Tag Archives: death
rainer maria rilke – from “requiem for a friend” (1908)
… That’s what you had to come back for: the lament that we omitted. Can you hear me? I would like to fling my voice out like a cloth over the fragments of your death, and keep pulling at it until it is torn to pieces, and all my words would have to walk around shivering, in the tatters of that voice; as if lament were enough.
But now I must accuse: not the man who withdrew you from yourself (I cannot find him; he looks like everyone), but in this one man, I accuse: all men. When somewhere, from deep within me, there arises the vivid sense of having been a child, the purity and essence of that childhood where I once lived: then I don’t want to know it. I want to form an angel from that sense and hurl him upward, into the front row of angels who scream out, reminding God.
For this suffering has lasted far too long; none of us can bear it; it is too heavy — this tangled suffering of spurious love which, building on convention like a habit, calls itself just, and fattens on injustice. Show me a man with a right to his possession. Who can possess what cannot hold its own self, but only, now and then, will blissfully catch itself, then quickly throw itself away, like a child playing with a ball. As little as a captain can hold the carved Nike facing outward from his ship’s prow when the lightness of her godhead suddenly lifts her up, into the bright sea-wind: so little can one of us call back the woman who, now no longer seeing us, walks on along the narrow strip of her existence as though by miracle, in perfect safety — unless, that is, he wishes to do wrong. For this is wrong, if anything is wrong: not to enlarge the freedom of a love with all the inner freedom one can summon. We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.
Are you still here? Are you standing in some corner? You knew so much of all this, you were able to do so much; you passed through life so open to all things, like an early morning. I know: women suffer; for love means being alone; and artists in their work sometimes intuit that they must keep transforming, where they love. You began both; both exist in that which any fame takes from you and disfigures. Oh you were far beyond all fame; were almost invisible; had withdrawn your beauty, softly, as one would lower a brightly colored flag on the gray morning after a holiday. You had just one desire: a year’s long work — which was never finished; was somehow never finished. If you are still here with me, if in this darkness there is still some place where your spirit resonates on the shallow sound waves stirred up by my voice: hear me: help me. We can so easily slip back from what we have struggled to attain, abruptly, into a life we never wanted; can find that we are trapped, as in a dream, and die there, without ever waking up. This can occur. Anyone who has lifted his blood into a years-long work may find that he can’t sustain it, the force of gravity is irresistible, and it falls back, worthless. For somewhere there is an ancient enmity between our daily life and the great work. Help me, in saying it, to understand it.
Do not return. If you can bear to, stay dead with the dead. The dead have their own tasks. But help me, if you can without distraction, since in me what is most distant sometimes helps.
[Translator: Stephen Mitchell]
sharon van etten – flirted with you all my life (2010)
This is incredible.
A cover of the 2009 Vic Chesnutt song, from the Fantasy Covers: The 2000s Part Two podcast.
tibetan book of the dead (1994)
Narrated by Leonard Cohen, this two-part documentary series explores ancient teachings on death and dying and boldly visualizes the afterlife according to Tibetan philosophy. Tibetan Buddhists believe that after a person dies, they enter a state of “bardo” for 49 days until a rebirth.
Program 1, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life documents the history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, tracing the book’s acceptance and use in Europe and North America. Included is remarkable footage of the rites and liturgies surrounding and following the death of a Ladakhi elder as well as the views of the Dalai Lama on life and death.
Program 2, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation observes an old Buddhist lama and a 13-year-old novice monk as they guide a deceased person into the afterlife. The passage of the soul is visualized with animation blended into actual location shooting.
This information comes from the website of the National Film Board of Canada. NFB produced the documentary in co-operation with NHK Japan and Mistral Film of France.
feel free to play the piano (21 october 2016)
My kind friend Anwar gave me a ticket to Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo concert last night at the Fugard Theatre. It was the quietly incandescent performance of an old man who has been so far and seen so much, whose heart remains rooted in this troubled land even as it hurts to be here, even as his fingers know he doesn’t have forever. His playing held such sorrow, yet such peace, and playfulness, too. Refusing easy resolution, defiantly free as ever. We imagined afterwards how incredible it would have been if the whole performance could have been broadcast live on loudspeakers, into every roiling corner of this country, for everyone to hear it simultaneously. A lament. A hymn. A balm. A lesson. Beyond the span of words’ expression.
jolie holland – mexico city (2009)
Recorded live at Paste Magazine’s offices in Decatur, Georgia, on 16 January 2009.
“Among all the remarkable Usvyaty singers it is necessary, first and foremost, to single out the name of Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva [I can’t find any English website for her]. We communicated with Olga Sergeeva for ten years and recorded over 300 songs in the most various genres performed by her. I brought the singer to Leningrad three times and she performed in ethnographic concerts in the House of Composers, on Leningrad radio and made some records with “Melodia” company.
“Sergeeva is an outstanding folk singer. Ritual songs and old lyric prevail in her richest repertoire which indicates the high artistic taste of Olga Sergeeva, as most of her contemporaries prefer singing new lyrical songs of the romance type. In the lyrical songs especially loved by the singer, her voice sounds plummy, deep–however, reserved at the same time and even subdued a bit, and from the very first sounds it spellbinds the listener with its beauty and cordiality.
“There is nothing outward, emotionally open in her performance, this is singing for herself with no relation to the listener. At the same time plainness, naturalness, strictness, is combined here with improvised freedom and excellence of micro variation. “Each song has one hundred changes”, the singer remarked once. It is not by chance that Andrei Tarkovsky chose the recording of Olga Sergeevas’s 1971/2 recording of the old song ‘Kumushki’ for his film Nostalghia.” (From HERE.)
The second version that follows here is also very beautiful, but a more contemporary interpretation, by singer Pelageya off her album Girls’ Songs in 2007.
Here is a translation of the words that I found:
Oh, my girlfriends, be sweet;
be sweet and love one another,
be sweet and love one another,
Love me too.
You will go to the green garden,
take me with you.
You will pick flowers,
Pick some for me too.
You will weave garlands,
take me with you.
You will go to the Donau,
take me with you.
You will offer your wreaths to the river,
offer mine too.
Your wreaths will float on the water,
but mine will sink to the bottom.
Your boyfriends came back from the war!
Mine didn’t return.
so long, marianne…
Leonard Cohen’s Marianne died last week. Two days before she left earth, he sent her a beautiful letter.
“Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
“And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”
Read more here.
note to self (live at the blah blah bar)
A poem by Louise Westerhout, accompanied by Lliezel Ellick (cello) and Rosemary Lombard (autoharp), performed on 28 July 2016 at the Blah Blah Bar’s Open Mouth night.
Next time we’ll make sure we find a venue where rude men at the bar are not entitled to talk through performances…
gloomy sunday (live at the blah blah bar)
A version of the Rezsö Seress classic that we performed on 28 July 2016 as part of a collective which included Louise Westerhout, Lliezel Ellick, Rosemary Lombard, Debra Pryor and Roxanne de Freitas, at Blah Blah Bar’s “Open Mouth” night. We had had just two rehearsals, and I feel like this has the potential to go a lot further… Watch this space!
“the widow’s jar” – an automaton by thomas kuntz (2016)
The most wondrous stuff regularly comes up in my feeds, as if in direct response to my posts, but not – here’s an example. If it’s all coincidence, I’m very lucky.
Check out Thomas Kuntz’s site for more of his incredible automata.
the world is ending
the smiths – cemetry gates (1986)
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So I meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
While Wilde is on mine
So we go inside and we gravely read the stones
All those people, all those lives
Where are they now?
With loves, and hates
And passions just like mine
They were born
And then they lived
And then they died
It seems so unfair
I want to cry
You say: “‘Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own
But I’ve read well, and I’ve heard them said
A hundred times (maybe less, maybe more)
If you must write prose/poems
The words you use should be your own
Don’t plagiarise or take “on loan”
‘Cause there’s always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows
And who trips you up and laughs
When you fall
Who’ll trip you up and laugh
When you fall
You say: “‘Ere long done do does did”
Words which could only be your own
And then produce the text
From whence t’was ripped
(Some dizzy whore, 1804)
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re happy
And I’ll meet you at the cemetry gates
Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day
So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I’ll meet you at the cemetry gates
Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose
‘Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine
alexis pauline gumbs – pulse (for the 50 and beyond)
A poem for those who died, shot in Pulse nightclub in Orlando this weekend past.
i was going to see you
i was going to dance
in the same place with you someday
i was going to pretend not to notice
how you and your friends smiled
when you saw me and my partner
trying to cumbia to bachata
but i was going to feel more free anyway
because you were smiling
and we were together
and you had your stomach out
and you felt beautiful in your sweat
i was going to smile when i walked by
i was going to hug you the first time
a friend of a friend introduced us
i was going to compliment your shoes
instead of writing you a love poem
i was going to smile every time i saw you
and struggle to remember your name
we were going to sing together
we were going to belt out Selena
i was going to mispronounce everything
except for amor
and ay ay ay
i was going to covet your confidence and your bracelet
i was going to be grateful for the sight of you
i was going scream YES!!! at nothing in particular
at everything especially
meaning you beyond who i knew you to be
i was going to see you in hallways
and be too shy to say hello
you were going to come to the workshop
you were going to sign up for the workshop and not come
you were going to translate the webinar
even though my politics seemed out there
we were going to sign up for creating change the same day
and be reluctant about it for completely different reasons
we were going to watch the keynotes
and laugh at completely different times
i was going to hold your hand in a big activity
about the intimacy of strangers
about the strangeness of needing prayer
we were going to get the same automated voice message
when we complained that it was not what it should have been
we were going to be standing in the same line
for various overpriced drinks
during a shift change
i was going to breathe loudly so you would notice me
you were going to compliment my hair
it isn’t fair
because we were going to work
to beyonce and rihanna
and the rihanna’s and beyonce’s to come
and the beyonce’s and rihanna’s after that
we were going to not drink enough water
and stay out later than our immune systems could handle
we were going to sit in traffic in each others blindspots
listening to top 40 songs that trigger queer memories
just outside the scope of marketing predictions
we were going to get old and i was going to wonder
about the hint of a tattoo i could see under your sleeve
i was going to blink and just miss
the fought-for laughter lines around your liner-loved eyes
i was going to go out for my birthday
but i didn’t
and you did
we were going to be elders
just because we were still around
and i was going to listen to you on a panel
we didn’t feel qualified for
and hear you talk about your guilt
for still being alive
when so many of your friends were taken
by racist police
and jealous ex-lovers
and no access to healthcare
and how you had a stable job
you suffered at until the weekend
how you avoided the drama
and only went to the club at pride
and so here you were with no one to dance with anymore
i was going to see you and forget you
and only remember you in my hips
and how my smile came easier than clenching my teeth eventually
and how i finally learned whatever it is i still haven’t learned yet
i was going to hear you laugh and not know why
and not care
our ancestors fought for a future
and we were both going to be there
until we weren’t
and i don’t know if it would hurt more
to lose you later after knowing you
i don’t know if it would hurt more
to know you died on your own day
by your own hands
or any of the other systems
that stalk you and me and ours forever
i only know the pain that i am having
and that you are not here to share it
you are not here to bear it
you were going to pass me a candle at the next vigil
but now i am pulse
and now you
julia holter – goddess eyes i (2012)
This track comes from her brilliant 2012 album, Ekstasis, which you can listen to HERE. Video directed by Jose Wolff.
“The first thing that came to mind was an image that gradually deteriorates with visual noise, echoing the sonic noise present in the song. We go from lightness to darkness, away from a structured, fabricated place and into raw territory.” – Jose Wolff – August 2012
simone weil – he whom we must love is absent
God can only be present in creation under the form of absence.
Evil is the innocence of God. We have to place God at an inﬁnite distance in order to conceive of him as innocent of evil; reciprocally, evil implies that we have to place God at an inﬁnite distance.
This world, in so far as it is completely empty of God, is God himself.
Necessity, in so far as it is absolutely other than the good, is the good itself. That is why all consolation in aﬄiction separates us from love and from truth. That is the mystery of mysteries. When we touch it we are safe.
‘In the desert of the East…’ We have to be in a desert. For he whom we must love is absent.
He who puts his life into his faith in God can lose his faith. But he who puts his life in God himself will never lose it. To put our life into that which we cannot touch in any way… It is impossible. It is a death. That is what is required.
Nothing which exists is absolutely worthy of love. We must therefore love that which does not exist.
This non-existent object of love is not a ﬁction, however, for our ﬁctions cannot be any more worthy of love than we are ourselves, and we are not worthy of it.
Consent to the good—not to any good which can be grasped or represented, but unconditional consent to the absolute good.
When we consent to something which we represent to ourselves as the good, we consent to a mixture of good and evil, and this consent produces good and evil: the proportion of good and evil in us does not change. On the other hand the unconditional consent to that good which we are not able and never will be able to represent to ourselves—such consent is pure good and produces only good, moreover, it is enough that it should continue for the whole soul to be nothing but good in the end.
Faith (when it is a question of a supernatural interpretation of the natural) is a conjecture by analogy based on supernatural experience. Thus those who have the privilege of mystical contemplation, having experienced the mercy of God, suppose that, God being mercy, the created world is a work of mercy. But as for obtaining evidence of this mercy directly from nature, it would be necessary to become blind, deaf and without pity in order to believe such a thing possible. Thus the Jews and Moslems, who want to ﬁnd in nature the proofs of divine mercy, are pitiless. And often the Christians are as well.
That is why mysticism is the only source of virtue for humanity. Because when men do not believe that there is inﬁnite mercy behind the curtain of the world, or when they think that this mercy is in front of the curtain, they become cruel.
There are four evidences of divine mercy here below: the favours of God to beings capable of contemplation (these states exist and form part of their experience as creatures); the radiance of these beings and their compassion, which is the divine compassion in them; the beauty of the world. The fourth evidence is the complete absence of mercy here below.1
Incarnation. God is weak because he is impartial. He sends sunshine and rain to good and evil alike. This indiﬀerence of the Father and the weakness of Christ correspond. Absence of God. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed… God changes nothing whatsoever. Christ was killed out of anger because he was only God.
If I thought that God sent me suﬀering by an act of his will and for my good, I should think that I was something, and I should miss the chief use of suﬀering which is to teach me that I am nothing. It is therefore essential to avoid all such thoughts, but it is necessary to love God through the suﬀering.
I must love being nothing. How horrible it would be if I were something! I must love my nothingness, love being a nothingness. I must love with that part of the soul which is on the other side of the curtain, for the part of the soul which is perceptible to consciousness cannot love nothingness. It has a horror of it. Though it may think it loves nothingness, what it really loves is something other than nothingness.
God sends aﬄiction without distinction to the wicked and to the good, just as he sends the rain and the sunlight. He did not reserve the cross for Christ. He enters into contact with a human individual as such only through purely spiritual grace which responds to the gaze turned towards him, that is to say to the exact extent to which the individual ceases to be an individual. No event is a favour on the part of God—only grace is that.
Communion is good for the good and bad for the wicked. Hence, damned souls are in paradise, but for them paradise is hell.
The cry of suﬀering: ‘Why?’ This rings throughout the Iliad.
To explain suﬀering is to console it; therefore it must not be explained.
Herein lies the pre-eminent value of the suﬀering of those who are innocent. It bears a resemblance to the acceptance of the evil in creation by God who is innocent.
The irreducible character of suﬀering which makes it impossible for us not to have a horror of it at the moment when we are undergoing it is destined to bring the will to a standstill, just as absurdity brings the intelligence to a standstill, and absence love, so that man, having come to the end of his human faculties, may stretch out his arms, stop, look up and wait.
‘He will laugh at the trials of the innocent.’ Silence of God. The noises here below imitate this silence. They mean nothing.
It is when from the innermost depths of our being we need a sound which does mean something—when we cry out for an answer and it is not given us—it is then that we touch the silence of God.
As a rule our imagination puts words into the sounds in the same way as we idly play at making out shapes in wreaths of smoke; but when we are too exhausted, when we no longer have the courage to play, then we must have real words. We cry out for them. The cry tears our very entrails. All we get is silence.
After having gone through that, some begin to talk to themselves like madmen. Whatever they may do afterwards, we must have nothing but pity for them. The others, and they are not numerous, give their whole heart to silence.
1 It is precisely by this antithesis, this rending of our souls between the eﬀects of grace within us and the beauty of the world around us, on the one hand, and the implacable necessity which rules the universe on the other, that we discern God as both present to man and as absolutely beyond all human measurement.
Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
leonard cohen – joan of arc (1971)
“Myself I long for love and light
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?”
From Songs of Love and Hate (Columbia,1971).
breathless: sound recording, disembodiment, and the transformation of lyrical nostalgia – allen s. weiss
How sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death.
Currently sitting with this book in my reading queue… i.e. trying to wait until I have read the stuff I need to prioritise before diving into it, but having peeped the PDF I’m struggling to!
Breathless explores early sound recording and the literature that both foreshadowed its invention and was contemporaneous with its early years, revealing the broad influence of this new technology at the very origins of Modernism. Through close readings of works by Edgar Allan Poe, Stéphane Mallarmé, Charles Cros, Paul Valéry, Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, Jules Verne, and Antonin Artaud, Allen S. Weiss shows how sound recording’s uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death. Interdisciplinary, the book bridges poetry and literature, theology and metaphysics. As Breathless shows, the symbolic and practical roles of poetry and technology were transformed as new forms of nostalgia and eroticism arose.
“By suggesting that sound recording changes the very notion of textuality at a key inflection point in Modernism, Weiss literally turns the field of cultural studies on its ear.” (Gregory Whitehead, co-editor of Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde)
leslie sarony – ain’t it grand to be blooming well dead? (1932)
Imperial 2688, played on HMV 101 gramophone.
prince – 7 (1992)
la rose de fer/la fête triste
Film: La Rose de Fer (Rose of Iron, 1973) – Director: Jean Rollin – with Françoise Pascal
Music: “La Fête Triste” by Trisomie 21 (from the album Passions Divisées, released on Stechak,1984)
Remix by David from Lille
anne carson – every exit is an entrance (2005)
I want to make a praise of sleep. Not as a practitioner—I admit I have never been what is called “a good sleeper” and perhaps we can return later to that curious concept—but as a reader. There is so much sleep to read, there are so many ways to read it. In Aristotle’s view, sleep requires a “daimonic but not a divine” kind of reading. Kant refers to sleep’s content as “involuntary poetry in a healthy state.”
Keats wrote a “Sonnet to Sleep,” invoking its powers against the analytic of the day:
O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
. . . Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed casket of my soul.
My intention in this essay is to burrow like a mole in different ways of reading sleep, different kinds of readers of sleep, both those who are saved, healthy, daimonic, good sleepers and those who are not. Keats ascribes to sleep an embalming action. This means two things: that sleep does soothe and perfume our nights; that sleep can belie the stench of death inborn in us. Both actions are salvific in Keats’ view. Both deserve (I think) to be praised.
My earliest memory is of a dream. It was in the house where we lived when I was three or four years of age. I dreamed I was asleep in the house in an upper room.
That I awoke and came downstairs and stood in the living room. The lights were on in the living room, although it was hushed and empty. The usual dark green sofa and chairs stood along the usual pale green walls. It was the same old living room as ever, I knew it well, nothing was out of place. And yet it was utterly, certainly, different. Inside its usual appearance the living room was as changed as if it had gone mad.
Later in life, when I was learning to reckon with my father, who was afflicted with and eventually died of dementia, this dream recovered itself to me, I think because it seemed to bespeak the situation of looking at a well-known face, whose appearance is exactly as it should be in every feature and detail, except that it is also, somehow, deeply and glowingly, strange.
The dream of the green living room was my first experience of such strangeness and I find it as uncanny today as I did when I was three. But there was no concept of madness or dementia available to me at that time. So, as far as I can recall, I explained the dream to myself by saying that I had caught the living room sleeping. I had entered it from the sleep side.And it took me years to recognize, or even to frame a question about, why I found this entrance into strangeness so
supremely consoling. For despite the spookiness, inexplicability and later tragic reference of the green living room, it was and remains for me a consolation to think of it lying there, sunk in its greenness, breathing its own order, answerable to no one, apparently penetrable everywhere and yet so perfectly disguised in all the propaganda of its own waking life as to become in a true sense something incognito at the heart of our sleeping house.
It is in these terms that I wish to praise sleep, as a glimpse of something incognito. Both words are important. Incognito means “unrecognized, hidden, unknown.”
Something means not nothing. What is incognito hides from us because it has something worth hiding, or so we judge. As an example of this judgment I shall cite for you two stanzas of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Man-Moth.” The Man- Moth, she says, is a creature who lives most of the time underground but pays occasional visits to the surface of the earth, where he attempts to scale the faces of the buildings and reach the moon, for he understands the moon to be a hole at the top of the sky through which he may escape. Failing to attain the moon each time he falls back and returns to the pale subways of his underground existence.
Here is the poem’s third stanza:
Up the façades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him,
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions).
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.
The Man-Moth is not sleeping, nor is he a dream, but he may represent sleep itself—an action of sleep, sliding up the facades of the world at night on his weird quest. He harbours a secret content, valuable content, which is difficult to extract even if you catch him.
Here is the poem’s final stanza:
If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee’s sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, and if you’re not paying attention
he’ll swallow it. However, if you watch, he’ll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.
To drink the tear of sleep, to detach the prefix “un-” from its canniness and from its underground purposes, has been the project of many technologies and therapies—from the ancient temple of Asklepios at Epidauros, where sick people slept the night in order to dream their own cure, to the psychoanalytic algebras of Jacques Lacan, who understands sleep as a space from which the sleeper can travel in two directions, both of them a kind of waking.
If I were to praise either of these methods of healing I would do so on grounds of their hopefulness. Both Asklepiadic priests and Lacanian analysts posit a continuity between the realms of waking and sleeping, whereby a bit of something incognito may cross over from night to day and change the life of the sleeper. Here is an ancient account of one of the sleep cures at Epidauros:
There came as a suppliant to the god Asklepios a man who was so one eyed that on the left he had only lids, there was nothing, just emptiness. People in the temple laughed at him for thinking he would see with an eye that was not there. But in a vision that appeared to him as he slept, the god seemed to boil some medicine and, drawing apart the lids, poured it in. When day came the man went out, seeing with both eyes.
What could be more hopeful than this story of an empty eye filled with seeing as it sleeps? An analyst of the Lacanian sort might say that the one-eyed man has chosen to travel all the way in the direction of his dream and so awakes to a reality more real than the waking world. He dove into the nothingness of his eye and is awakened by too much light. Lacan would praise sleep as a blindness, which nonetheless looks back at us.
What does sleep see when it looks back at us? This is a question entertained by Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse, a novel that falls asleep for twenty-five pages in the middle. The story has three
parts. Parts I and III concern the planning and execution of a trip to the lighthouse by the Ramsay family.
Part II is told entirely from the sleep side. It is called “Time Passes.” It begins as a night that grows into many nights then turns into seasons and years. During this time, changes flow over the house of the story and penetrate the lives of the characters while they sleep. These changes are glimpsed
as if from underneath; Virginia Woolf ’s main narrative is a catalogue of silent bedrooms, motionless chests of drawers, apples left on the dining room table, the wind prying at a window blind, moonlight gliding on floorboards. Down across these phenomena come facts from the waking world, like swimmers stroking by on a night lake. The facts are brief, drastic and enclosed in square brackets.
[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]
[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.]
[Mr. Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success. The war, people said, had revived their interest in poetry.]
These square brackets convey surprising information about the Ramsays and their friends, yet they float past the narrative like the muffled shock of a sound heard while sleeping. No one wakes up. Night plunges on, absorbed in its own events. There is no exchange between night and its captives, no tampering with eyelids, no drinking the tear of sleep. Viewed from the sleep side, an empty eye socket is just a fact about a person, not a wish to be fulfilled, not a therapeutic challenge. Virginia Woolf offers us, through sleep, a glimpse of a kind of emptiness that interests her. It is the emptiness of things before we make use of them, a glimpse of reality prior to its efficacy.
Some of her characters also search for this glimpse while they are awake. Lily Briscoe, who is a painter in To the Lighthouse, stands before her canvas and ponders how “to get hold of that very jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it has been made anything.”
In a famous passage of her diaries, Virginia Woolf agrees with the aspiration:
If I could catch the feeling I would: the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world.
What would the singing of the real world sound like? What would the thing itself look like? Such questions are entertained by her character Bernard, at the end of The Waves:
“So now, taking upon me the mystery of things, I could go like a spy without leaving this place, without stirring from my chair. . . . The birds sing in chorus; the house is whitened; the sleeper stretches; gradually all is astir. Light floods the room and drives shadow beyond shadow to where they hang in folds inscrutable. What does this central shadow hold? Something? Nothing? I do not know. . . .”
Throughout her fiction Virginia Woolf likes to finger the border between nothing and something. Sleepers are ideal agents of this work.
Read the rest of this brilliant essay: Every Exit is an Entrance from Anne Carson’s Decreation (2005).
lou reed – street hassle
laurie anderson’s new film, “heart of a dog”
“And finally I saw it: the connection between love and death, and that the purpose of death is the release of love.”
Here is a review, and here is the trailer for Laurie Anderson’s new film, Heart of a Dog, which premiered in September. I really hope I get to see it somewhere on a big screen.
And Robert Christgau had this to say about the soundtrack:
The soundtrack to a film I missed is also Anderson’a simplest and finest album, accruing power and complexity as you relisten and relisten again: 75 minutes of sparsely but gorgeously and aptly orchestrated tales about a) her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle and b) the experience of death. There are few detours—even her old fascination with the surveillance state packs conceptual weight. Often she’s wry, but never is she satiric; occasionally she varies spoken word with singsong, but never is her voice distorted. She’s just telling us stories about life and death and what comes in the middle when you do them right, which is love.
There’s a lot of Buddhism, a lot of mom, a whole lot of Lolabelle, and no Lou Reed at all beyond a few casual “we”s. Only he’s there in all this love and death talk—you can feel him. And then suddenly the finale is all Lou, singing a rough, wise, abstruse song about the meaning of love that first appeared on his last great album, Ecstasy—a song that was dubious there yet is perfect here. One side of the CD insert is portraits of Lolabelle. But on the other side there’s a note: “dedicated to the magnificent spirit/of my husband, Lou Reed/1942-2013.” I know I should see the movie. But I bet it’d be an anticlimax. A PLUS
EDIT 6/11/15. And here’s a beautiful interview with Anderson about the film:
anne sexton – a story for rose on the midnight flight to boston
Until tonight they were separate specialties, different stories, the best of their own worst.
Riding my warm cabin home, I remember Betsy’s laughter; she laughed as you did, Rose, at the first story. Someday, I promised her, I’ll be someone going somewhere, and we plotted it in the humdrum school for proper girls. The next April the plane bucked me like a horse, my elevators turned and fear blew down my throat, that last profane gauge of a stomach coming up. And then returned to land, as unlovely as any seasick sailor, sincerely eighteen; my first story, my funny failure.
Maybe, Rose, there is always another story, better unsaid, grim or flat or predatory.
Half a mile down the lights of the in-between cities turn up their eyes at me. And I remember Betsy’s story, the April night of the civilian air crash and her sudden name misspelled in the evening paper, the interior of shock and the paper gone in the trash ten years now. She used the return ticket I gave her.
This was the rude kill of her; two planes cracking in mid-air over Washington, like blind birds. And the picking up afterwards, the morticians tracking bodies in the Potomac and piecing them like boards to make a leg or a face. There is only her miniature photograph left, too long now for fear to remember. Special tonight because I made her into a story that I grew to know and savor. A reason to worry, Rose, when you fix an old death like that, and outliving the impact, to find you’ve pretended.
We bank over Boston. I am safe. I put on my hat. I am almost someone going home. The story has ended.
songs of mystery and terror
A violently schizo, thrown-together bunch of tracks I played at a gig called “Songs of Mystery & Terror” on 23 April 2014 at Casa Nostra in Sea Point, Cape Town.
time held me green and dying
thokozani mthiyane – i dreamt i was dead again
the hollowness of the head
the hollowness of the heart
in search of yet another
… … … poetics
with age comes reason
yet with age comes frailty
and the absence of … …
sunshine bloom promise
and the dying cloud
the most crazy thing is how total and how final the change of state from alive to dead is, when it happens. however you think you are expecting it, it is always a surprise.
rest in peace, philip seymour hoffman
Hard to believe. Another gone to heroin.