Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Friendship and Thinking

I "stole" this from Spurious (see blogroll) and feel compelled to reproduce it here after a great conversation with Shashi last night that exactly touched on these themes (a continuation of the experience and self-reflexivity discussion as well as my/some of our ongoing issues w/ writing).

Blocks and Breaks

First sign of a thinker: the insistence there is a gap between them and their thought. Who are they after all? 'I'm not very interesting', said X. to W. and I two years ago, 'but the book's interesting'. He insisted on that. But W. and I scared him when we asked him to become our leader.

Another sign: the thinker experiences blocks and breaks when it comes to writing. Sometimes they write, and it is like the flash of lightning: everything is written, and all at once. But that 'sometimes' follows the darkness of many years. For a long time, there was no writing; and then - there it is, all at once. To write as by a single stroke - what does that mean? To write after thinking - but thinking is not the word, unless thinking happens in those blocks, those breaks. Unless thinking begins by facing its impossibility and then enduring it, riding it, that same impossibility, folding it into something that might be lived.

Not like us, I said to W., everything is possible for us. But for them, thinking is a risk, it is exposure. A kind of aloneness, that separates them from others, even if it allows them to return - even if it is all about return. I tell W. for the hundredth time about my two great conversations with Y., when he spoke of the category of repetition in Kierkegaard. The first time, with great urgency, on an afternoon when the sun blazed down. It changed everything for me, I told W. And then the second time, the following year, when he spoke to me of his relationship with his son. Pure repetition, he said, with incalculable joy. Did I understand him? I'm not sure. But he set fire to the word repetition; henceforward it would blaze, and Kierkegaard's book became the urbook, the first book, from which others had cooled and fallen.

And the third time we could have spoken? W. and I remember it well. W. was speaking to Y, and I was not. Someone else - who was it? - insisted on talking to me. I was aghast; I moved my chair closer to W. and Y., I tried to overhear, to participate, but I had no chance. It was a great conversation, said W., unhelpfully. A great conversation! But I was being monopolised; someone thought I had something to offer. Couldn't she see I had nothing to offer? Me, of all people! When all I wanted was to be drawn again into the circle of conversation. To listen as new words were set on fire; as books of philosophy became those scorched paths through which the thinker - thought in person - had blazed.

And a third sign, which is always marvellous to W. and I: the thinker has an absolute pellucidity with respect to their ordinary life. It was like looking into the clearest of rivers, I said to W. after speaking to X. And it was true: how frankly and absolutely X. spoke of himself, and to everyone who asked. Frankly, absolutely: as though life was something to look through, and not to live. Or that life was lived at another level, at that of blocks, of breaks - a level of which we had no idea.

Complete seriousness, said W., not like us. He was right: we are the apes of thought. Complete seriousness! But isn't there a sense for them, the thinkers, that there is a lightness in seriousness; that thinking is a kind of beatitude. What will W. and I know of the infinite pleasure of thought, thought's laughter, which laughs in the eyes of the thinker? They know more about joy than us, I said to W. There's no doubt about that. The play of thought, the game of thought: Blanchot's phrase of which W. and I always remind ourselves.

Remember what he wrote about Bataille, says W. for the hundredth time. We remember: absolute seriousness, absolute play, both at once. And I remember Blanchot's letters to Bataille (those that Bataille did not burn): almost contentless, expressing solicitude, expressing friendship, as friendship became a name for the play of thought between them.

Blocks and breaks: but now thought was a kind of turning, that orientation where speech, too heavy with itself, was turned to the other. A kind of shuttling (though Bataille's letters do not survive) where speech lightens itself as it slips from the one to the other. Speech? Is that the word? Rather, the 'there is' of speech as it returns from the impossibility endured by thought. As it returns after the longest absence, having traversed the greatest distance, but still young, younger than either thinker, announcing only itself, and the possibility of the impossible.

And now we remember Z., around whom the room becomes quiet. She speaks, and everyone is quiet. Here is a thinker; here is thought, in person. She lives differently to us, we know that. She lives a different life, and silence is a sign of that difference. What does it mean, that she does not speak? What does it mean, when her speech is light, quiet? Everyone in the room knows: what is spoken so lightly burns with the greatest urgency. The room is blazing, but these flames are like those of the aurora borealis. Thought is here; thinking is here, and we are touched by a cold and fiery hand by what it is impossible to think.

Touched: and it seems for a moment that we have faces with which to face the impossible; that we can be brought there, to the edge of cold and fire. The dross is burnt away; the whole of our lives become clear and still, like pools of water in Northern forests. The play of light across us, across the whole of our lives: we live; we are alive. Everyone in the room knows it. The room - but this is scarcely a room. An expanse - we lean in, listening. She speaks so quietly, and we must be more quiet than her speech. To be that quiet! To listen, with the whole of our being!

Thought is here, we know that. Thought that needs nothing to think, that thinks itself, like a star that has burned its substance away. Philosophy is burning. All thought is burning. And don't we each burn from that same burning? Hasn't it set something of ourselves alight? Wow, I said to W. when we came out. We sat in the courtyard, completely quiet. No more chattering. No apishness. Wow: I said nothing, I said everything. To share what had happened was only to repeat that non-word.

1 comment:

srt said...

I realize how pretentious this may sound but that last paragraph, especially the last sentence, reads like so many of my old journal entries--quasi philosophical treatises that would try to "think the thought of being."

This whole thing is fabulous and epitomizes the "ecstatic overmastering drive toward" that singular moment of insight, what I called "self-articulate" and is here better described as "Thought that needs nothing to think, that thinks itself."