misc brooklyn, summer/fall
talia and i moved into our new place last month. you can see the empire state building from our window, and when perched on the fire escape for air and cigarettes you can see the J/Z train as it passes. books still in boxes. we’re at an impasse: should we buy bookshelves or should we arrange them on the floor, as I’ve had my books for the last five years?
i turn 24 in a week. currently reading: lerner’s new novel, a book about fin de siecle vienna, n+1’s new compilation. currently writing: nothing.
“I know you, I know you. You’re the only serious person in the room, aren’t you, the only one who understands, and you can prove it by the fact that you’ve never finished a single thing in your life. You’re the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that’s real. What is real, then? Nothing’s real to you that isn’t part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal…spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don’t know what real life is, you’ve never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard.”
Gaddis, from The Recognitions
and Cioran, for good measure, from A Short History of Decay
Moreover, in this extremity of solitude none could count on any help from his neighbour; each had to bear the load of his troubles alone. If, by some chance, one of us tried to unburden himself or to say something about his feelings, the reply he got, whatever it might be, usually wounded him. And then it dawned on him that he and the man with him weren’t talking about the same thing. For while he himself spoke from the depths of long days of brooding upon his personal distress, and the image he had tried to impart had been slowly shaped and proved in the fires of passion and regret, this meant nothing to the man to whom he was speaking, and who pictured a conventional emotion, a grief that is traded on the market-place, mass-produced. Whether friendly or hostile, the reply always missed fire, and the attempt to communicate had to be given up. This was true of those at least for whom silence was unbearable, and since the others could not find the truly expressive word, they resigned themselves to using the current coin of language, the commonplaces of plain narrative, of anecdote, and of their daily paper. So, in these cases, too, even the sincerest grief had to make do with the set phrases of ordinary conversation. Only on these terms could the prisoners of the plague ensure the sympathy of their door-porter and the interest of their hearers.Albert Camus, from The Plague
Elaine Scarry brings up an interesting point. Pain, she says, is unique in its inexpressibility. It represents the apotheosis of subjectivity, unsharable and therefore incommunicable. Language itself breaks down — words become inadequate, phonemes unpronounceable. Meaning reaches a dead end. Knowledge of pain, more than knowledge of anything else, is predicated on experiencing it. Possessing it. Being in it. And yet.
And yet to presume to know another’s pain, while folly, is to make an originary, inaugurating step towards empathy. To presume to know another’s pain is to project your own past experience of pain — yes singular, yes subjective — onto the other, solipsism and subjectivity made common. Empathy, says Scarry, is predicated on the experience of pain, on being in pain and encountering others in pain.