“It would be in contradiction to the conservative nature of the drives if the goal of life were a state of things which had never yet been attained. On the contrary, it must be an old state of things, an initial state from which the living entity has at one time or another departed and to which it is striving to return by the mazings along which its development leads. …For a long time, perhaps, living substance was thus being constantly created afresh and easily dying, till decisive external influences altered in such a way as to make ever more complicated mazings before reaching its aim of death. These mazings to death, faithfully kept to by the conservative drives, would thus present us today with the picture of the phenomena of life.”
Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle


Jacques Cégeste, in Jean Cocteau’s film Orpheus (1949), is a young writer who has published his first poems in a journal called Nudisme, which is made up of blank pages.

Orphée (extract from film)

Un ancien poète est attablé à un bar, en compagnie de jeunes poètes.

ancien poète, s’adressant à Orphée
Asseyez-vous une minute.

les jeunes poètes, à l’ancien poète
Vous êtes fou !
Ils se lèvent et s’en vont

Je fais le vide…

ancien poète

Vous êtes venu vous mettre dans la gueule du loup.


Je tenais à me rendre compte…

ancien poète
Qu’est-ce que vous boirez ?

Rien merci. J’ai bu. C’était plutôt amer…
Vous avez du courage de m’adresser la parole.

ancien poète
Oh moi ! Je ne suis plus dans la lutte ! J’ai arrêté d’écrire à vingt ans : je n’apportais rien de neuf ! On respecte mon silence…


Ils estiment sans doute que je n’apporte rien de neuf, et qu’un poète, ne doit pas être trop célèbre…

ancien poète
Ils ne vous aiment pas beaucoup.

Dîtes plutôt qu’ils me haïssent.
Quel est ce jeune ivrogne qui vient de me traiter si aimablement et qui n’a pas l’air de mépriser le luxe ?

ancien poète
C’est Jacques Cégeste. Un poète ! Il a dix-huit ans et on l’adore. La princesse qui l’accompagne commandite la revue où il vient de publier ses premiers poèmes.


Cette princesse est fort belle, et fort élégante.

ancien poète
Elle est étrangère et elle ne peut pas se passer de notre milieu. Voilà sa revue.
Il tend à Orphée un album de pages blanches

Je ne vois que des pages blanches !

ancien poète
Celà s’appelle «NUDISME».

Mais c’est ridicule !

ancien poète

Moins ridicule que si ces pages étaient couvertes de textes ridicules ! Aucun excès n’est ridicule !
Orphée, votre plus grave défaut est de savoir jusqu’où on peut aller trop loin.

To Write the Thing That is to be Written

An extract from Astri von Arbin Ahlander‘s interview with Tom McCarthy in The Days Of Yore 2011:

…So after college, in Prague, there was always the project: To write the thing that is to be written. …There was a project. I couldn’t name it, I didn’t know what it was, but it was to write. So, all of this was somehow part of the project. Even partying was somehow part of the project. …It was a very good place for being a painter, writer or filmmaker without painting, writing or making films, necessarily. It was conducive to taking the scenic route. But, I mean, look at Baudelaire. He sits in his bed in Paris smoking hashish for weeks on end and then that becomes “the thing.”

…Read. Read, read, read. That would be the thing. Because, ultimately, it’s not about having something to say. It’s what Kafka said, “I write in order to affirm and re-affirm that I have nothing to say.” Writing is not about having something to say. It’s about an intense relationship with the symbolic. Which means being completely immersed in literature, which means in other literature, but also in the world and all its mediations. So, maybe that would be the advice: Go and get immersed.

…People who proclaim the end of the book just haven’t read their literary history. I mean, the first novel, Don Quixote, is about the end of the book. That is the premise of literature.

I think this is a unique thing about literature: It’s a medium that only works because it doesn’t work. Right? It’s always about the experience of failure. The people who have best theorized about what literature essentially is — like Blanchot, Derrida — they keep coming back to this: It’s a system failure, like a computer crash, like Macs used to be before Steve Jobs came back. They would crash every few minutes — that is what literature is. And so it has always been living out its own death.

The problem would not be if literature was doomed, the problem would be if it wasn’t. Then we would have something to worry about. That is the state the middlebrow novel is in; it is genuinely doomed.

…I think any writing that confronts its own impossibility, its embedding within media, mediation, the interruptedness and so on that this involves, is, because of its very impossibility, actually destined to paradoxically survive the same way that fish grow lungs when the seas dry up, or something. It’ll find its biological form.

The Disintegration Loops

On William Basinski‘s The Disintegration Loops (2001-03), Haunted Ink:

It’s impossible: no one could create a script this contrived. Yet, apparently, it happened. William Basinski’s four-disk epic, The Disintegration Loops, was created out of tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops held some personal significance to Basinski, a significance he only touches on in the liner notes and we can only guess at. Originally, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. However, once he started the transfer, he discovered something: the tapes were old and they were disintegrating as they played and as he recorded. As he notes in the liner notes, “The music was dying.” But he kept recording, documenting the death of these loops.

These recordings were made in August and September of 2001. Now, this is where the story gets impossible. William Basinski lives in Brooklyn, less than a nautical mile from the World Trade Centers. On September 11, 2001, as he was completing The Disintegration Loops, he watched these towers disintegrate. He and his friends went on the roof of his building and played the Loops over and over, all day long, watching the slow death of one New York and the slow rise of another, all the while listening to the death of one music and the creation of another. […] What’s he created here is a living document: a field recording of orchestrated decay. […]

[E]ach of the six works employs a different, repeating loop that slowly deteriorates into oblivion. […] What we hear on The Disintegration Loops are not poetic images of nature or beauty but nature and beauty as they truly exist in this world: always fleeting, slowly dying. What makes these works so memorable is not the fact that the loops are slowly disintegrating but the fact that we get to hear their deaths. In a very real way, we experience the muddled, ugly, brutal realities of life. What’s more, these muddled, ugly, brutal realities of life are, in their own way, incredibly beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the original, pristine loops ever could have been.

[…] This is the sound of entropy, the sound of life as it decays and dies before our ears. And like all living things, these sounds struggle and claw for life with their last, dying breaths. Their deaths are a memorial to Basinski’s past. That he dedicates these works to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is fitting. I can think of no better tribute, no better response to a tragedy of that magnitude than a work as beautiful and as fragile as this one.

The Influence of Unread Books

An extract from Umberto Eco‘s This is Not the End of the Book published in The Guardian on 22 May 2011:

There are more books in the world than hours in which to read them. We are thus deeply influenced by books we haven’t read, that we haven’t had the time to read. Who has actually read Finnegans Wake — I mean from beginning to end? Who has read the Bible properly, from Genesis to the Apocalypse?

And yet I’ve a fairly accurate notion of what I haven’t read. I have to admit that I only read War and Peace when I was 40. But I knew the basics before then. The Mahabharata — I’ve never read that, despite owning three editions in different languages. Who has actually read the Kama Sutra? And yet everyone talks about it, and some practise it too. So we can see that the world is full of books that we haven’t read, but that we know pretty well.

And yet when we eventually pick them up, we find they are already familiar. How is that? First, there’s the esoteric explanation — there are these waves that somehow travel from the book to you — to which I don’t subscribe. Second, perhaps it’s not true that you’ve never opened the book; over the years you’re bound to have moved it from place to place, and may have flicked through it and forgotten that you’ve done so. Third, over the years you’ve read lots of books that have mentioned this one and so made it seem familiar.