Kafka’s sirens

The siren speaks to Odysseus:

It hasn’t occurred to you that the reason why you haven’t drowned or crashed into rocks isn’t because you are immune to my song, but because, like Kafka’s sirens, I have not been singing to you.

My mouth was open, but I watched you sail past in silence; not because I don’t, in the silent inlet of my ribcage, carry unspoken words that chain together to express an excess of affection towards you, but because reaching out to you in song would cause a crash neither of us wants for you.

Like Kafka’s sirens, it could be enough to watch you sail past in blissful illusion of your own shrewdness, the conviction that you are stronger than most, with better self-control, and to witness, as your chained-up body passes by, the candle-light of your eyes pierced by the arrows of the sun.

Yes, sometimes it is enough to know how beautiful you are, to know you were once close, and that, by its absence, my song let your ship sail away from the jagged edges I serve.

***

Franz Kafka, Das Schweigen der Sirenen

I love this retelling of Odysseus sailing past the sirens. Kafka seems to make it about our capacity for delusion, the hardest thing to resist being the idea of one’s own resilience when facing temptation. However, this doesn’t apply to Odysseus alone, but also in part to the sirens themselves, perhaps even the Gods. It is possible, says Kafka, that Odysseus didn’t realise the sirens were silent, or maybe he did know and simply went through the motions his myth required of him. The siren is deluded into thinking she isn’t singing, and Odysseus is deluded into believing he hears a song when in reality all he hears is the rush of the sea around him, and the excitement of resisting temptation flowing through his skull. The Gods are deluded simply by virtue of being Gods.

Max Beckmann, Odysseus und Sirene, 1933
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Love each other less violently

And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I’m fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.
Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.

[…]

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.

Leonard Cohen – Joan of Arc

The protagonist in horror is always a potential victim, even when she is the perpetrator, even when the killer’s and the narrator’s hands overlap. The protagonist can’t help but fall prey to the body she inhabits; the story has an endpoint, by which she will either be alive or dead. There is no uncertainty between those poles. In our flesh, we contain the potential for violence, not as an illness but as a characteristic. 

When Cronenberg shows the physical destruction of the body, it is not from an aesthetic fascination or in order to shock, but in order to make it real, to show the lastingness of the act, its irreversible consequence.

All of us are subject to our bodies, and when we succumb, we are gone.

Averroes gives us a mind on loan from the mass of universal spirit, but this chunk of the larger intellect is only activated within the animated body; once the body dies, the self with its specifics is erased from the intellect.

Feminist inquiry is about understanding how things work, who is in the action, what might be possible, and how worldly actors might somehow be accountable to and love each other less violently.

Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto p. 7

The beauty of us as Donna Haraway’s “mortal and fleshly knottings”. 

The body for David Cronenberg in all its uniqueness and fragility. This same body, depending on who perceives it, can be untouchably holy, pleasurable to defile, in need of protection, and also killable.

We have our ways, says Haraway, of making each other killable.

The idea of cannibalism, too, realises we are all potentially made killable, depending on the way we choose to see each other. In a sense, this is the problem underlying all desire; the Hegelian push-and-pull between wanting to devour (to think of as killable) and not wanting to lose (the regret of having made killable). To sustain while consuming is where the balance necessary for life and pleasure lies. Not to destroy the other fully, which would contribute only to self-destruction, but not to abstain either from the life-giving communion with the other; learning only to nibble at the other’s body before allowing the flesh to grow back, in a metaphorical sense.

This is part of the time we give to each other when we give. 

There is, of course, a narcissistic refusal to face what is other, choosing instead to live in the self-produced fantasy of the disembodied other, who exists at a safe distance within abstraction; the narcissistic attraction only to what is necessarily disembodied, unable to exert either refusal or acceptance of one’s desire.

Disembodied means: not desiring in itself, because desiring is to give in to the mortal flesh and its vulnerability, to give in to entropy, to what can be destroyed. It means reaching out to the other in full awareness the flesh’s necessarily time-bound arc, its temporariness. Sometimes, it’s not enough to want to burn each other up. Ash isn’t substantial enough to love.

Sometimes

Sometimes, you have to understand, I read Tao Lin because it’s all I feel capable of reading, wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t gravitate towards those who have written about the ache I feel in a more complicated way.

Sometimes all I am capable of hearing is an unnamable sadness followed by delicate swears. I feel more cradled that way. 

I think that when the plants around me die I am achieving some sort of communion with the realm I inhabit, no matter how small the rooms may feel; I have somehow transcended the limits of my mind’s flesh into a space that reflects my internal bullshit, like someone thrown up by a Brontë.

Sometimes just smelling coffee brings your face floating into the room like a goddamn hologram or a swarm of flies, and I very deliberately stick to drinking green and watery things so I can keep the colour of your eyes at bay. 

The immense sadness of losing you to yourself is like watching my brother detach and consume his own toe, knowing exactly where it will lead because it has led there before, knowing that the despair I feel at watching myself lose you from a distance, from the distance you carved between us with a toy shovel that says ‘this is for your own good’ when you press the right button, because pressing the right button causes your shovel to speak, which is not the case with you, and the despair I feel, like I said, is not because I love you, which I do, but because I am watching myself feel this and I see beyond it into the silence where there should be a pulse. 

Sometimes, no matter what bedtime stories I tell myself, I know that time is not circular and what is lost cannot return, because we all fall at different speeds and time is a cruel form of gravity. 

Sometimes the fire is not enough, and I see that when the rat climbs along the bars of its cage from wall to wall to wall it does so not because it is trying to break through but because in times of internal detonation dragging your belly along the reliable firmness of a limit feels good.

The other night I dreamt about your body in a dark room, sitting bare-skinned in an inflatable kiddie pool, your knees poking out of the purple plastic because you are not a child, and you were lighting candles, thousands of candles one after the other in this room that never got any brighter. I remember that the light flickered on your skin and for a moment I wasn’t sure where I was exactly, if I was seeing you through my eyes or through some kind of objectivity, because there wasn’t a single plant involved and there were no animal sounds in the air, and because as you sat there with your ass in the water surrounded by flames I felt an immeasurable affection toward you that is not like me at all. 

Miserere

The only Miserere Beckett has ever uttered is for those burdened with the compulsion to write, the only liberation he is interested in is from the oppression of language.

A. Alvarez, Beckett

Upon finishing (for the second time in a decade, i.e. since my BA dissertation) Alvarez’s little tome on Beckett, here a few (barely) summarising thoughts I seem to have somehow scribbled down while reading:

In Beckett’s world, what the mind seems to want is to immobilise (as much as possible) the body in a state of quiet despair, removing from the human duet the corporeal voice, so as to focus entirely on the mind’s voice, for whom there is no greater spur to keep talking than to hear itself speak.

Thus, with a defunct body finally retired from the attempt to make itself heard, one is locked inside purgatory with that which, unlike the body, will never die, not, at least, of its own accord: the endlessly, vigorously chattering mind. The mind who whips up the past again and again, adding to it only more and more frantic strokes, muddling and tangling its concerns.

The body’s quest, if it is allowed to have one, is easily vanquished, extinguished by its own fruitlessness.

The mind’s quest is indefatigable; because the mind does not lie outside itself, will not allow itself to believe it is bound to the corporeal, the mind is stuck and rewarded with permanence at the same time. Its quest is nothing but to simply keep going, keep talking, fulfilling itself as it formulates itself.

Who knows if this is true, but it seems that Beckett constantly renews an attempt at vanquishing this need (which is abstract, born from the psyche) by destroying the form, or the container (the form of the novel, for instance), reducing it to the bare necessities before crippling it further with more and more intense constraints, like those he imposes upon the bodies of his heroes, legless, kneeless, incapable of forward/upward movement, buried in bins and heaps of sand.

The need to go on does nothing but go on and on.

Sudden and Two-Dimensional

Everything makes sense yet is beyond reason. He once remarked to an interviewer:

The dream is pure drama. In a dream, one is always in mid-situation … I think that the dream is a lucid thought, more lucid than any one has when awake, a thought expressed in images, and that at the same time its form is always dramatic.

At his best, Ionesco has been true to his dreams. He almost never creates characters of any depth or substance, the people in his plays are sudden and two-dimensional, like the figures in a dream. And, as in a dream, the complexity is all in their immediate situation. He has put his nightmares on stage, unadulterated and with an uncanny sense of what works in that tight space framed by the proscenium arch. The result is pure nihilism. After all, what can survive when the placid façade of middle-class life splits open and the submerged fantasies come pulsing through?

A. Alvarez, Beckett, p. 14

Said about A.  Brings to mind B.

 

The Impossible Fairytale (Han Yujoo)

I’ve recently spent a lot of time inside a book with a pink and green and obnoxious cover. This isn’t the book’s fault. Nobody really chooses their skin.

The skin was given to the book, as a means of selling it to those passing it by (on shelves, on Instagram squares, on websites, in the hands of strangers on public transport). The way you put clothes on a model, saying, sell it, meaning, sell yourself wearing it. Regardless. I spent a lot of time in this book, maybe because it was slow-going, maybe because I am a slow reader. Maybe both. It’s a book that worships the ‘both’, the way one worships a gun. The violence (though not that of guns) is everywhere in this book: it starts Continue reading