Excerpt from “Bread and Wine” by Friedrich Hölderlin, trans. Michael Hamburger:
One thing is sure even now: at noon or just before midnight,
Whether it’s early or late, always a measure exists,
Common to all, though his own to each one is also allotted,
Each of us makes for the place, reaches the place that he can.
Well, then, may jubilant madness laugh at those who deride it,
When in hallowed Night poets are seized by its power;
To be seized by the power of measure requires– what else?– a kind of openness. It seems to imply a kind of freedom that yet comes over me all of a sudden. A freedom that puts me in my place. And yet somehow: I have to choose it. But how will I know what to choose? How will I know when it’s chosen me? I won’t. To know so: it requires all of this life, requires my waiting it out. A imperative to wait and to weigh which is unsuited to my finite capacities for patience, and for openness. Unsuited, finite amount of living time for it. Unsuited, because the power doesn’t match the measure: while I reach the place I can, and head on toward the place made for me, the power which seizes me and the measure which dawns there outweigh me, outlast me, and finally, outstrip me. Isn’t it clear? I am a jungle animal who hasn’t yet learned to speak: I cannot go back to the forest once I’m able to call it forest. I can’t be a human, I can’t be God, once I’m able to pronounce these words soberly, without absorption, and without delusion. All I can do to “overcome metaphysics” is to descend to the nearest of the near, to seek the just measure in each instant, and to not be frightened at the exhaustion required by thinking. For what am I waiting for, if not increased sobriety? For an increased awareness of the futility of this work, of the failure that my finitude is? And to what end: to “inscribe” this futility, to enter into (an admittedly impossible) rapport with other mortals, who recognize something of themselves in me, insofar as, in all of this, I recognize something of someone else in me in it. Maybe I lose you when I explain the mechanics of this operation. But no matter. I was neither mechanic nor mechanism. I watched a certain amount of things happen, a certain amount of being come to pass. And the sense of immortality that accompanied my writing these words: it was not an immortality of my own, nothing that was proper to me, nothing that I could have appropriated as my essence or my destiny. It was immortal in the way an epitaph is. The way a slur lingers on the tongue of the accuser and in the ear of the accused. The way a book gathers dust on its covers, the way an internet page ephemerals, technically, nowhere whatsoever. Immortal: resigned to oblivion from the get-go. But what freedom there is in that. And I say it: what measure.
One does not feel alone in the movement of these words. Not when writing them, and I think not when reading them either. I almost want to say: I am building a home in oblivion, and it doesn’t matter. I should say: but it doesn’t matter. We don’t matter. The home: it’s destructible. But it says something when it gets constructed. Lends an ear to its own falling-apart. Already, of course.
A feeling of homelessness, of being all alone in ones endeavors, doesn’t come from an oblivion or forgetting of Being (as Heidegger would have it). No, there is a homelessness also amidst the “thinking of Being.” There is a homelessness, a desertion, a destitution, right at the center of language (“house of Being”). I experience this in two basic ways. Firstly, on the terms, or in the terms, of language itself: each term gives way to the next, not only in the sense that “each signifier requires the whole chain of signifiers to have sense,” that “each signifier is given its sense by all the other signifiers and its differences from them,” but also in the sense that signifieds themselves cross-breed and contaminate one another. Thoughts of death run up against thoughts of otherness, such that speaking to you and listening to you become a kind of dying. The silence at the heart of sleep contaminates all that I speak, night or day. Death contaminates sleep. The world, as a mess of language and conversations, comes to look like a never ending funeral march, where no one says anything, where despite the noise, sleep and silence reign. And in poetry, language appears to reign; but I cannot read it, it is already translated; I have to animate it myself: reading becomes writing. To work with ideas becomes language-grind. Then that grinds to a halt, language fails, and it is back to the amorphous idea. And then, my body interrupts, exhaustion sets in, complete lack of the idea, typo, complete lack of language: nothing but death, sleep, silence. Through all this, I cannot tell if I am absolutely at peace or raging with uncertainty; if I am surrendered to the worse kind of laziness and inaction, or if I have set to an essential work that countless avoid. Of course, in saying this I say nothing of worth, add to no theoretical discipline, add to no spiritual praxis. And if this is pain, or if this is pleasure, I haven’t the time to determine. All I know is that I avoid this work, these ideas, this writing (death); but that in avoiding it, I detest myself; and yet when engaging it, the one who avoided it isn’t there, can’t be there, for there is no one here to rejoice, no one here to reject. And so on until the most laughable of predicaments! Only a language, I mean, a silence, I mean, my death, no, yours, I mean, ours, or is it, perhaps, the world’s, not to chase, but to make room for. To let something happen in a world where, so much always going on, nothing ever seems to really happen. To let some kind of measure spill over and displace everything. For I do not want to go back to the way things were. And I do not even care where I, or we, are headed otherwise.
All this, I admit, is not a manageable project: origins are questionable, uses are in doubt. I’m ruined, lost immediately, no, not lost, forgotten, or rather, I forget the role memory plays in it all, better yet, I have no idea how it plays it. Do I avert my eyes from this line, return back to “find my spot”? Or has the moment passed? What of the unrepeatable, of the each, the singular, can I conjure here? Or if not conjure, at least call up? But conjure up in, or call up for, who? There is another kind of homelessness that has nothing to do with my petty dilemmas with language, ideas, and silence. It comes from a simple lack of company, lack of living friends. Lack of, you could say, those willing to think the implications of our times. Homelessness because there are far too many who are at home in it (and too often, I myself am one of them: my complacency is the filthiest part about me, what eats at me and causes my self-detest). Who wills to hear the dark voice that this text hears? Who wants to listen and think through, and not judge, interpret, manipulate? Who wants to manifest the voice of a retarded era and not simply periodize it, set it in its place, characterize it? Who wants to write poetry and not simply post advertisements? Do not mistake my tone here, for it is not a lament. No, because if anything, I can only wonder what my life would be like without the comraderieship that I have found (most of which, I admit, has come from the annals of philosophy and literature). No, because without those many voices to accompany and show me to what I can reach, my complacency would be even more staggering; what’s worse, I would probably not even be aware of it. And so, without sadness, I ask, “Am I the only one? Who else recognizes the wasteland’s extension? And that something radically new, radically non-human is dawning thereby (it is perhaps a clarification, a demystification, of evil…)? Who else will hear what is spoken thus from the gritty light it/I emits?” And I ask myself, “Is it enough to go on listening, pursuing your self in the dark regions of ‘truth’? Is it enough to imagine or project someone, somewhere, at some time in the future, who might receive ‘my words of theirs‘?” For what else could come to speak in me but you? There is a dynamic between us, that is us, which is both ineluctable, insuperable, yet unruly, even unfeasible: it’s what is death for us. None of it makes sense aside from that “standpoint”– impossible to inhabit, impossible even to imagine.
Yes, they are there again: words, confusing, dividing, timing, spacing, allowing, clearing. And so much for the better: confusions, divisions, times, spaces, allowances, clearings. Yes, the madness of a measure that seizes.