A Friend, the nothingness one needs…

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ESTRAGON, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his  boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before.
Enter VLADIMIR.
ESTRAGON : [Giving up again.] Nothing to be done.
VLADIMIR : [Advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart.] I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. [He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to ESTRAGON.] So there you are again.
ESTRAGON : Am I?
VLADIMIR : I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone for ever.
ESTRAGON : Me too.
VLADIMIR : Together again at last! We’ll have to celebrate this. But how? [He reflects.] Get up till I embrace you.
ESTRAGON : [Irritably.] Not now, not now.
VLADIMIR : [Hurt, coldly.] May one inquire where His Highness spent the night
ESTRAGON : In a ditch.
VLADIMIR : [Admiringly.] A ditch! Where?
ESTRAGON : [Without gesture.] Over there.
VLADIMIR : And they didn’t beat you?
ESTRAGON : Beat me? Certainly they beat me.
VLADIMIR : The same lot as usual?
ESTRAGON : The same? I don’t know.
VLADIMIR : When I think of it … all these years … but for me … where would you be …? [Decisively.] You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it.
ESTRAGON : And what of it?
VLADIMIR : [Gloomily.] It’s too much for one man. [Pause. Cheerfully.] On the other hand what’s the good of losing heart now, that’s what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties.
ESTRAGON : Ah stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing.

– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Samuel Johnson: The Critic as Keeper of the Lights

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A critic must follow his taste or his whim, whimsically, tastefully, moving where he is moved, often wrongheaded, no doubt, but true to his instincts—and on occasion he must throw caution out with the bathwater. He should never dismiss the past as merely old fashioned, or believe with a sense of revealed religion that something brand spanking new must be the real thing. Nor should he think the old ways sacrosanct and new ones just upstart pretenders. He should be, in other words, ready to raise his hand against all, yet happy and untroubled at being surprised into joy.
….– William Logan, The Savage Art

Nietzsche once described the art of the lie as the supreme vocation of the priest and the philosopher, seeking above all “the intention of taking in hand the direction of mankind”.1 The literary critic unlike those great Lawgivers, the priest and philosopher, harbors no telos for mankind, rather she is more prone to that lesser art of whim which dazzles us by its tantalizing tidbits and grotesqueries, seeks to entertain and enliven our drab days, rather than broker some sublime passage of strange days among gods or monsters, philosophers or mice. Instead the critic is that arbiter of taste and excellence, the curmudgeon of lost days, the artificer of echoes and gleams, lights and lustres from the past, broker of ancient minds; a traveler among the lonely alcoves of forgotten books and libraries who brings us a smorgasbord of foreign and domestic delights to tempt and allure us toward that strange kingdom of the imagination – what Borges once delightfully called, the Library of Babel. The babbling tongues of the dead that seek to enlighten and trouble our minds with their dark treasures and farces, romances and tragedies, the epics of ancient warriors and lovers, sea-farers and traders. A world at once human and monstrous that brings us both the marvelous, fantastic, and uncanny truths of our species.

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The Writing of Subject – The Subject of Writing

Inventarienr: FM 1990 010 027                             Konstnärens namn: Christer Strömholm  Titel: Marcel Duchamp  Datum: 1961/ca 1990

Marcel Duchamp

The infinite, my dear friend, is no big deal— it’s a matter of writing— the universe exists only on paper.
—Paul Valéry, Monsieur Teste

The obliteration of the external in Valery’s Monsieur Teste is at the core of our current malaise, our strange relation to ourselves and to the simulated infosphere we’ve constructed for ourselves out of language and desire: a dwelling and habitation of self and society at once irrealist and totalized. The sense that as Luciano Floridi tells us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction.1

Of course the downside to this migration is that the body will become a mere disposable piece of furniture, a sort of waste factory for the disembodied inforgs of some hyperrealist paradise without affect or life. Those like Floridi who dream of ideal utopian worlds of abstraction remind us that we are still hooked to certain ultra-modernist conceptions without realizing it. Reading Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co. I come across this tidbit on Marcel Duchamp:

Duchamp’s life was his finest work of art. He abandoned painting very early on and embarked on a daring adventure in which art was conceived, first and foremost, as a cosa mentale [matter of mind], in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci. He wanted always to place art at the service of the mind and it was precisely this desire – driven by his particular use of language, by chance, optics, films and, above all, by his famous “readymades” – which stealthily undermined 500 years of Western art and transformed it completely. Duchamp abandoned painting for over fifty years because he preferred to play chess. Isn’t that wonderful?2

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Enrique Vila-Matas: “I would prefer not to!”

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Twenty-five years ago, when I was very young, I published a short novel on the impossibility of love. Since then, on account of a trauma that I shall go into later, I had not written again, I stopped altogether, I became a Bartleby, and that is why I have been interested in them for some time.

We all know the Bartlebys, they are beings inhabited by a profound denial of the world. They are named after the scrivener Bartleby, a clerk in a story by Herman Melville, who has never been seen reading, not even a newspaper; who for long periods stands looking out at a pale window behind a folding screen, upon a brick wall in Wall Street; who never drinks beer, or tea and coffee, like other men; who has never been anywhere, living as he does in the office, spending even his Sundays there; who has never said who he is, or where he comes from, or whether he has any relatives in this world; who, when he is asked where he was born or given a job to do or asked to reveal something about himself, responds always by saying,

“I would prefer not to.”

For some time now I have been investigating the frequent examples of Bartleby’s syndrome in literature, for some time I have studied the illness, the disease, endemic to contemporary letters, the negative impulse or attraction towards nothingness that means that certain creators, while possessing a very demanding literary conscience (or perhaps precisely because of this), never manage to write: either they write one or two books and then stop altogether or, working on a project, seemingly without problems, one day they become literally paralysed for good.

The idea of investigating the literature of the No, that of Bartleby & Co., came about last Tuesday in the office when I thought I heard my boss’s secretary say to somebody on the phone,

“Mr Bartleby is in a meeting.”  …

Only from the negative impulse, from the labyrinth of the No, can the writing of the future appear. But what will this literature be like? Not long ago a work colleague, somewhat maliciously, put this question to me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “If I knew, I’d write it myself.”

I wonder if I can do this. I am convinced that only by tracking down the labyrinth of the No can the paths still open to the writing of the future appear. I wonder if I can evoke them. I shall write footnotes commenting on a text that is invisible, which does not mean it does not exist, since this phantom text could very well end up held in suspension in the literature of the next millennium.1


1. Vila-Matas, Enrique (2007-05-23). Bartleby & Co. (p. 2). New Directions. Kindle Edition.

Thomas Pynchon: The Scarlet Histories

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If they get this far, he has to show them what he knows about Control. That’s one of death’s secret missions. … Oh, it is a real sad story, how shoddily their Schwärmerei for Control was used by the folks in power. Paranoid Systems of History (PSH), a short-lived periodical … whose plates have all mysteriously vanished, natch, has even suggested … simply to drive young enthusiasts of the Cybernetic Tradition into Control work: after all, an economy inflating, upward bound as a balloon, its own definition of Earth’s surface drifting upward in value, uncontrolled, drifting with the days, the feedback system expected to maintain the value of the mark constant having, humiliatingly, failed. . . . Unity gain around the loop, unity gain, zero change, and hush, that way, forever, these were the secret rhymes of the childhood of the Discipline of Control— secret and terrible, as the scarlet histories say.

– Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow