When I open the book—Nicholas Love’s The Mirror of Jesus Christ—to resume reading for my special fields exams in the fall, I start to hyperventilate. My chest tightens and I feel an incredible sense of panic. I need to take another day off, or a week. I haven’t been taking care of myself, telling myself that I’ll “have time” to re-centre, to relax, after the hard work is done in the fall. But the truth is that it will never be done in the way that I imagine. I will always have more work to do. I have been going at a pace that has been unsustainable—every book I finish has only made me feel more panicked, more like the project is slipping through my fingers, like I won’t know what to say when the time comes. Even though I have had many ideas and I know I will I find the words once the questions have been posed (it’s perhaps only that they have not been posed, that they could be anything, the absolute quality that they embody, which is what is so unsettling to me). When it’s done, I know I’ll have entered into the stage of my studies that I’ve been waiting for all along, that (as long as I do not face needless obstruction) should be more-or-less smooth sailing… 

Even now, writing about it, though I’m only moving laterally, certainly not doing anything even close to the thing itself, only sitting in a pleasant, quiet room with Rachel sitting next to me and one of my fields texts at my feet—I feel close to breaking down, like a neurotic nineteenth century intellectual with frayed nerves, recently prescribed three months vacation at a hot spring. That amount of time (three months) represents an impossible luxury that in no sense of the word could I afford. And yet—it also seems like, perhaps, the only potential solution, maybe because it happens to be the one that’s so far out of my reach.

He felt, lately, that when addressed he took nothing in. As if the words weren’t aimed at him or had been reflected back at the speaker, like he had parried them with a pose or with his body language. It was difficult to engage in conversation when he felt this way, disconnected from his partner—whoever it was—always looking off to one side, as if seeking an escape. Or perhaps he wasn’t seeking escape but looking for a kind of signal, like there would be someone dressed in a neon yellow jacket with brightly coloured flags who could provide him with distant aid. But what he was really looking for—that was difficult to know. In fact, if you had somehow managed to catch him in a moment of lucidity, cornered him and asked him what it meant when he floated off like that, he would have only cocked his head back at you, gazing over your shoulder as the bonds of his senses loosened their hold. 

I had an idea for a story last night and now it has completely left me… It was a short story with a simple premise, one I could execute in two or three—or, at most four or five—pages. I got the idea while reading Alberto Moravia’s novel 1934; just the first chapter, after the suicidal protagonist falls in love with the young, recently wedded, German girl on the boat. Perhaps it was when the cart driver leads the young man to a space with many identical buildings (hovels), except for the impressive hotel that the German girl, as well as our protagonist, will be staying at, a nineteenth century building in the Pompeiian style, with an enclosed garden. The hotel is on the island of Capri, and at the centre of the square where it is located there is an ancient olive tree with roots knotting the street. 

I thought to myself that I should write this idea down—perhaps it came to me in a dream—but that if I didn’t write it down I would be sure to remember it. One thing is clear: I was in bed when I had the idea. It seemed like the kind of idea that would never leave me, almost too obvious as well as easy. It has been a long time since I’ve found myself able to fully inhabit an idea of that kind, to follow the course of the action and and build a story that seemed sufficient in itself. For too long I’ve been writing characters who don’t go anywhere or do anything, who sit in the shadows and describe the numerous turns their lives have taken. Recently I’ve realized that all that I need to escape this situation—to reach a certain velocity, that, once found, will be sure to propel me as far as I’d like, is to find a simple premise, one that I could execute in a relatively short amount of time, allowing me to easily prepare the way for the necessary conclusion. Thus concluded, more ideas would come.

And of course it was only the next day, in the mid-afternoon, that I remembered not the story or the idea for the story but only the ghost of one—that, sometime in the time since it had come to me, it had left me completely.  

Lately I have avoided reading, because reading opens me up, and when I am open I am forced to confront what I am not confronting and wish to avoid. What I wish to avoid: delusion or not, internal or real, it rings in me clear as day. Reading—usually—restores me. More than any other medium, and furthermore, I need to do it: it’s essentially my job, what I’m paid to do. So it’s not an ideal situation to be confronted by something that seems too big to manage whenever I sit and read through something for an extended length of time. But, because I have to do it, perhaps it’s better that I learn how to sit with these unexpected feelings, not to avoid them but to embrace them, so that I might spend less time running from them and come to understand what they really are or mean. And in the process of doing so, spend more time reading, which is, in the end, perhaps all I really want. 

Today the light dimmed in stages as I moved from the kitchen to my room. My body was telling me to go outside. The air was sweet and I felt restless. I had a kind of time. There was something in me, activated. But I decided to stay inside. It felt like the right decision, until it didn’t, but by then we were well into evening.

Where’s the light? I ask myself.

I should not have given the web address for this website to anyone. I should not have bought such a fast and slim computer. At the reading I apologized to someone that I had plans to set up a series with, earlier. Plans that I’m relieved now we did not follow through on (it would be another thing to make me anxious). “Oh, that’s okay,” she said. “I was probably too depressed to do it. And I assumed you probably were too.” I felt like I had more to say to her but then the reading started and she did not move forward. 

I thought she would but she did not. 

We all agreed that it was a special night, that there was a kind of resonance between the readers. I read part of a story entirely in questions. I described the ending to a friend: the father writing letters eventually reveals his own negligence. But he is ignorant of it. Afterwards, the basketball game projected across the far wall of the bar. The home team was up ten on the away at half. I left then, at the same time as a friend I worried some would think I was going home with—it wasn’t my intention. That wasn’t what I was doing. 

I just didn’t want to leave the bar alone. 

Borges in conversation with Osvaldo Ferrari: 

“Yes, I do believe that if one is a poet, one should feel every moment as poetic. That’s to say, one should live loving life, and in loving life also its misfortunes, its failures, its lonely moments. All that is matter for a poet—without it he couldn’t write and wouldn’t feel justified. In my case, I do not like what I write but if I don’t write or don’t compose something I feel disloyal to my destiny. My destiny is to conjecture, to dream and then to write and eventually to publish, which is what’s least important. But I have to live in continuous activity or have to believe that I live in continuous imaginative activity and, if possible, rational activity as well, but especially, imaginative.”

Reading Susan Stewart on the voice in poetry, which she compares to the voice of a lover. “In listening I am listening to the material history of your connection to all the dead and the living who have been impressed upon you. The voice, with the eyes, holds within itself the life of the self—it cannot be the another’s.” (110)

I am not quite sure how the particularity of the voice then becomes attached to the voice as daimon—demonic, mediating, traversing—as Stewart suggests, though I follow her when she says that poetry is the creation of being out of nonbeing. (Is the voice non-being that becomes “being” through, first, its materiality, but more crucially through the lover’s identification of the accretion of material—which is really immaterial—with their lover? Particularity as “being.”)

Voice, she later suggests, is similar to the transgenerational haunting described by Nicolas Abraham in “L’Ecorce et le noyeau.” An amateur geologist smashes rocks on the weekend, and gases butterflies in a canister of cyanide, because his grandmother’s first love was forced into a concentration camp, where he broke rocks and was killed in a gas chamber. Voice resembles something like an emanation, superfluous, of what has become part of you without your knowledge. (115)

Sometimes I resist reading for the sole reason that I feel that it changes something in me, hardens something that I can’t identify or understand. It produces an alienation that is a response to contemplation, intake, mediation, as well as to a kind of latent understanding that I like to feel this distance, even if it threatens my being it is also, perhaps paradoxically, the only time when I feel most like I exist (in that nonbeing brought either into form—here—or wherever I go when I pick up a book (like my father retreating into his childhood bedroom to read a book after introducing my mother to his parents)). 

(Conversely, I spend a week, two weeks, reading, making tremendous progress, and then I stop—suddenly—something fails, as if I’m afraid of turning a final corner. Perhaps I’m afraid only of being who I am, but that part of me I do not fully determine.)