One counsel: when you see an open door, newspaper, radio studio, cinema, bank, anything—don't enter. By the time you're thirty you'll be nuts because you left your laugh at the door. That's my experience. Poetry is in the street. It goes arm in arm with laughter. They take each other along for a drink, at the source, in the neighborhood bistros, where the laugh of the people is so flavorsome and the language that flows from their lips so beautiful.
Prior to making TheTurin Horse with Béla I wrote a book called Animalinside, and in this Animalinsidethere is a sentence, a picture that was very important for The Turin Horse, mainly there is a cage, which is so small that actually the cage is your skin. This is the case in The Turin Horse. In a big space there’s a cage, which is absolutely the same as your skin. That means your fate—the border of your fate—is your skin, and you haven’t a hope of finding a way out of this cage, of your skin, of your fate. This big space is not for you, this is nothing for you, this is only a possibility, which is not for you, it doesn’t exist for you. There is this big space, there is a big created world, but not for you because you gambled everything, you gambled and every possibility which you had you’ve lost, everything you’ve lost and you are now absolutely alone, and the last judgment will come, not tomorrow, the last judgment was yesterday, and you are living now after the last judgment, in your last judgment.
[...] When you want to convince somebody about something, if you speak in a way, in that way, you use only long sentences, almost always just one sentence, because you didn’t need this dot, this is not natural if you speak in this way, if I want to convince you about something, that the world is such and such, then it’s a natural process for the sentences to become always longer and longer because I needed less and less the dot, this artificial border between sentences, because I didn’t use, I don’t use, now, for example, I don’t use dots, I use only pauses, and these are commas, this is not my usual tone because I try, especially in English because of my poor English, to make pauses, and that’s why my tone goes a little bit down, but it is not a dot, what I found there, it is a comma, and in The Melancholy of Resistance, I tried again to write this perfect book, and my sentences became always a little bit more beautiful, although the content, my message, couldn’t change after Sátántangó, after my experience in life, but language did change and became more and more beautiful because the beauty in the language became always more important, so I reached a level, a point, I don’t know, perhaps inSeiobo There Below, perhaps in this book I’ve reached my maximum of this desire for beauty in the sentences.
MJC: In both El Ultimo Lobo and War & War the protagonists direct their monologues to someone who isn’t listening. There’s a disconnect between the protagonists’ altered state of wanting to say something—to be heard—and their listeners who do not listen.
LK: Because I don’t believe in dialogue. I believe only in monologues. And I believe only in the man who listens to the monologue, and I believe I can be the man who listens to your monologue the next time around. I believe only in monologues in the human world. The dialogues, in American prose, after the Second World War, to be honest, the best dialogue writers are here in the USA, but dialogue doesn’t work for me because I don’t believe in dialogues.
MJC: A lot of connections have been made here in the United States between your work and Thomas Bernhard’s. Do you feel an affinity with Bernhard? Is there a connection?
LK: He made a very deep impression, of course. My first reading of Frost, for example, and The Lime Works, these two novels were a very big experience for me. But this is Thomas Bernhard. There is a big difference between us, because I am not sentimental. Bernhard, despite everything, was sentimental. He was a big believer in greatness. That’s why he was so cynical. Because he admired the great intellectuals, he was a big admirer of art. I am not. I am an observer. That’s a big difference.
According to Cameron’s stated worldview, the ability to ‘believe in yourself ’, and by extension, your child, is primary. This is a discourse which vests not only power but also moral virtue in the very act of hope, in the mental and emotional capacity to believe and aspire. Hope and promise become more integral in an unequal society in which hard work alone has less and less chance of reaping the prizes. Through this rhetorical mechanism, instead of addressing social inequality as a solvable problem, the act of addressing inequality becomes ‘responsibilised’ as an individual’s moral meritocratic task. This process devolves onto the individual personal responsibility not just for their success in the meritocratic competition, but for the very will to compete and expectation of victory which are now figured as moral imperatives in themselves. Not investing in aspiration, in expectation, is aggressively positioned as an abdication of responsibility which condemns yourself - and even worse, your child - to the social scrapheap. [...]
Here, social disadvantage is only ‘real’ in that it is an obstacle over which pure mental will and aspiration - if they are expressed correctly by being combined with hard work - can triumph. These tropes and discursive elements generate an affective mode which Lauren Berlant aptly identifies as ‘cruel optimism’. This is the affective state produced under neoliberal culture which is cruel because it encourages an optimistic attachment to the idea of a brighter future whilst such attachments are, simultaneously, ‘actively impeded’ by the harsh precarities and instabilities of neoliberalism. If ‘Aspiration Nation’ is related to such ‘cruel optimism’, it also draws on the English trope of ‘having a go’, which involves a sort of non-competitive competitiveness, of being prepared to compete without any expectation of winning, out of a recognition that sporting competition is a mode of social participation; although the difference is that in the Aspiration Nation you can’t just do your best: you have to want to win.
Barely half a century after the death of the philosopher, the name Ludwig Wittgenstein - like that of Martin Heidegger - is part of the intellectual mythos of the twentieth century. Even if Vico's distinction between civil and monastic philosophy seemed to have become obsolete ever since the French Revolution, one is inclined to reactivate this distinction for Wittgenstein's sake. How else could one interpret the emergence of the phenomenon that was Wittgenstein in the midst of an age of political philosophies and warring illusions than as the renewed eruption of thinking in the mode of eremetic aloofness from the world? Part of the still luminescent enchantment of Wittgenstein's work and the standoffish nimbus of his life is the unexpected return of the monastic element in the moral centre of bourgeois culture. More so than virtually anyone else he attests to the moral secession of an intellectual elite from the totality of mediocre conditions.
The human being as something to be transcended: that conviction was present in the elect of the educated class in Vienna before the Great War not only in its Nietzschean guise and as a philosophy of life: it asserted itself also in the forms of a bourgeois cult of he saint, at the centre of which stood the figure of the artistic and philosophical genius. It was the responsibility of that figure to offer salvation from ambiguities and mediocrity; it was his task to show an implacably demanding youth the path fromt he depths of shameful commonness to the lofty heights of transfigurative callings. grandeur became a duty for genius, self-transcendence the minimum condition of existence. For the young Wittgenstein this meant: the human being is a rope that is strung between the animal and the logician.
The story of Wittgenstein's life and thought is the passion of an intellect that sought to explain its place in the world and at its boundaries. What the contemporary world of the philosopher perceived as his rigid and demanding aura was the high tension of a man who required constant concentration on his ordering principles so as not to lose his mind. As one dwelling on the borderline of Being, the philosopher is never concerned with anything less than the block of the world as a whole, even when he is merely pondering the correct use of a word in a sentence. He feels as though the world along with all its order could get lost in the space between two sentences. And so, thinking becomes for him a way of navigating between islands of formal clarity that lie scatterd in the vastness of unclarity. In fact, Wittgenstein is a thinker who left behind a work of individual sentences. It was his unprecedented need for precision that would make him into a martyr of incoherence. He himself was painfully aware that he was suffering from a kind of Lord Chandos neurosis - a disorder of the ability to assert coherences of the world through words, and to believe in these claimed coherences. Throughout his life, Wittgenstein failed to meet the challenge of composing a 'real' text in the sense of continuous speech. He felt, more keenly than any other thinker before him, the difficulties of conjunctions or causal linkages, and no problem preoccupied him more profoundly all his life than the impossibility of moving from the description of facts to ethical precepts. His notes are the monument of an overly brilliant hesitation to create the world in a cohesive text. In their radical modernity, his writings attest to the disintegration of the analogy between the round cosmos and fluid prose. But precisely where Wittgenstein was no longer capable of being a proposition-happy philosopher of systems and totality in the traditional style, he was virtually predestined to lift the pathwork of local life games and their rules into the light. There was a good reason why his theory of language games became one of the most potent arguments of modern and postmodern pluralism.
Looking back today over the waves of Wittgenstein's reception, one can say at least this much about the historical importance of this peculiar Viennese character who ended up in the British world of scholars: he inoculated the Anglo-American world with the madness of ontological difference by exhorting the precritical empiricist to wonder, not at how the world is, but that it is. At the same time, he infected continental philosophy with a new idea of precise style, which brought forth flourishing outgrowths in the milieu of the analytic school. It would appear that both parties are by now in the process of getting over the phase of the initial immune responses. Ever since Alan Janik and Steven Toulmin's classic study Wittgenstein's Vienna, the stage seems set for a healthy engagement with the magical hermit. Who could still invoke Witttgenstein only to elect him the patron saint of old mind games? Who could still denounce him as the positivistic destroyer of the Western culture of reflection? After the waning of the reactive distortions, what emerges is the profile of a thinker who will undoubtedly be counted among the godparents of the intelligence of the future. Even in its logical severities and human one-sidedness, Wittgenstein's intensity holds gifts of incalculable import for posterity. It attests for all those who awaken to thinking after him that ethical questions must become more difficult. Should it ever be possible to write a critique of martyrological or witness-bearing reason - and thus a valid ethics - a decisive chapter would have to be devoted to the man Wittgenstein. He is among those flayed alive , who knows more than others what decency under stress means. among his work, what was written and what was kept quiet, one must count the admirable exertion to have endured himself and his own 'wonderful' life.
According to the theologians of the Vedic era, the gods, like the demons, are born from sacrifice. It is thanks to it that they have ascended to the heavens, in the same way as the one who carries out a sacrifice still does. They gather around the sacrifice; they are the product of the sacrifice that they share among themselves, and it is this distribution that determines the way in which they share the world. Moreover, sacrifice is not only the author of the gods. It is a god itself, or, rather, the god par excellence. It is the master, the indeterminate, infinite god, the spirit from which everything proceeds, that ceaselessly dies and is reborn.
Sylvian Levi, from a nineteenth century text cited by Agamben
In order to be absolutely truthful, I should have to track down every needless humiliation I was offered in England, and relieve it in my memory for the torture it was; and then seek out every instance of sensitivity with which someone sought to save me from humiliation; hold them together, weight them up, and have them cancel one another out, as happened to me.
One could write a book about English parties. I never got used to them. They strike me as senseless and heartless, every bit in keeping with such cold people. The idea, after all, is not to get too close. A s soon as a conversation was developing (which wasn’t an easy thing to bring about), it was time to push off and turn to somebody else. It was not done to spend too long with one person, that was accounted selfish. People were there to make rapid contact, and, still more, rapid withdrawals. Sometimes you wouldn’t even know who you had been talking to. Those were the ideal cases in these ritualised celebrations of non-contact.
During the War, more than fifty years ago now, it was England’s salvation that it was an island. It was still an island, and that asset, a colossal advantage, has been frittered away. Today, it is what’s left over from a government whose one and only prescription for everything was selfishness. People felt proud of this fact, as though it were some kind of revelation, a horde of men (and women) in pinstripes swarmed over the land, calling themselves businessmen or executives, and sought to plunder the country, just as one the country had sought to plunder the rest of the world. England decided it would loot itself, and engaged an army of yuppies for that end.
... at the hour of the Smiths' birth I had felt at the physical and emotional end of life. I had lost the ability to communicate and had been claimed by emotional oblivion. I had no doubt that my life was ending, as much as I had no notion at all that it was just beginning. Nothing fortified me, and simple loneliness all but destroyed me, yet I felt swamped by the belief that life must mean something - otherwise why was it there? Why was anything anything?
I had become a stretcher-case to my family, yet this made it easier for me to put them aside at those moments when the wretched either die or go mad. The water was now too muddy, and, being nowhere in view, I am not even known enough to be disliked. The wits had diminished, and I am sexually disinterested in either the male or the feel-male - yet I make the claim on knowing almost nothing about either.
Horror lurked beneath horror, and I could only tolerate an afternoon if I took a triple amount of the stated dose of valium prescribed by my GP (who would soon take his own life). Life became a strange hallucination, and I would talk myself through each day as one would nurse a dying friend. The diminishment could go no further, and the face can only be slapped so many times before the slaps cannot be felt. I became too despondent for anyone to cope with, and only my mother would talk to me in understanding tones.
Yet there comes the point where the suicidalist must shut it down if only in order to save face, otherwise you accidentally become a nightclub act minus the actual nightclub. This, then, was my true nature as the Smiths began: the corpse swinging wildly at the microphone was every bit as complicated as the narrow circumstances under which he had lived, devoid of the knack of thigh-slapping laughter. Accustomed to people criticizing me, I am unfuffled when the barrage comes. By contrast, the other three Smiths were straightforward and had found fun, and they were not to blame for inspecting me as if pinned and mounted under glass.
Why is it that Antoine and Roquentin and Mathieu, who are me, are indeed so gloomy? – whereas, Heavens!, life for me isn’t all that bad? I think it’s because they are homunculi. In reality, they are me, stripped of the living principle. The essential difference between Antoine Roquentin and me is that, for my part, I write the story of Antoine Roquentin [..]
I stripped my characters of my obsessive passion for writing, my pride, my faith in my destiny. My metaphysical optimism – and thereby provoked in them a gloomy pullulation. They are myself beheaded. And since one cannot touch a synthetic whole without causing it to die, those heroes are unviable. I hope they aren't entirely so as imaginary, fictional creatures; but they can exist only in the artificial milieu I've created around them to sustain them. Apart from the sadness of disintegration which I just mentioned, they have another still deeper kind: the sadness filled with bitterness and reproach of Homunculus in his jar. They know themselves to be unviable, sustained by artificial feeling – and insofar as the reader constitutes them with his time, he feels pervaded by the metaphysical sadness of prehistoric animals doomed to imminent extinction by the inadequacy of their constitutions.
His sentences are oar strokes that would propel him forward if it weren’t for the powerful current. Sometimes he pauses, falls silent and listens, as though to check whether his present situation might not have been replaced by its successor. “It’s impossible to direct anything.” Things still in the future and the distant past all pull on one string with him, sometimes ten times in the space of a single sentence. He is a man who thinks continually of great losses, without any detachment. The sea surfaces in him, and in the sea is a boulder, part of an enormous sunken city, the end of an unanticipated story, far in the past. Death knots his net … Colors that are nothing but extrusions of flesh narcotize him philosophically … The adducing of extremes, so as to be able to spit them out. Tensions between eerie subaquatic scenes. The word “yoke” occurs frequently. The word “true”—but also “untrue” and “unreal.” The word “ear of corn” may acquire the same meaning as “the whole of our welfare state.” They are his eyes that speak, they enact his thought, they pitch wildness and quiet alternately at the disquiet of others. The painter is such an oddity, I think, that no one understands him. Not a type. Always reliant on himself, and always rejecting everything coming at him, he has taken advantage to excess of all possibilities. To look at him is to look at the millennia. “Mountains, you know, can serve as telescopes, through which one can see into the future.” Or “inhumanly human.” He is able to irritate people, where there are no people. To suppress effervescence, where there is no effervescence. “Isn’t that an animal speaking? Am I not vermin?” Everything purposes the acceleration of his decay. Everything indicates a decisive childhood which was soon injured, a “stung nerve center,” an organically fertile double significance of insanity.
(Two beings from here, two ancient gods. They were in my room; I lived with them.
For an instant, I joined in their dialogue. They were not surprised. 'Who are you? One of the new gods?' - 'No, no, just a man'. But my denial did not stop them. 'Ah, the new gods! They have finally come'.
Their curiosity was light, capricious, wondrous. 'What are you doing here?' I answered them. They did not listen to me. They knew everything; theirs was a light knowledge that could not be weighed down with the kind of partial truth that I gave to them[...]
We have been living together ever since. And I almost no longer resist the idea that one day I may be the new god.) [...]
If I had to cite texts that evoke what committed literature might have been, I would have found them in the ancient period, when literature did not exist. The first, the one closest to us, is the biblical story of Exodus. Everything can be found there: liberation from slavery, wandering in the desert, waiting for writing, that is, for legislative writing, of which one always falls short, so that the only tablets received are broken, ones that cannot make up a complete response except in their breaking, even their fragmentation; finally, the necessity of dying without completing the work, without attaining the Promised Land, which, however, insofar as it is inaccessible, is always hoped for and thus already given.
Blanchot, 'Refusing the Established Order', Political Writings
our infantry also was left unsupported, while the different companies became so
huddled together that a soldier could hardly draw his sword, or withdraw his
hand after he had once stretched it out. And by this time such clouds of dust
arose that it was scarcely possible to see the sky, which resounded with
horrible cries; and in consequence, the darts, which were bearing death on
every side, reached their mark, and fell with deadly effect, because no one
could see them beforehand so as to guard against them.
the barbarians, rushing on with their enormous host, beat down our horses and
men, and left no spot to which our ranks could fall back to deploy, while they
were so closely packed that it was impossible to escape by forcing a way
through them, our men at last began to despise death, and again took to their
swords and slew all they encountered, while with mutual blows of battle-axes,
helmets and breastplates were dashed in pieces. Then you might see the
barbarian towering in his fierceness, hissing or shouting, fall with his legs
pierced through, or his right hand cut off, sword and all, or his side
transfixed, and still, in the last gasp of life, casting round him defiant
glances. The plain was covered with carcasses, strewing the mutual ruin of the
combatants; while the groans of the dying, or of men fearfully wounded, were
intense, and caused great dismay all around.
all this great tumult and confusion our infantry were exhausted by toil and
danger, until at last they had neither strength left to fight, nor spirits to
plan anything; their spears were broken by the frequent collisions, so that
they were forced to content themselves with their drawn swords, which they
thrust into the dense battalions of the enemy, disregarding their own safety,
and seeing that every possibility of escape was cut off from them. The ground,
covered with streams of blood, made their feet slip, so that all they
endeavored to do was to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and with such
vehemence did they resist their enemies who pressed on them, that some were
even killed by their own weapons. At last one black pool of blood disfigured
everything, and wherever the eye turned, it could see nothing but piled up
heaps of dead, and lifeless corpses trampled on without mercy.
The sun being now high in the heavens, having
traversed the sign of Leo, and reached the abode of the heavenly Virgo,
scorched the Romans, who were emaciated by hunger, worn out with toil, and
scarcely able to support even the weight of their armor. At last our columns
were entirely beaten back by the overpowering weight of the barbarians, and so
they took to disorderly flight, which is the only resource in extremity, each
man trying to save himself as well as he could.
We believe ourselves to understand things
ﬁrst when we have reduced them to what we do not understand and cannot
understand – to causality, axioms, God, character.
Not what lies behind the scientiﬁc image of
things – what is obscure, what is in itself and what is incomprehensible – lies
beyond all knowledge; but conversely it is the immediate, the sensual image,
the surface of things that face us that eludes us.
We wander and reach the goal – but, given
the relativity of all movement, who knows if we are not standing still and the
goal is coming to us. This would presuppose a movement of the objective world
of ideas. But on this ambiguity rests a lot of religious faith.
Art is our thanks to the world and to life.
After both have created the sensuous and spiritual forms of cognition of our
consciousness, we thank them by, once again with their help, creating a world
and a life.
Perhaps it is not just due to the stage of
humanity we are in, that it comes up with the highest problems, but not the
highest solutions. Perhaps it is humanity’s inner necessity, the essence of
man. The apple from the tree of knowledge was unripe.
When man describes himself as a fragment,
not only does he mean that he has no whole
life, but more profoundly, that he has no whole life.
That man is a being who can reach the
ultimate problems but not the ultimate solutions has to do with the fact that
he has to act as if he knew the future –although he does not know even one step
of it for sure.
How deep is mankind’s destiny embedded in
the fact that its two highest ideas – inﬁnity and freedom – are literally only
negations, only the removal of obstacles!
What is decisive and characteristic of man
is what he is desperate about.
The meaninglessness and conﬁnedness of life
strikes you often as so radical and inescapable that you totally despair about
it. The only thing that elevates you above this is to grasp this and to despair
The concept of consolation has a much
broader, deeper meaning than we usually attribute to it. Man is a being who
seeks to be consoled. Consolation is something other than help – even the
animal seeks the latter; but consolation is the strange experience which lets
suffering remain but, so to speak, abolishes the suffering from suffering. It
does not concern the evil cause but its reﬂex in the deepest part of the soul.
On the whole, man cannot be helped. That is why he has invented the wonderful
category of consolation – which comes to him not only through words spoken by
others for this purpose, but also from hundreds of circumstances in the world.
You can elevate man to the idea, but you
cannot lower the idea to man. [...]
In practice the worst errors are those
which come very close to the truth. [...]
The high point of lust is already surpassed
when you become aware of it, while suffering only reaches its high point with
Friendship, this relation without dependence, without episode, yet into which all of the simplicity of life enters, passes by way of the recognition of the common strangeness that does not allow us to speak of our friends but only speak to them, not to make of them a topic of conversation (or essays), but the movement of understanding in which, speaking to us, they reserve, even on the most familiar terms, an infinite distance, the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes a relation.
… it was very plainly not just what the old man
said that was so moving, it was almost entirely the way in which he said it,
the total naked absorption of the mind in is problem, the tried-out words
suspended for inspection, the unceasingly pitiless evaluation they were given,
the temporarily triumphant going forward, the doubt despair, the cruel
recognition of failure, the glorious giving of solutions by something from
somewhere, the insistent rebeginning, as though no one, not even the speaker,
had even been there. Without cant, without jargon, and in terms of examples,
this abstract mind went concretely forward …
I never took note of Wittgenstein’s lectures, but concentrated
on trying to follow his train of thought. In retrospect I think it right to say
that I understood next to nothing of what was going on, though I found Wittgenstein
most impressive and stimulating.
Each conversation with Wittgenstein was like living
through the day of judgement. It was terrible. Everything had constantly to be
dug up anew, questioned and subjected to the tests of truthfulness. This
concerned not only philosophy but the whole of life.
Wittgenstein in those days often warned us against reading
philosophical books. If we took a book seriously, he would say, it ought to
puzzle us so much that we would throw it across the room and think about the
problem for ourselves.
He had he said, only once been to high table at Trinity and
the clever conversation of the dons had so horrified him that he had come out
with both hands over his ears. The dons talked like that only to score: they
did not even enjoy doing it. He said his own bedmaker’s conversation, about he
private lives of her previous gentlemen and about her own family, was far preferable:
at least he could understand why she talked that way and could believe she
He liked the north of England,
too: when he asked the bus conductor on a Newcastle
bus where to get off for a certain cinema, the conductor at once told him it
was a bad film there and he ought to go to another. And this started a heated
argument on thus bus as to which film Wittgenstein ought to see and why. He
liked that: it was the sort of thing that would have happened in Austria.
I took my camera with me – which was the cause of another
scene with Ludwig. We were getting on perfectly amicably – when I left him for
a moment to take a photo. And when I overtook him again he was silent and
sulky. I walked on with him in silence for half an hour, and then asked him
what was the matter. I seems my keenness to take that photo had disgusted him –
‘like a man who can think of nothing – when walking – but how the country would
do for a golf course’. I had a long talk with him about it, and eventually we
made up again. He is really in an awful neurotic state: this evening he blamed
himself violently and expressed the most piteous disgust with himself … I only
hope that an out of doors life here will make him better: at present it is no
exaggeration to sat he is as bad – (in that nervous sensibility) – as people
like Beethoven were. He even talks of having at times contemplated suicide.
Ludwig was horribly depressed all evening. He has been working
terribly hard of late – which may be the cause of it. He talked again tonight
about his death – that he was not really afraid to die – but yet frightfully
worried not to let the few remaining moments of his life be wasted. It all
hangs on his absolutely morbid and mad conviction that he is going to die soon
– there is no obvious reason that I can see why he should not live yet for a
long time. But it is no use trying to dispel that conviction, or his worries
about it, by reason: the conviction and the worry he can’t help – for he is
mad. It is a hopelessly pathetic business – he is clearly having a miserable
time of it.
He is morbidly afraid that he may die before he has
put the Theory of Types to rights, and before he has written out all his other
work in such a way as shall be intelligible to the world and of some use to the
science of Logic. He has written a lot already – and Russell has promised to publish
his work if he were to die – but he is sure that what he has already written is
not sufficiently well put, so as absolutely to make plain his real methods of
thought etc – which of course are of
more value than his definite results. He is always saying he is certain he will
die within four years – but today it was two months.
English have always prized the lovably idiosyncratic individual over those arid
entities known as ideas. If they aren’t able to extricate the man or woman
‘behind’ the work, they tend to feel a little cheated. Their fondness for
biography, a superior version of what the media know as ‘human interest’ goes
hand in hand with their philistinism.