Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Never A Dull Moment in Rural Belgium

One of the good things about spending the last month in Belgium is that, because I've already sent all my notes and manuscripts to the States, there has been loads of time for recreational reading. The first couple of weeks here gave me a chance to re-read Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, which in turn gave me the idea to outline a future paper / lecture on the philosophy of femininity and chaos, as well as the 'sacramental' value of stories. I can one not like passages like this?

Acts have their being in the witness. Without him who can speak of it? In the end one could even say that the act is nothing, the witness all. It may be that the old man saw certain contradictions in his position. If men were the drones he imagined them to be then had he not rather been appointed to take up his brief by the very Being against whom it was directed? As has been the case with many a philosopher that which at first seemed an insurmountable objection to his theories came gradually to be seen as a necessary component to them and finally the centerpiece itself. He saw the world pass into nothing in the very multiplicity of its instancing. Only the witness stood firm. And the witness to that witness. For what is deeply true is true also in men's hearts and it can therefore never be mistold through all and any tellings. This then was his thought. If the world was a tale who but the witness could give it life? Where else could it have its being? This was the view of things that began to speak to him. And he began to see in God a terrible tragedy. That the existence of the Deity lay imperiled for want of this simple thing. That for God there could be no witness. Nothing against which He terminated. Nothing by way of which his being could be announced to Him. Nothing to stand apart from and say I am this and that is other. Where that is I am not. He could create everything save that which would say him no.

[. . .]

What the priest saw at last was that the lesson of a life can never be its own. Only the witness has power to take its measure. It is lived for the other only. The priest therefore saw what the anchorite could not. That God needs no witness. Neither to Himself nor against. The truth is rather that if there were no God then there could be no witness for there could be no identity to the world but only each man's opinion of it. The priest saw that there is no man who is elect because there is no man who is not. To God every man is a heretic. The heretic's first act is to name his brother. So that he may step free of him. Every word we speak is a vanity. Every breath taken that does not bless is an affront. Bear closely with me now. There is another who will hear what you never spoke. Stones themselves are made of air. What they have power to crush never lived. In the end we shall all of us be only what we have made of God. For nothing is real save his grace.

After that I skimmed through some stuff that resembled research, with which I will not bore you, but eventually found time to read the copy of Zadie Smith's White Teeth that had been sitting on my shelf in Glasgow for half a year. Now, The Border Trilogy is far and away the better book -- well, three books -- but Zadie Smith's book still ripples with absolutely delightful, hilarious characters, and a zestful storytelling that you simply do not want to end. Now that I think about it, considering the end of the book, which I did not like as much as the rest, maybe Smith herself didn't quite want it to end. Her prose doesn't strike me with the philosophical force of McCarthy's, though that of few authors do, but there were some instances of especially lovely writing. For example:

It's a funny thing about the modern world. You hear girls in the toilets of clubs saying, 'Yeah, he fucked off and left me. He didn't love me. He just couldn't deal with love. He was too fucked up to know how to love me.' Now, how did that happen? What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way? And particularly if they replace us with a god, or a weeping madonna, or the face of Christ in a ciabatta roll -- then we call them crazy. Deluded. Regressive. We are so convinced of the goodness of ourselves, and the goodness of our love, we cannot bear to believe that there might be something more worthy of love than us, more worthy of worship. Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.

Yes, quite.

Does anybody have any book recommendations for my final few weeks here in Belgium?