post-war blog

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

from Susan Sontag's On Photography

This is an extract from Susan Sontag's collection of essays On Photography, from the essay In Plato's Cave.

Recently, photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing - which means that, like every mass art form, photography is not practiced by most people as an art. it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

Memorializing the achievement of individuals considered as members of families (as well as of other groups), is the earliest popular use of photography. For at least a century, the wedding photograph has been as much a part of the ceremony as the prescribed verbal formulas. Cameras go with family life. According to a sociological study done in France, most households have a camera, but a household with children is twice as likely to have at least one camera as a household in which there are no children. Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign on parental indifference, just as not turning up for one’s graduation picture is a gesture of adolescent rebellion.

Through photographs, each family constructs as portrait-chronicle of itself – a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness. It hardly matters what activities are photographed so long as photographs get taken and are cherished. Photography becomes a rite of family life just when, in the industrializing counties of Europe and America, the very institution of the family starts undergoing radical surgery. At that claustrophobic unit, the nuclear family, was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life. Those ghostly traces, photographs, supply the token presence of the dispersed relatives. A family’s photograph album is generally about the extended family – and, often, is all the remains of it.

As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure. Thus, photography develops in tandem with one of the most characteristic of modern activities: tourism. For the first time in history, large numbers of people regularly travel out of their habitual environments for short periods of time. It seems positively unnatural to travel for pleasure without taking a camera along. Photographs will offer indisputable evidence that the trip was made, that the program was carried out, that fun was had. Photographs document sequences of consumption carried on outside the view of family, friends, neighbors. But dependence on the camera, as the device that makes real what one is experiencing, doesn’t fade when people travel more. Taking photographs fills the same need for the cosmopolitans accumulating photograph-trophies of their boat trip up the Albert Nile or their fourteen days in China as it does for lower-middle-class vacationers taking snapshots of Eiffel Tower or Niagara Falls.

A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it – by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience in an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic – Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.

People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture takers, at home and abroad. Everyone who lives in an industrialized society is obliged gradually to give up the past, but in certain countries, such as the United States and Japan, the break with the past has been particularly traumatic. In the early 1970s, the fable of the brash American tourist of the 1950s and 1960s, rich with dollars and Babbittry, was replaced by the mystery of the group-minded Japanese tourist, newly released from his island prison by the miracle of overvalued yen, who is generally armed with two cameras, one on each hip.

Photography has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation. One full-page ad shows a small group of people standing pressed together, peering out of the photograph, all but one looking stunned, excited, upset. The one who wears a different expression holds a camera to his eye; he seems self-possessed, is almost smiling. While the others are passive, clearly alarmed spectators, having a camera has transformed one person into something active, a voyeur: only he has mastered the situation. What do these people see? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. It is an Event: something worth seeing – and therefore worth photographing. The ad copy, whit letters across the dark lower third of the photograph like news coming over a teletype machine, consists of just six words: “. . . Prague . . . Woodstock . . . Vietnam . . . Sapporo . . . Londonderry . . . LEICA.” Crushed hopes, youth antics, colonial wars, and winter sports are alike - are equalized by the camera. Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events.

A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with ever more peremptory rights – to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions. The omnipresence of cameras persuasively suggests that time consists of interesting events, events worth photographing. This, in turn, makes it easy to feel that any event, once underway, and whatever its moral character, should be allowed to complete itself – so that something else can be brought into the world, the photograph. After the event has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality (and importance) it would never otherwise have enjoyed. While real people are out there killing themselves or other real people, the photographer stays behind his or her camera, creating a tiny element of another world: the images-world that bids to outlast us all.

Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention. Part of the horror of such memorable coups of contemporary photojournalism as the pictures of a Vietramese bonze reaching for the gasoline can, of a Begnali guerrilla in the act of bayoneting a trussed-up collaborator, comes from the awareness of how plausible it has become, in situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph and a life, to choose the photograph. The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene. Dziga Vertov’s great film, Man with a Movie Camera (1929), gives the ideal image of the photographer as someone in perpetual movement, someone moving through a panorama of disparate events with such agility and speed that any intervention is out of question. Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) gives the complementary image: the photographer played by James Stewart has an intensified relation to one event, through his camera, precisely because he has a broken leg. And is confined to a wheelchair; being temporarily immobilized prevents him from acting on what he sees, and makes it even more important to take pictures. Even if incompatible with intervention in a physical sense, using a camera is still a form of participation. Although the camera in an observation station, the act of photographing is more that passive observing. Like sexual voyeurism, it is a way of at least tacitly, often explicitly, encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening. To take a picture is to have n interest in things as they are, in the status quo remaining unchanged (at least for as long as it takes to get a “good” picture), to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing – including, when that is the interest, another person’s pain or misfortune.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

as described by Jean Genet in ‘The Thief’s Journal’

His temple bled. Two soldiers had just fought for some long forgotten reason, and it was the younger who fell, his temple smashed by the iron fist of the other, who watched the blood flow and become a tuft of primroses. The flowering spread rapidly. It reached the face, which was soon covered with thousands of those compact flowers, sweet and violet as the wine vomited by soldiers. Finally, the entire body of the young man lying in the dust was a bank of flowers whose primroses grew big enough to be daisies through which the wind blew. Only one arm remained visible and moved, but the wind stirred all the grasses. Soon all the victor could see was single hand making a clumsy sign of farewell and hopeless friendship. Eventually the hand disappeared, caught in the flowering compost. The wind died down slowly, regretfully. The sky grew dark after having first lit up the eye of the brutal, murderous young soldier. He did not weep. He sad down on the flower bed that his friend had become. The wind stirred a bit, but a bit less. The soldier brushed his hair from his eyes and rested. He fell asleep.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet

Jean Genet is my new discovery. A french writer, but formost a criminal, from 1930's. The book that I am reading right now is called 'The Thief's Journal'. With Jean Genet I experience the other side of the morality, which we, the common people, usually call immorality. Genet was the first homosexual to write openly about it. Both his homosexuality and crime are his literary subjects.

'Only a handful of twentieth-century writers, such as Kafka and Proust, have as important, as authoritative, as irrevocable a voice and style' - Susan Sontag.

I am sure there are many writings around the web describing Jean Genet and his life. So here I will just offer some shorts pieces from 'The Thief's Journal'. These are the quotes that I most identified with or that I found beautiful.

'I bit Lucien until blood flowed. I was hoping to make his scream; his insensitivity conquered me. But I know that I would go so far as to rip my friend's flesh and lose myself in an irreparable carnage wherein I would preserve my reason and know the exaltation of the fall.
p. 145

'I did not slap anyone, but my voice was so shaken that I realised how angry was. In order to pull myself together, I robbed one of the officers that very same night.'
p. 68

'If I attempt to recompose with words what my attitude was at the time, the reader will be no more taken in than I. We know that our language is incapable of recalling even the pale reflection of those bygone, foreign states. The same would be true of this entire journal if it were to be the notation of what I was. I shall therefore make clear that it is meant to indicate what I am today, as I write it. It is not a quest of time gone by, but a work of art whose pretext-subject in my former life. It will be a present fixed with the help of the past, and not vice versa. Let the reader therefore understand that the facts were what I say they were, but the interpretation that I give them is what I am - now.'
p. 71

'In the hands of a poor man, coins are no longer the sign of wealth but of its opposite. No doubt I robbed some rich hidalgo in passing - rarely, for they know how to protect themselves - but such thefts had no effect on my soul. I shall speak of the others I committed against other beggars.'
p. 77

'During the morning walk in the yard, I was asked the same question, but I knew nothing about the health of the Princess of Piedmont, the king's daughter-in-law (the question concerned her). I learned later that she was pregnant and that the amnesty which is always granted upon the birth of a royal child depended on the child's sex.'
p. 107

'Neither by the recital nor the interlacing or overlapping of the facts - and I don't know what they are, which limits them in time and space - nor by their interpretation, which, without destroying them, creates new ones, can I discover the key, nor, by means of them, my own key. I undertook, with a baroque intention, to cite a few, pretending to omit those - the first which make up the apparent texture of my life - which are the knots of the glistering threads. If France is an emotion communicated from artist to artist - a relay of neurons, so to speak - then to the very end I am only a string of tinglings, the first of which are beyond my range. The prongs of a boat hook that had been dug into a drowned man to pull him out of a stream made me suffer in my child's body. Could it really be that people searched for corpses with harpoons? I roamed about the countryside, delighted to discover in the wheat or beneath the firs the bodies of drowned men to whom I accorded the most incredible obsequies. Can I say that it was the past - or that it was the future? Everything has already been caught, until my death, in an ice flow of being: my trembling when a piece of rough trade asks me to brown him (I discover that his desire is his trembling) during a Carnival night; at twilight, the view from a sand dune of Arab warriors surrendering to French generals; the back of my hand placed on a soldier's basket, but especially the sly way in which the soldier looks at it; suddenly I see the ocean between two houses in Biarritz; I am escaping from the reformatory, taking tiny steps, frightened not at the idea of being caught but of being the prey of freedom; straddling the enormous prick of a blond legionnaire, I am carried twenty yards along the ramparts; not the handsome football player, nor his foot, not his shoe, but the ball, then ceasing to be the ball and becoming a "kick-off", and I cease being that to become the idea that goes from the foot to th ball; in a cell, unknown thieves call me Jean; when at night I walk barefoot in my sandals across fields of snow at the Austrian border, I shall not flinch, but then I say to myself, this painful moment must conquer with the beauty of my life, I refuse to let this moment and all the others be waste matter; using their suffering I project myself to the mind's heaven. Some negros are giving me food on the Bordeaux docks; a distinguished poet raises hands to his forehead; a German solder is killed in the Russian snows and his brother writes to inform me; a boy from Toulouse helps me ransack the rooms of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers of my regiment in Brest: he dies in prison; I am talking of someone - and while doing so, the time to smell roses, to hear one evening in prison the gang bound for the penal colony singing, to fall in love with a white-gloved acrobat - dead since the beginning of time, that is, fixed, for I refuse to live for any other end than the very one which I found to contain the first misfortune: that my life must be a legend, in other words, legible, and the reading of it must give birth to a certain new emotion which I call poetry. I am no longer anything, only a pretext.'
p. 117

'Later on , when, without refusing to get excited about a handsome boy, I applied the same detachment, when I allowed myself to be aroused, and when, refusing the emotion the right to rule me, I examined it with the same lucidity, I realized what my love was; on the basis of this awareness I established relationships with the world; this was the birth of intelligence.'
p. 181

'Robert went with us to a café. The joyousness of the event and its simplicity set my head spinning. I was no longer at Robert's side, nor even at Stilitano's. I was scattering myself to all corners of the worlds and was registering a hundred details which burst into light stars, I no longer know which. But when I accompanied Lucien for the first time, I had the same feeling of absence. I was listening to a housewife bargaining over a geranium.
"I'd like to have a plant in the house. . . " she was saying, "a nice plant. . . ."
This need for possessions, which made her want to have a plant of her own, chosen, with its roots and earth, from among the infinity of plants, did not surprise me. The woman's remark made clear to me the sense of ownership.
"She'll water her plant," I said to myself. "She'll buy it a majolica flowerpot. She'll put it out in the sun. She'll cherish it. . . ."
Lucien was walking at my side. The only live things I had ever owned were lovely pricks, whose roots were buried in black moss. I cherished several such, and I wanted them in all the flower of their strength. Those plants were my pride. Such was my fervor that their bearers themselves were amazed at their unwonted beauty. Nevertheless, each remained fastened, by a mysterious and solid base, to the male whose chief branch it was he owned it more than I did. It was his. Some flies were buzzing around Lucien. My hand mentally made the gesture of chasing them away. This plant was going to belong to me."
p. 139

more to come up

Monday, September 6, 2010

on escaping separateness

A fragment from Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving, The Theory of Love

… the human race in its infancy still feels one with nature. The soil, the animals, the plants are still man’s world. He identifies himself with animals, and this is expressed by the wearing of animal masks, by the worshipping of a totem animal or animal gods. But the more the human race emerges from these primary bonds, the more it separates itself from the natural world, the more intense becomes the need to find new ways of escaping separateness.

One way of achieving this aim lies in all kinds of orgiastic states. These may have the form of an auto-induced trance, sometimes with the help of drugs. Many rituals of primitive tribes offer a vivid picture of this type of solution. In a transitory state of exaltation the world outside disappears, and with it he feeling of separateness from it. Inasmuch as these rituals are practised in common, an experience of fusion with the group is added which makes this solution all the more effective.

All forms of orgiastic union have three characteristics: they are intense, even violent; they occur in the total personality, mind and body; they are transitory and periodical. Exactly the opposite holds true for that form of union which is by far the most frequent solution chosen by man in the past and in the present: the union based on conformity with the group, its customs, practices and beliefs. Here again we find a considerable development.

In a primitive society the group is small; it consists of those with whom one shares blood and soil. With the growing development of culture, the group enlarges; it becomes the citizenry of a polis, the citizenry of a large state, the members of a church. Even the poor Roman felt pride because he could say ‘civis romanus sum’; Rome and the Empire were his family, his home, his world. Also in contemporary Western society the union wit the group is the prevalent way of overcoming separateness. It is a union in which the individual self disappears to a large extent, and where the aim is to belong to the herd. If I am like everybody else, if I have no feelings or thoughts which make me different, if I conform in custom, dress, ideas, to the pattern of the group, I am saved; saved from the frightening experience of aloneness. The dictatorial systems use threats and terror to induce this conformity; the democratic countries, suggestions and propaganda. There is, indeed, one great difference between the two systems. In the democracies non-conformity is possible, and, in fact, by no means entirely absent; in the totalitarian systems, only a few unusual heroes and martyrs can be expected to refuse obedience. But in spite of this difference the democratic societies show an overwhelming degree of conformity. The reason lies in the fact that there has to be an answer to the quest for union, and if there is no other or better way, they the union of herd conformity becomes the predominant one. One can only understand the power of the fear to be different, the fear to be only a few steps away from the herd, if one understands the depths of the need not to be separated. Sometimes this fear of non-conformity is rationalised as fear of practical dangers which could threaten the non-conformist. But actually, people want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform, at least in the Western democracies.

Most people are not even aware of their need to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own ideas and inclinations, that they are individualists, that they have arrived at their opinions as the result of their own thinking – and that it just happens that their ideas are the same as those of the majority. The consensus of all serves as a proof for the correctness of ‘their’ ideas. Since there is still a need to feel some individuality, such need is satisfied with regard to minor differences; the initials on the handbag of the sweater, the name plate of the bank teller, the belonging to the Democratic as against the Republican party, to the Elks instead of to the Shriners become the expression of individual differences. The advertising slogan ‘it is different’ shows up this pathetic need for difference, when in reality there is hardly any left.

This increasing tendency for the elimination of differences is closely related to the concept and the experience of equality, as it is developing in the most advanced industrial societies. Equality had meant, in a religious context, that we are all God’s children, that we all share in the same human-divine substance, that we are all one. It meant also that the very differences between individuals must be respected, that while it is true that we are all one, it is also true that each one of us is a unique entity, is a cosmos by itself. Such conviction of the uniqueness o the individual is expressed for instance in the Talmudic statement: ‘Whosoever saves a single life is as if he had saved the whole world; whosoever destroys a single life is as if he had destroyed the whole world.’ Equality as a condition for the development of individuality was also the meaning of the conception of the philosophy of the Western Enlightenment. It meant (most clearly formulated by Kant) that no man must be the means for the ends of another man. That all men are equal inasmuch as they are ends, and only ends, and never means to each other. Following the ideas of the Enlightenment, Socialist thinkers of various schools defined equality as abolition of exploitation, of the use of man by man, regardless of whether this use were cruel or ‘human’.

In contemporary capitalist society the meaning of equality has been transformed. By equality one refers to the equality of automatons; of men who have lost their individuality. Equality today means ‘sameness’, rather than ‘oneness’. It is the sameness of abstractions, of the men who work in the same jobs, who have the same amusements, who read the same newspapers, who have the same feelings and the same ideas. In this respect one must also look with some scepticism at some achievements which are usually praised as signs of our progress, such as the equality of women. Needless to say I am not speaking against the equality of women, but the positive aspects of this tendency for equality must not deceive one. It is part of the trend towards the elimination of differences. Equality is bought at the very price: women are equal because they are not different any more. The proposition of Enlightenment philosophy, l’âme n’a pas de sexe, the soul has no sex, has become the general practice. The polarity of the sexes is disappearing, and with it erotic love, which is based on this polarity. Men and women become the same, not equals as opposite poles. Contemporary society preaches this ideal of unindividualised equality because it need human atoms, each one the same, to make them function in a mass aggregation, smoothly, without friction, all obeying the same commands, yet everybody being convinced that he is following his own desires. Just as modern mass production requires the standardisation of commodities, so the social process requires standardisation of man, and this standardisation is called ‘equality’.

Union by conformity is not intense and violent; it is calm, dictated by routine, and for this very reason often is insufficient to pacify the anxiety of separateness. The incidence of alcoholism, drug addiction, compulsive sexualism, and suicide in contemporary Western society are symptoms of this relative failure of herd conformity. Furthermore, this solution concerns mainly the mind and not the body, and for this reason too is lacking in comparison with the orgiastic solutions. Herd conformity has only one advantage; it is permanent, and not spasmodic. The individual is introduced into the conformity pattern at the age of three of four, and subsequently never loses his contact with the herd. Even his funeral, which he anticipates as his last great social affair, is in strict conformance with the pattern.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John Berger on Pirosmani

This is an extract from the essay On the Banks of the Sava by an acclaimed art critic John Berger written in 1972. The essay appears in the collection entitled The Sense of Sight.

In Russian cities the food displayed in shop windows often consists of painted wooden models, wooden chops, chickens, eggs. From a distance they sometimes look more convincing than real food because their colours are unusually vivid and distinct. The wooden meat is either lean (red) or fat (cream-coloured). There was a painter from Georgia towards the end of the last century called Pirosmanishvili who spent most of his life going from one tavern in Tiflis to another, painting inn signs. Many of them were of food. I have never seen paintings more expressive of hunger - or rather, of the dream provoked by hunger. Tabletops like the earth and on the cheeses and joints of meat like huge buildings. Even the women he painted look edible, like Easter cakes. In Pirosmanishvili's work the Russian tradition of painting wooden models of food for shop windows found its only genius and master. Why is it that the real lamb hanging at the back of the butcher's in Obrenovac unexpectedly, without premeditations, reminds me of his painting?

Friday, July 23, 2010

One Night in Strasbourg - an essay by John Berger

I find this piece of writing simple and at the same time extraordinary. It is very visual and emotional, as almost everything John Berger writes. Fantastic thoughts about passion from his book The Sense of Sight. I hope he will not be angry if I post it here.

The Kiss by Edvard Munch

I had gone to the cinema. When I came out it was cold and wet. You could just make out the cathedral spire against the sky.

Between the cathedral and the station there are many cheap brasseries and cafés. I went into one where there was a crow in a cage, hung beside the bottles behind the counter. At that time I was thinking about a scenario for a film and this had led me to try to analyse the nature of passion. I had written some notes in a school exercise book which had squares instead of lines on its pages. I had bought the book in a village shop. Now with my back to the stove in the café in Strasbourg and a glass of tea and rum on the table in front of me, I began to read what I had written.

The beloved represents the self's potential. The self's potential for action is to be loved by the beloved again and again. Active and passive become reversibele. Love creates the space for love. The love of the beloved 'completes' - as thought one were talking of a single action instead of two - the love of the lover.

The waitress as sat down to eat her supper. She has long straw-coloured hair.

With all those with whom we are not in love we have too much in common to be in love. Passion is only for the opposite. There is no companionship in passion. But passion can confer the same freedom on both lovers. And their shared experience of this freedom - a freedom which is itself is astral and cold - may give rise between them to an incomparable tenderness. Each time, the reawakening of desire is the reconstituting of the opposite.

A man comes in who clearly comes in every night. About sixty. A state office employee. He goes up to talk to the crow in the cage. He speaks a bird language to it.

The modalities of the opposition cannot easily be seen by a third person. What is more, they are continually being transformed within the lovers' subjective relationship. Each new experience, each fresh aspect revealed of the other's character, makes it necessary to redefine the lines of opposition. This is a continual imaginative process. When it ceases, there is no more passion. To conceive of the loved one as all that the self is no means that together the lovers form a totality. Together they can be anything and everything. This is the promise which passion makes to the imagination. And because of this promise the imagination works tirelessly drawing and re-drawing the lines of the opposition.

I pay the waitress with straw-coloured hair, nod to the habitué who talked to the crow and start to walk to the station. No stars. there is twenty minutes to wait for the train. I look around the large closed booking hall. Three men are sheltering in it. A man is tanding up asleep against the ticket counter, his head resting against a poster of a Loire chateau. Another man, head in his knees, is sitting asleep on the footplate of a weighing machine. Its rubber covering is warmer than the floor. Because a weight has been registered but no money put in and the wight not printed on a card, two lights on the face of the machine flick on and off, ceaselessly demanding a fifty-centime coin. The most fortunate of the three is on the floor with his back pressed against the only radiator. On his head is a bright red knitted hat. The soles of his shoes have holes in them the size of eggcups. In his sleep he scratches his stomach.

Lovers incorporate the whole world into their totality. All the classic images of love poetry bear this out. The poet's love is 'demonstrated' by the river, the forest, the sky, the minerals in the earth, the silk worm, the stars, the frog, the owl, the moon.

The man on the floor pulls up his knees to his stomach.

The aspiration towards such 'correspondence' is expressed by poetry, but it is created by passion. Passion aspires to include the world in the act of love. To want to make love in the sea, flying through the sky, in this city, in that field, on sand, with leaves, with salt, with oil, with fruit, in the snow, etc., is not to need new stimuli but to express a truth which is inseparable from the passion.

The man with red cap has sat up and clambered to his feet. The man from the Chateau takes his place by the radiator without a word. As he walks to the exit, the man with the red cap stops to adjust his trousers, which are halfway down his hips. He unclasps his belt and pulls up several shirts and a vest. His stomach and torso are tattooed. He beckons to me to come over. He is fat, his skin unexpectedly soft-looking. The tattoos show couples making love in many different ways: their outlines are in black, their sexual organs in red. Across his stomach and flanks the figures are as crowded as those in Michelangelo's 'Last Judgment'. The man shivers. 'What can you expect?' he says; he doesn't bother to put the coin in his pocket but holds it in his fist until he reaches the café opposite.

The lovers' totality extends, in a different manner, to include the social world. Every action, when it is voluntary, is undertaken in the name of the beloved. What the lover then changes in the world is an expression of his passion.

The man in the red cap is going into the café opposite.

Yet passion is a privilege. An economic and cultural one.

The train comes in. I get into a compartment where two men are sitting either side of the window. One is young with a round face and dark eyes; the second is about my age. We say good evening. Outside the rain is turning to snow. I find a pencil in my pocket: I want to write a few more lines.

Some attitudes are incompatible with passion. This is not a question of temperament. A cautious man, a mean man, a dishonest woman, a lethargic woman, a cantankerous couple may all be capable of passion. What makes a person refuse passion - or be incapable of pursuing a passion which has already been born, thus transforming it into a mere obsession - is his or her refusal to totality. Within the lover's totality - as within any - there is the unknown: the unknown which is also conjured up by death, chaos, extremity. Those who are conditioned to treat the unknown as something exterior to themselves against which they must continually take measures and be on guard, may refuse passion. This is not a question of fearing the unknown. Everyone fears it. It is a question of where the unknown is located. Our culture encourages us to locate it outside ourselves. Always. Even disease is thought as coming from outside. To locate the unknown as being out there is incompatible with passion.

The young man, who is a Spaniard, suggests that I take his seat by the window where there is a small folding table on which it will be easier to write. They are going to Mulhouse where they work in the same factory. The older one had been there for seven years. His family are in Bilbao.

The totality of passion overlays 9or undermines) the world. Lovers have one another with this world. )As one might say with their hears or with caresses.) The world is the form of their passion and all the events which they experience or imagine are the imagery of their passion. This is why passion is ready to risk life. Life appears to be only its form.

The older Spaniard, who is my age, is working on a piece fo paper torn from the still cover of a magazine. With his large thumbs and nicotine-stained fingers he is carefully tearing small pieces out of it. The younger man watches him with the pride of an impresario: he has seen him do this before. But there is no audience for this act. It is gratuitous, in the small hours of the morning. As the older man tears at the paper, he makes the silhouetter of a figure . . . head, shoulders, bottom, feet. He folds the figure lengthways and sideways. Then very delicately he tears a pice out of its center and folds the whole again. It has become a man, four inches hight. When he pulls the folds open a penis tands up erect. When closes them, the penis goes down. Because I am looking, he shows it to me. Otherwise hw wouldn't have done so. The three of us smile. He says he can make it better than that. Almost gently he crumples the figure up in his hand. Under the folding table is an ashtray. He throws the figure into the ashtray, letting the lid close with a sharp clack. Then, with folded arms, he stares out of the window into the night.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

happiness - She Came to Stay - episode

Françoise followed the gypsy who produced a little piece of light-colored wood from her pocket.

"I'll tell you a secret. There's a dark young man in your life, you're very much in love with him, but you're not happy with him because of a blonde girl. This is a charm. You must put it into a small handkerchief and keep if on you for three days and then you'll be happy with the young man. I wouldn't give it to everybody, for this is a very precious charm; but I'l give it to you for a hundred franks."

"No thank you," said Françoise. "I don't want the charm. Here's something for forture."

The woman seized the coin. "A hundred francs for happiness is nothing. How much do you want to pay for your happiness, twenty francs?"

"Nothing at all," Françoise said. She went back and sad down beside Gerbert.

"What did she tell you?"
"Just a lot of twaddle," Françoise smiled. "She offered me happiness for twenty francs, but I found that too dear, if as you say, it's nothing but a word."
"I didn't say that!" Gerbert said, startled to have involved himself to such an extent.
"Perhaps it's true," said Françoise. "With Pierre one uses so many words, but what exactly lies behind them?"
She was seized by a sudden anguish, so violent that she wanted to scream. It was as if the the world had suddenly become a void; there was nothing more to fear, but nothing to love either. There was absolutely nothing. She was going to meet Pierre, they would exchange meaningless phrases, and then they would part. If Pierre's and Xavière's friendship was not more than a mirage, then neither did her love for Pierre and Pierre's love for her exist. There was nothing but an infinite accumulation of meaningless moments, nothing but a chaotic seething of flesh and thoughts, with death looming at the end.
"Let's go," she said abruptly.

an episode from She Came to Stay by Simone de Beaovoir