To write, I am unhappy is already to belie that unhappiness. Can I be unhappy if I can write? And why write of unhappiness – does this confirm it and thereby deepen the same unhappiness? I’m going to quote it again, my favourite passage from Kafka’s Diaries:
I have never understood how it is possible for almost anyone who writes to objectify his sufferings in the very midst of suffering them; thus I, for example, in the midst of my unhappiness -- my head, say, still on fire with unhappiness -- sit down and write to someone: I am unhappy. Yes, I can even go beyond that and with the various flourishes I might have talent for, all of which seem to have nothing to do with my unhappiness, ring simple, or contrapuntal or a whole orchestration of changes on my theme. And it is not a lie, and it does not still my pain, it is simply a merciful surplus of strength at a moment when suffering has raked me to the bottom of my being and plainly exhausted all my strength. But then what kind of strength is it?
A surplus of strength: to confess is, as Stock might argue (see my previous blog), to enter into the play, irony, theatrics, or ambiguity that opens when I write. Who am I? I have left a trace; what I have written has form, content. It is not simply a record of my unhappiness, since, when I write, I have, in a sense, left myself behind. Why, then, did I desire to write ‘I am unhappy’? It is a ‘merciful strength’, according to Kafka. Merciful because it lifts me from my unhappiness. Because, it might lift me, in some sense, from myself. I begin to write. Towards what? For whom? I write … and writing itself fascinates me. I can make grief sing; unhappiness becomes lyrical. But there is the danger in the very ease of writing. As you know, I like to write; it is, after all, something to do in the evening. It opens a vista before me, I can look into the distance. I write and I feel pleasant rhythms traverse me, it is sheer relief. But it is also a temptation to complacency.
Writing, as Mishima writes in Sun and Steel, which I was rereading last night, is like a horde of white ants that eat up everything. He remember words pouring through him like rain when he was a very young child. He learnt to speak, to write, before everything, he recalls. In so doing, he loses the world.
Mishima supposes that it is the body, the interior of the body that is lost to writing. He became a bodybuilder, a martial artist; he formed his own militia. In the end, he committed hari-kari, opening himself as if to the blazing sun. This was a way of escaping writing. But on the day he stormed the military headquarters and took a Japanese army General captive, before taking his own life, he delivered the final pages of his tetralogy, The Sea of Fertility. It is as though he sought to affirm a strength against strength, to fight the great ease he felt in writing with the ardour and discipline of physical training. Remember how much he wrote – a truly enormous quantity of material, across a variety of genres.
A strength against strength – I prefer Bataille’s attempt to write against discourse itself. ‘Experience is in the first place a struggle against the spell in which useful language holds us’ ('Socratic College', 16). It is as though Bataille would make the white ants devour themselves, to reach that point where there is nothing, just silence, affirming itself without content. Of course it one cannot remain at that point – to reach the summit is to experience decline. Nevertheless, the task is to shatter the forms.
To have that strength! But I have had to learn to write, it did not come easily (I haven’t learnt … I am learning). It is as though there is something tangled in me that prevented me writing in clear prose. A fundamental absence of grace. Which means I am attracted to authors whose work exhibit grace. I am an admirer of the beautiful perhaps because, like Caliban, I envy Ariel. But Bataille and Mishima are both Ariels; the grace and beauty of writing comes easily to them. Witness Bataille’s perfect novella, My Mother, which Mishima praises. All the more extraordinary then are shattered texts like The Impossible, ‘Method of Meditation’, ‘Nietzsche’s Laughter’ where Bataille becomes Caliban. And Mishima? Mishima becomes Caliban only in taking his own life.