Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Behind the Silence

All my attention has been absorbed in trying to finish my novel. For months I've found it difficult even to find words for my journal--though thoughts are beginning to bubbling to the surface again, a few words here, a few there.

I go through these periods. They are not easy. Often a sign of coming depression,  increasing isolation. Even in conversations, it's difficult to find anything to say. Not made easier by worry about how I'm going to earn my living. I was coming out of one these phases when I began this blog--in fact, the Barking Dog was in part an effort to break through, to find words to penetrate the silence--a subject that informed a number of those early posts, some of them recycled below

Silence ?
Going over a long passage of interior monolog, I realized I had been visualizing this scene as though it were staged and the actor playing the role had been speaking his thoughts to the audience. When I stopped writing, I saw him sit down, silent for some time before the change of scenes.
What kind of silence? I thought.
The words would not stop. The audience would no longer hear the character's inner voice, but would know that it continued beyond their hearing--and to the members of the audience, the silence would be outside them, beyond them, for they would play back the words they had heard, transform them into their own interior monolog, as I was doing even as I imagined my character sitting in a silent room... silent, I thought-but no one hears the silence, for the voice is never still.
When I open a book and begin to read, the words on the page do not emerge out of silence, but enter the verbal currents already flowing in my own mind--but they do not replace them, rather they flow over them as a second layer, interacting, sometimes disappearing beneath the surface so that for a moment I am aware only of my own thoughts, my own words--until the written words regain my attention and rise again to the surface. Currents from many rivers merging, and yet each following its course.


Poetics of Renunciation
What I admire and seek to emulate are those works that bring me most forcefully into the presence of a uniquely individual voice and consciousness. This is the opposite of the exposition of Self--even when imaginatively fecund, artfully presented and emotionally powerful. More like the erasure of Self, a stripping away of ego, of the I.
Writing that approaches selflessness (the self as sacrificial offering)  requires a self to sacrifice.
This is neither paradox nor contradiction.
It isn't what the work is about, but what happens to the contagion of self that clings to the subject. Forge words into knives to strip the flesh from the bone; may the greater voice emerge from the death of the lesser.

Why Bother?
Art snuck in the back door. Not all at once. Giotto appropriated religious icons and deflected attention from content to form.

A beginning.
Soon enough, a blink of an eye in cosmic time, an apple and a Madonna are one.
The same paradigm for the literary arts.
William Hazlitt's essay on fame. What we now call "fame" was for Hazlitt, notoriety. Fame, for Hazlitt, might never come to the poet while he lived, but what matter? The true poet wrote not for recognition in his own time, but for posterity... for eternity.
We have no such thing now. Not that we can believe in. A compensation there for the Romantics... even for the modernist--say, pre-Becket, but not for us. What then does it mean? If there is no other compensation, why not sell out to the highest bidder?
          What's a whore, but a realist? A Good Capitalist? 
The metaphysics of the is, is all about the bottom line. What works, is. What else is there?
I don't believe this. But am helpless to explain why.
I will do what I do. Confirmation comes my way... or doesn't, but the question remains.

This is not a frivolous question. I know talented people--who, having no other model, no more powerfully persuasive mythology--have given up, sold out to the Great Beast... for the dream of the Beamer, the trophy paramour, financial independence... the illusion of a Place in the World... because they had no alternative, no believable narrative to draw on--to believe in against all evidence.

I have no future so I have nothing to sacrifice--it's easier for me, if only because I no longer have a choice.  But what of the young? What can I tell them when they ask... when they tell me, why bother?
Dust and Silence

I look about this room: cheap desk, computer, second hand book shelves, box fan on the floor, two K-Mart lamps, the blankets I roll out at night to sleep on; nothing here that will outlive its present use. Nothing that has more than momentary utility to recommend it--except, perhaps, the books. But even these: paperbacks in tatters, worn volumes, covers held together with tape--if I searched I might find a few first editions--may even have one or two autographed volumes, though I couldn't tell you which or where.

Everything here, disposable--like my life; objects which, were I an ancient tribal chief, a seer, elder, bard--only because they would be meaningless apart from my life, might be buried with me.
All but the books.
Let them be read until the pages come loose and fly away in the wind. Let them be read till they too are dust, to be rejoined again in dust and silence.
Silence is Nameless
Why do I keep thinking about silence--Silence, an absence, a thing we can know nothing about, or know only as we know death, as metaphor, surmise, the nothingness that frames the span of our life, the before and after beyond experience, experience that is always filled with signs, signs that may not speak but are never silent. I think of the silence of the woman pouring milk. It is hers, in that room before that window, in the light that caresses her, in the shadows that surround her, but it is not ours. Vermeer doesn't give us silence. She reminds us of the presence of something we cannot know. The silence is in the painting, not in us; we know it only as an absence that draws us out of ourselves, like the silence that frames the lines of a poem. We read the words, read to the end of the line, to the end of the poem and encounter there that same absence. We call it silence, but the silence is on the page, in the white spaces between the words, it is not in us. It is not ours. We say that we have come from silence, as we will return to silence. But our saying this is an admission that between birth and death there is no silence. Look into the eyes of an animal and you will see it--the impenetrable silence we are not permitted to enter, and if we were, if we could (as perhaps we do in dreamless sleep) we would emerge with no trace, no memory of where we had been, no knowledge that we had been there. Is it possible, then, that we do enter into this silence, which we neither experience, or know or remember, that silence is the dark matter of our being--that does not interact with our voluble lives? Even if it were so, even if it were possible to know, it would be useless knowledge. We are left always with this intimation that there is something more, but we can never know or name what lies beyond it, and if we are honest, we will refuse to do so.


Journal Entry: October 8, 1977

Logic is language talking about itself
Logic is language talking to itself

Poetry is language talking to itself, unable to resist the desire to be overheard.
Poetry is language talking to itself, indulging in the desire to be overheard.

Poetry is the desire to be overheard, talking to itself.

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