How much I like to look at the brick wall in the sunlight through the window of this cafe that closes in fifteen minutes, the colour of the brick almost completely washed out in the hard light of the September sun. Struggling green and yellow ivy drying around the doorway, a few brown strands clinging to a grate above the door. Contrast of cool navy darkness through the windows, ghostly white curtains hazy through the glass, against the absolute sunlight reflecting off the brick that is their neighbour. It’s easy to forget—reading in front of a computer, watching TV, looking at your phone—that the world is made up of such absolutes. Easy to forget the material, reassuring in its indifference, its incontrovertible presence. Inorganic matter is only what it is—it can be changed, of course, but even so it is only ever itself, whatever it has been or will be. A rock fully actualizes its being. Seeing the rock one realizes that being can be actualized merely by looking out your window.
Though I can’t find it now, I have written before about the Argumentium Ornithologicum, an idea from Borges that in imagining a certain number of birds unknown to the imaginer, the only one who might know how many birds were visualized is God. This is an argument for God’s existence because the number is certain, yet unknown–whoever, or whatever, “knows” that number is God.
And yet the God that knows how many birds you imagined–even if you do not–is not necessarily the Christian God, except insofar as that God is frequently said to supply the lack that is produced by human experience. Lacan says God is a necessary consequence of language, that language is what gives human beings the capacity to imagine abstract quantities that far exceed their worldly counterparts. The distance between what can be held or apprehended and our imaginations is the lack that will always be part of the human experience. Language provides fuel for desire, because it imagines us arriving at a fulfillment which is not meaningfully possible except in a moment, if at all. It is often nearer to us when it is anticipated–who has not felt closer to some imagined good when standing on its threshold than when pressing it close against the skin?
In the book of John Mandeville he mentions a hill in the holy land on which four angels will stand and with four trumpts shall blow and announce the end of the world. This hill is identified as Mount Tabor, but the hill St. John actually identifies in Revelations as fulfilling this purpose is Megiddo (which means “Armageddon” in the Greek language that St. John wrote). Undoubtedly Mandeville made a mistake (he does so frequently), or relied on a corrupted source. But I prefer to imagine that the answer is uncertain, somewhere between the two, or perhaps on another hill not mentioned in either of the two sources. One of these hills, the two known, or a third, unknown, must be the hill in which the angels must appear. But the true answer is (for now) known only to God.
When I think the word that brings me closer to him time slows down and I am somehow newly distinct from my surroundings, in a pocket space where it is just me and the word and he who the word brings me closer to. Only closer. He is still far away. The world both expands and shrinks, shrinking to the size of my comprehension but producing a new understanding that whenever I stop and focus in this way a new point will open up that I can crawl into. Crawl is not the right word. Instead I am enveloped by an understanding that space is doubled, that I am doubled along with it, an uncanny version of myself that can only pronounce the word that brings me to him. Pronounce the word that reminds me that without it I am nothing: delicate and ready to crack at the slightest notice. Made up of cracks. The word brings me to myself, which is to say outside of myself, surrounded by an absolute fog that reminds me I have more to lose. That loss is pleasurable. One day I will not need the word, I will move beyond its boundaries, to what is signified, stripped of the need for signs. But when that time comes I will have nothing more to report to you.
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.