From "What is the Contemporary?" by Giorgio Agamben
In the firmament that we observe at night, the stars shine brightly, surrounded by a thick darkness. Since the number of galaxies and luminous bodies in the universe is almost infinite, the darkness that we see in the sky is something that, according to scientists, demands an explanation… In an expanding universe, the most remote galaxies move away from us at a speed so great that their light is never able to reach us. What we perceive as the darkness of the heavens is this light that, though traveling toward us, cannot reach us…
To perceive, in the darkness of the present, this light that strives to reach us but cannot - this is what it means to be contemporary. As such, contemporaries are rare. And for this reason, to be contemporary is, first and foremost, a question of courage, because it means being able not only to firmly fix your gaze on the darkness of the epoch, but also to perceive in this darkness a light that, while directed toward us, infinitely distances itself from us. In other words, it is like being on time for an appointment that one cannot but miss.
“Dante… claimed in his unfinished treatise on language… that ever since the Fall, human speech has always begun with an exclamation of despair: “Heu!” The poet’s suggestion is worth considering seriously. What would it mean for the primary form of human speech to be not a statement, a question, or a naming but an exclamation?”—Daniel Heller-Roazen, Echolalias: On the forgetting of language
“These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. On those remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance.”—Jorge Luis Borges (via mianoti)
There is no choice but to go on with this burning inside, and to let it burn until there’s nothing left but a fine layer of ash. In time, this layer will be blanketed by the detritus of some new pain that, in order to keep ourselves going, we pretend is different from the last. Should anyone care to examine our geology they will see here evidence of an upheaval.
“… And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”—From “East Coker,” in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
“Language can only deal meaningfully with a special, restricted segment of reality. The rest, and it is presumably the much larger part, is silence.”—George Steiner, Language and Silence (via silencesounds)
“The poem is not a vehicle, it is an act of transportation. The poem, made of breath, blows us away - to everything that is not ‘us,’ to everything by which an ‘us’ is created. Writer to reader, self to another self, today to yesterday, this world to other worlds. Silence to sound to silence …”—Eliot Weinberger, “The River”