Unreal Nature

October 19, 2014

To See While Blind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… It has a name: self-destruction, infinite disintegration. And another name: happiness, eternity.

This is from the essay ‘Kafka and Literature’ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

Kafka sought above all to be a writer. He was driven to despair each time he thought he was prevented from becoming one. He wanted to kill himself when, having been placed in charge of his father’s factory, he thought that he would not be able to write for two weeks.

… How can existence be completely devoted to a concern for arranging a certain number of words in some order? That is what is not clear. Let us admit that for Kafka writing was not a matter of aesthetics; he did not have the creation of a valid literary work in mind, but his salvation, the accomplishment of the message that is in his life.

… Why did a man like Kafka feel lost if he did not become a writer? Was that his calling, the true form of his mandate? But how did he come by this half-certainty that while he might not fulfill his destiny, his own way of missing it was to write? Countless texts show that he attributed an immense importance to literature. When he notes, “The immensity of the world I have in my head. … Better to explode a thousand times than hold it back or bury it in me; for that is the reason I am here, I haven’t the least doubt about that,” he again expresses in his usual way the urgency of a creation that blindly clamors to be let out. It is most often his own existence that he feels is at stake in literature. Writing causes him to exist. “I have found meaning, and my monotonous, empty, misled, bachelor life has its justification. … It is the only path that can lead me forward.”

… “Have listened to myself from time to time, perceiving at times inside me something like the mewing of a young cat.”

It seems that literature consists of trying to speak at the moment when speaking becomes most difficult, turning toward those moments when confusion excludes all language and consequently necessitates a recourse to a language that is the most precise, the most aware, the furthest removed from vagueness and confusion — to literary language. In this case, the writer can believe that he is creating “his spiritual possibility for living”; he feels his creation linked, word by word, to his life, he re-creates and regenerates himself. Literature then becomes an “assault on the frontiers,” a hunt that, by the opposing forces of solitude and language, leads us to the extreme limit of this world, “to the limits of what is generally human.”

… He rarely lingers on the inadequacy of art. If he writes, “Art flies around truth, but with the determination not to get burnt by it. Its skill consists of finding a place in the void where the ray of light focuses most powerfully, without knowing beforehand the location of the light source itself,” he himself is responding to this other, darker reflection: “Our art is to be blinded by truth: the light on the grimacing face as it pulls back, that alone is true and nothing else.” And even that definition is not without hope: it already is something to lose one’s sight and, more than that, to see while blind; if our art is not light, it is a form of darkening, a possibility of attaining the flash through the dark.

[ … ]

… Art is like the temple of which The Aphorisms speaks: never was an edifice built so easily, but on each stone a sacrilegious inscription is found engraved, so deeply engraved that the sacrilege will last so long a time that it will become even more sacred than the temple itself. So is art the place of anxiety and complacency, of dissatisfaction and security. It has a name: self-destruction, infinite disintegration. And another name: happiness, eternity.

-Julie

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