Monday, July 20, 2015

Private Moments

Reading from Harry Mathews’s The Journalist: “Went to the park on my way home, to the little clearing, empty as usual, already assembling in the dust its carpet of curled leaves . . .” I get a quick euphoric rush, which accompanies the realization that, no matter what, I will always have these private moments—with culture, with the world. It doesn’t matter what I do to make a living. In fact, it would be better if what I do for a living had nothing to do with these sacred, private moments. These private moments with music, with books, with the sun.


Thoreau’s Journal, 1851:
“There is a certain fertile sadness which I would not avoid but rather earnestly seek—It is positively joyful to me—It saves my life from being trivial.”

At the long wooden table before the tall windows. I had been marveling at the daytime stability I was feeling. The sun illuminated a cloudy sky, the diffused light covered my face. The anxieties of the previous night were unreal, like part of a dream. I felt invincible in the daylight, stoic.

Then came the terrible news about someone I know.
My immediate impulse: a desire to retreat with my wife to a private life. A place where I would feel the same stoic stability of the cool daylight. This would involve leaving behind the fantasy of happiness: the belief that the world is a fine place to live. (“There is no bliss upon this world / there’s peace and freedom though”)

This turn in thinking built off from another recent tendency of thought, regarding my dissatisfaction with cultural discourses—How culture is built around the fundamental act of listening to and judging the different ways people misrepresent the state of things. Reading an article, or listening to a radio host speak about a certain type of person: at first I see their representation as accurate, but then I begin to see how cynical and disrespectful it is, and how it reflects an ethical perspective that I am extremely uncomfortable with. I look to these discourses for guidance, but all they offer me is a warped mirror, replacing my own private knowledge with their false picture of the world.

I am just at the beginning of thinking the thought that art is beautiful for the impartiality of its discourse (though not all art stays true to this pact of impartiality).


“Artistic motivation” in practice:
[D]uring the filming of Equinox Flower, Ozu was asked why he used almost no tracks and pans. He replied: 
“It is not congenial to me. As my principle of life, I follow the general fashion in ordinary matters, and subject myself to the moral law in serious matters, and in respect of arts I follow myself.” 

Corinthians: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful.


Handke talks about the use of the Homeric simile in John Cowper Powys. What about in Chandler?: “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

Eisenstein: “Sexuality is the cheapest path to ecstasy.”

PH notes, in Homer the dead know nothing about the living.


Sitting outside as the sun goes down, reading an essay in a purloined Harper’s by John Crowley about animals, death, and his own non-fear of death. I have been haunted by death of late, and I am comforted by his words—his agreement with Wittgenstein that his death “ends the world,” and his serenity with this. Then inside, not three minutes later, almost at random, I pick up my paperback of Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms from the clutter on the table and read the first short fragment I come across, which is this one:
“Fundamentally it is only our own basic thoughts that possess truth and life, for only these do we really understand through and through. The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another’s table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest.”
Crumbs from John Crowley’s table—can that kill my fear? Can it change the way I think?
Which then takes me all the way back to something I noted in this same text document, almost three years earlier:
When I read Handke speak of his fear of death (or anyone else for that matter), my own fear of death seems an impossible thing. My excitement at reading Handke’s account relates to the realization that I am not alone in my own mortal thoughts. Therefore, if Handke got through it, I’ll be OK myself. How the recognition of one’s deepest thoughts in another leads to their annihilation, or at least their temporary unreality.

Eternal recurrence of particular paths of thought. A multitude of variations of the same set of private moments. These are all that is true, all that I understand, "through and through."

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