So many ways to read the poem Nobody recites. Always more than one, at least.
This either-or– born to endless night, born to sweet delight– has surely caused its share of nightmares and pious commitments. One needn’t dig far for the predestination reading: some are damned, some are saved. Some will live forever, some are just walking dead. These two natal settings (valley of tears vs. blessed fruit), in this reading, appear to have nothing to do with one another; and it’s clear which one we ought to prefer and conform to in our lives (if we’ve not already panicked ourselves into martyrdom). We might also recall Aquinas’ comment that after the Last Judgment the sight of the cursed by the blessed will only increase their heavenly delight– quite the incentive to act up! This passion to be on the right side of the birth canal (God’s judgment, supposedly) motivates a great deal in our contemporary Christian culture: anti-body morality, self-depreciating, largely obedient, other-abhorrent, rooted in a constantly reinforced existential guilt. It would seem that to live in fear of the Lake of Fire is only a short step away from believing in anything. Of course, perfect love drives out all fear– and so, probably, all beliefs.
The title of Blake’s “Marriage of Heaven and Hell” alone would speak against this reading of night-delight along the lines of damnation-beatitude. Here the either-or turns into an and, the “and” of marriage, no less. Between delight and night, heaven and hell, a pact: “til death do us part.”
This “and”– which we all share– symbolizes a covenant whose narrative is unfinished, whose trajectory is yet uncertain. Those involved– we all– never quite know how to live up to what is promised here. Nor do we understand the mechanisms of forgiveness at work (human or mystical, or both). Covenant between illumination and darkness, sight and not-seeing, knowing and not-knowing, one two, dead alive. But it’s not as though these oppositions were equivalent; on the contrary, it’s a question of what a covenant does to the opposed, to those face-to-face, when they choose, or rather promise, against opposition altogether. From “either-or” to “and”, it would be a matter of rethinking “distance” (op-position) as such, the distance between two, any two, or more, realms or people, their difference and their touch. Outside of any “union,” an alliance of others, asking love. And so the distance between us, between we, all others.
–How two estranged got “married,” how two absolute singularities made a promise, “to love and to cherish,” that is, to care for the other as oneself and to encounter the other in their absolute otherness– without tampering and yet not without intimate contact– this is what all the “opposites” ask of us. Including all those oppositions operative in language, or rather, which “language” tries most passionately to represent and activate, while questioning, destabilizing. Language is married to us in our being married to ourselves, always over great distances. It marries us and we are married to it– not to a finished product, far from it, but to the beginning itself, to the risk of a long journey– meaning, we have a responsibility to undergo the relationship, its night-delight, its torments, its unbindings and its fruits, for at each juncture the night-delight of existence as such is at stake, in play. For all concepts share meanings, as we do; and each meaning can be its own only because it stands in contradistinction to all the others, as do we. The copula lies in this infinite “and.” To think is to follow the various trails of “and,” this creation and contradistinction, to live. Whereupon one learned: no Heaven and Hell outside their marriage pact. A promise, then, to maintain the “distance” while reducing it to a metaphor; or perhaps to efface the opposed terms altogether. A promise to exchange, to communicate. Night-delight, coming from this pact, originary death-life– and we, always we, between two births.
No me or you, then– not outside this strange promise, this promise to let the other be, to the point of letting them not mean anything, being effaced. No meaning to Heaven or Hell, no Heaven or Hell at all– only occasions, metaphors for our relations, to ourselves and to others. No me or you– only meetings. Fading in and out, slipping, between-the-two: experience, constant intermittence felt to be. Each one slipping elsewhere, unified along fracture lines, tracing edges, together parting ways…
As for the original lyric, night-delight might be read as an originary oscillation between two absolutes, two incompatible conditions that are nevertheless necessary for each other– repeated daily, in all the metaphors we live by, first between sleep and wakefulness, “zombied-out” (vegged) to “mindful” (satchidananda), but also between depression and elation, anguish and ecstasy, isolation and communication, etc. Divus, root of our “divine,” as original-originary parting, without there being any original division. An original ex-posure without origin: spacing, parting, spreading, sharing. As if every part, every “thing,” were an origin, crucial in the mix. Every collision and chance, every meeting, meaning and miss. Originary appearing-departing, paired-unraveling: day/night, here/there, me/you, night/noon…
That some are born to sweet delight, and some to endless night, might mean just this: we are all born together. We are each born to both– born into the world, and out of it.
Perhaps, then, there is a lightness in Nobody’s lyric– more appropriate for Blake anyhow– which his grave tone betrays (though this light is not, perhaps, without its fury). Some of us wake up each day, some of us don’t. Some die, of course. All the same, they lived, and live, like us, in us, awake-asleep in us to varying degrees, in we who are always also “all alone together.” Which places us, inevitably, somewhere in the middle. Endless night, sweet delight, you and me, going together.
“Finitude”: position bearing shaky departing, incalculably timed, displaced-redirected through it (space), limited-unlimited Nobody at the headless helm, singing the song as he likes, “trembling in sense,” discovering strangely vacuity and plenitude in every part co-presenting, discovering then (it seemed) absent center, thus feeling (as if) nothing (had been) discovered– Enduring whole bodies / a whole body, and each part, in the total trembling, every morn and every night, “in sickness and in health,” and nowhere else (but) in between. And so, no first moment for us, ever, and no last either. No origin, no ending, no covers on the book, but only passages, pages, each one tearing off or flipped up like us, ever more pages paging us, calling us from here or there, from here to there, beyond…
Long behind, or far up in front, ahead of those parting off ways and inside them, a covenant, vowed not to understand but to speak, to share our opposed/never-opposed voices and concepts. To recite the poem and interpret it, why not? Perhaps, then, hope, understanding, between two, always two, and always more, night and noon.