For Gombrowicz, men, “those eternal actors,” are shaped by each other, by their mutual seeing of each other. Man is “adapting” every instant to what is expected of him, according to his role—thus, schoolboys expect dirty words and bragging from each other. True individuality is unattainable, for man is always enmeshed in interdependences with other human beings. Gombrowicz even speaks of an “interhuman church,” by which he means that we create one another; we are not self-existing. People whom we meet in a given situation infect us with their behavior, and even if we oppose that behavior, we are not free, since our very opposition is a pattern we fall into. And vice versa: if the behavior of one person, introduced into a group, differs from the group’s, the discrepancy unleashes a chain of patterned reactions.
“Everything that ever happened either
never did or always will with variations.
Let’s put it another way: Nothing ever
happened that wasn’t dreamed, that wasn’t
sketched from the start with artful surprises.
Think of the dreamer as God, a painter,
a ham, to be sure, but a divine old master
whose medium is light and who sidesteps
tedium by leaving room both inside and outside
this picture for subjects and scenery to wing it.”—Al Young "How the Rainbow Works" from The Vintage Book of African American Poetry
Archaeologists have recently decided that we can designate the beginning of civilization in the concept of sharing the same kill, in which simple idea we can see the inception of the family, the community, the state. Of disintegrating marriages we note that Jack and Jill are no longer sleeping together when the real break is when they are no longer eating together. The table is the last unassailed rite.
— Guy Davenport, “The Anthropology of Table Manners” from The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays
But the only real thing reading does for anyone is to shut them up for a few hours, and let the other senses function as usefully as the mouth. Quiet already, a young man will grow sullen. Sullen, he will grow into stone. But any “normal” most times noisy city half-slick young college type hipster will close his mouth for all times, so ugly will have been the nature of his re-evaluation of the world, and his life.
There was no one to whom I might tell an obvious fact: Kappa Gamma Pi was too expensive for me.
I was a scholarship student, I had virtually no “spending money” as it’s called. Of course I knew this before pledging yet somehow had ignored the fact like a diver who suspects that the water into which she wants to dive is freezing, and lethal, yet she dives into it just the same. As if behaving in the manner of X without acknowledging your perversity will have the magical effect of bending X to Y, which you can endure.
-I was out spiriting around and this dog got restless one night and went out wandering, and some people came and found my body and thought me dead and took it off and buried it, so when I came back the next morning I had nowhere to go, and I had to find a body to go back into or my spirit would die. And I looked around and I saw the dog coming home, but when he saw me he ran off, and I saw a horse, but he shied and ran off, too. Then I saw this old, old man lying out in the high grass in the field where the horse stayed. He was so tired he was about to die, and the sun was about to come up over the treeline and so I quick went into his body and was safe. And then I woke up…..
Outlaws claw mostly to a riddled end,
the close of their stories known. The cause of our story
which led us up from Hell to Purgatory,
then again downwards, has been fully penned
and stands mysterious: what lawyer will defend
there hopeless lovers with their eyes set on glory
for whom one tryst a week is satisfactory
but we can’t have that, merely. Shall I let it depend
on the weather & her moods, my waking up,
my cycling speed? or let it all go smash
in a welter of despair & suicides?
I stand off. I will the matter to a stop.
After the brightness, on Monday night the trash.
I am a savant of the problem on both sides.
”—John Berryman, "Sonnet 116" from Sonnets to Chris
KOSMO: She was lying facedown between two double beds with her right hand holding the phone so hard that the veins were standing out on her thumb. She had a squirrel fur wrapped around her neck with little black eyes that stared out at me. There were ostrich feathers lying around on the rug and blowing into the air-conditioning. The air-conditioner made this high, whining sort of sound. The sound went right through me as though it were her voice talking to me, even though she was dead. Then it started to sing. Not like she sang when she was alive, but another kind of voice. A crystal voice. It passed right through me and then the window broke right behind me. Like her voice went right through the window. I ran outside into the parking lot of the hotel. I could see her voice sailing over the parked cars. Sailing out over Sunset Boulevard. I ran after the voice. I tried to catch up, but each time I got nearer it took off again, like trying to catch a runaway kite. It sailed higher and higher, and then I saw you.
It reminds me of a conversation in the book Drylongso, a book of interviews between black anthropologist John Gwaltney and residents of black communities around the United States. Gwaltney is blind—a fact he considers an asset to his work, for people feel they should obey the injunction to help “the sick and afflicted.” His blindness was an important element in his interview with Clinton Banks, a sixty-year-old “street man.” At one point in their discussion of race and color, Gwaltney pointed out that anthropologists consider Indians from the country of India “white”, Caucasian. There was a pause, and then Mr. Banks said, “Lawd! Lawd! I think that is rotten of them to lie to a blind man like that!” I laughed when I read that. Now there is a man who knows make-believe when he sees it! Just saying that the emperor is wearing clothes does not make it true.
The difference between Einstein and Kafka, both sons of middle-class middle-European families, both of whom found life in the ordinary world intolerably dreary: Einstein escaped the world by science, that is, by transcending not only the world but the Cosmos itself. Kafka also escaped his predicament—occasionally—not by science but by art, that is, by seeing and naming what had heretofore been unspeakable, the predicament of the self in the modern world. The salvation of art derives in the best of modern times from a celebration of the triumph of the autonomous self—as in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony— and in the worst of times from naming the unspeakable: the strange and feckless movements of the self trying to escape itself. Exhilaration comes from naming the unnamable and hearing it named.