beauty of youth, death and destruction, the final void.

 

Dress yourself in flowers
In flowers the color of the ara of the lakes,
Brilliant as the sun,
The flowers of the raven,
Adorn yourself here on earth,
Only here.
It is thus
Only for a brief moment,
The flowers, for a moment,
We have readied them.
Already, we carry them to the god’s home,
To the home of the Fleshless.5

 

The Baroque asserts nothing other than the right to dream, and it speaks of nothing other than man’s former ties to the supernatural, which is why that right is the dominant force of civilization.

It is in the very era of rationalism, the Age of Classicism, that dreams reveal their power. Cartesian philosophy also has its part of shadow, as Descartes’ dream and the Pascalian illumination bear witness. Writings on the irrational flourish during the years of the Encyclopédie. One can cite not only the writings of Saint-Martin and Swedenborg but also the fantastic tales of this period: Jacques Cazotte with his Diable amoureux, the translations of A Thousand and One Nights, the English Gothic novels by Beckford and Lewis, the German ones by Tieck, and the sometimes absurd, often disturbing tales of the famous Cabinet des Fées, published in Amsterdam at the end of the eighteenth century.

Born of the European wars and the Napoleonic adventure, the Age of Romanticism also dreams of a different society. The second wave of Romanticism (the one which will nourish the young Isidore Ducasse) is at the once the era of the birth of the great industrial empires, colonization, and banks, as well as an era of dreams, of a return to origins, of the resurrection of magic and mysticism. If, as Vladimir Propp notes in his essay on the origins of Russian folktales, most dreams are tied to the tribal or theocratic organization of human societies—the dragon, for instance, as an expression of tyranny and despotism—then the imagination of fantastic literature expresses a demand, a struggle for the freedom to dream.

Romanticism is also the age of messianisms, in the Americas, Oceania, and Africa. The same "wave of dream," as Paul Eluard would later call it, runs throughout the world, pitting conquered peoples against the new industrialized masters. In North America, the Indian "dreamers"—Sioux, Arapaho, Apache—guide the last barbarous nations in total war against the conquering Europeans, who for their part draw on the most effective weapon of all, that of money. Dream dances, ghost dances,6 visions, dreams set the primitive peoples against the modern world and send them on toward the only outcome possible: death. It is a case of a total confrontation between the ideas of the modern world—utilitarianism, logic, determinism—and the prior beliefs in magic and the beyond. Dreams are an insurrection aimed at a new freedom, the freedom of the individual against the prohibitions of classical morality, against logical order; they are a means of access to a new perception of being—i.e., this totality which was the primary value of primitive societies. The deep meaning of Lautréamont’s quest lies in this insurrection of dreams.

After Lautréamont and Nerval, the Surrealists also defend the right to dream, this freedom to dream that can hardly be considered a gentle one. For the Surrealists, dreams are far more than just a poetic theme or means of inspiration. It is a question of a total experience, both physical and metaphysical, from which man will emerge different, changed. It is for this reason that they spoke of a "Surrealist Revolution."

At issue therefore is a complete reversal of values (born, moreover, of nihilism and of the absurdity of the deadliest wars man has ever known). As Breton states in the first Surrealist Manifesto from 1924:

 

To reduce the imagination to a state of slavery—even though it would mean the elimination of what is commonly called happiness—is to betray all sense of absolute justice within oneself. Imagination alone offers me some intimation of what can be, and this is enough to remove to some slight degree the terrible injunction; enough, too, to allow me to devote myself to it without fear of making a mistake (as though it were possible to make a bigger mistake). Where does it begin to turn bad, and where does the mind’s stability cease? For the mind, is the possibility of erring not rather the contingency of good?7

 

Man’s freedom to seek and reveal himself through visions and dreams implicates the dangers of limits, which is why the rationalist and progressivist society of the modern world, spawned by the Reformation, cannot allow it to exist. Man—this "definitive dreamer" as Breton puts it, or Lautréamont’s "pubescent dreamer" victimized by the cruelty of his own creator—ust choose for himself the path of his revelation, the means to his freedom. In undertaking this extreme experience, a man sometimes risks his own life, like the poet Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, creator of the movement "Le Grand Jeu"; like Nerval; or like Antonin Artaud, who, in the tradition of his hero Van Gogh, was "suicided by society."

Doubtless one of the last seers of the modern world, Artaud le Momo, poet-magus par excellence, takes his introspective quest to the very edge of madness: "Where others present their works, I claim to do no more than show my mind. / Life consists of burning up questions. / I cannot conceive of work that is detached from life. / I do not like detached creation. Neither can I conceive of the mind as detached from itself. Each of my works, each diagram of myself, each glacial flowering of my inmost soul dribble over me."8 Artaud renders the totality of this experience of being, in which man is the receptor of magical and unreal forces, in the following terms: "Delights and furies, the entire sky / Launches upon us like a cloud / A whirlwind of wild wings / Torrential with obscenities."9 This burning, harassing freedom leads Artaud all the way to Mexico, to the lands of the Tarahumara Indians, where he seeks the Mountain of Signs, the Race Principle, and a complete, ecstatic communion with creation. Later, in the solitude of madness, it leads still further, to the asylum in Rodez.

Acquired through so much suffering, anguish, and pain, this freedom to dream has something mythlike to it. The myth of katabasis comes to mind: out of curiosity, love, or a fascination with the unknown that is the destiny of some, the human hero descends into the underworld, defying danger and taboo, crossing through the portals of death. Most of the heroes of ancient civilizations have made this journey: the giant Gilgamesh, seeking the flower of immortality; Orpheus, for the love of Eurydice; or Quetzalcóatl, the god of Tula, sacrificed by his celestial enemy Tezcatlipoca and reborn at the end of each century in the form of a morning star. The ecstasy of the shamans and the visions of the prophets had no other goal than to undertake, one more time, this initiatory voyage beyond death. The poets and the seers after them sought out this encounter, this meeting with the two truths of man: that of his life and that of his death. Primitive man, or, in Lévi-Strauss’s terms, "man without history" (since, by way of this other reality, man abolishes time and death, the very things which make up histories), experienced this meeting in its entirety, in each one of the acts of his daily life. In hiding this truth, the determinist, rationalist, Western society has mutilated the nocturnal side of man, the side of his magical and creative origins. Thanks to the poets’ dreams; thanks to Baudelaire, Nerval, and Lautréamont; thanks to Jorge Carrera Andrade and Octavio Paz; thanks to the writers since Joyce and Proust, up to those of today—Borges, Rulfo, Onetti, Mercè Rodoreda—we know now that this imaginative freedom is one of our most precious assets. Like the ancient Mayas, like the Egyptians and Greeks, we have learned that time is cyclical and that visible reality is only a reflection. As Borges, perhaps one of the last visionaries of our world, so admirably puts it, we have learned that "the whole of time has already happened and that our life is a vague memory or dim reflection, doubtless false and fragmented, of an irrevocable process."10 Is this not the rejoinder to the ancient Aztec proverb that expresses the notions of time and creation through the myth of eternal return? "Another time, it shall be thus, another time things shall be thus, in another time, in another place. What happened long ago and which now is no longer done, another time it shall be done, another time it shall be thus, as it was in very distant times. Those who live today shall live another time, they shall live once again."11

—J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Seminar On Lautréamont And ‘Freedom To Dream,’” University of Oklahoma, 18 February 1997.

 

Published as J.M.G. Le Clézio, “Freedom to dream.” World Literature Today v. 71 (Autumn 1997) p. 671-4. Translated by Ralph Schoolcraft III

 

Footnotes

1 The phrase appears in English in the original.
2 Sahagún, A History of Ancient Mexico, vol. 1, tr. Fanny R. Bandelier, Nashville, Fisk University Press, 1932, p. 146.
3 Quevedo, "Metaphysical Poems, #2," in Elias L. Rivers, Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, tr. Elias L. Rivers, Prospect Heights (Il.), Waveland, 1966, pp. 260-61.
4 Góngora, "Sonnet CLXVI," in Rivers, Renaissance and Baroque Poetry of Spain, p. 163.
5 The translation used here is that found in J.M.G. Le Clézio, The Mexican Dream: Or, The Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilizations, tr. Teresa Lavender Fagan, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 113.
6 These two phrases appear in English in the original.
7 André Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)," in Manifestoes of Surrealism, trs. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1972, pp. 4-5.
8 Artaud, The “Umbilicus of Limbo,” in Selected Writings, tr. Helen Weaver, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976, p. 59.
9 Artaud, "Windowpane of Sound" ["Vitre de son"]; my translation.
10 Jorge Luis Borges, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," tr. Alastair Reid, in Ficciones, New York, Grove, 1962, p. 25.
11 Codex Florentinus, facsimile edition, Mexico City, AGN, 1969, tr. Alfredo Lopez Austin, book VI, p. 196. This English translation is also from Le Clézio, The Mexican Dream, p. 208.

 

intimations of oswald spengler… by the mid-60s, mailer pessimistic about the future of the west…

…and my ideas are going to become more and more unimportant. There’s something going on which I don’t think I understand anymore, and I used to have a confidence that I understood the times better than anyone, but now I just don’t know. These McLuhans, these Pynchons and Jeremy Larners and this love of electronics and plastic and folk/rock make me feel like Plekhanov’s scolding of the Soviets in 1917. Sometimes I think we’re at the tail end of something which soon may be gone forever, so that in 50 years, for instance, there may not be anyone alive who’s read all of “Remembrance of Things Past.” See how gloomy I am. Why indeed should I give a damn what my friends’ ideas are—indeed let them cherish them for a while, they don’t matter any more thanmy own ideas. What I do know is that the majority of people among whom you spent your intellectual life, and they are the Communists of the ’40s who form up a large part of this, had an aridity of invention and sterility of emotion which had everything to do with preparing the ground for the extraordinary nihilism which is now near upon us, because with rare exceptions, and Lionel would be one of the very rare ones, they offered no fertile continuations of Western thought—their best and final tool was a savage, even cannibalistic malice…..


Love for now,      

Norman

—From a letter by Norman Mailer to Diana Trilling, June 1966. Now consider Mailer’s letter of August 8, 1945, to his first wife, Beatrice, about the long-term consequences of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima:


I think our age is going to mark the end of such concepts as man’s will and mass determination of power. The world will be controlled by a few men, politicians and technicians—Spengler’s men of the late West-European-American civilization. Much as he stimulates me, I’m no Spenglerian. In the alternatives of doing the necessary or nothing, I prefer nothing if the necessary is unpalatable.

More of Norman Mailer’s letters appear on The New Yorker’s Web site.