It Is Doing Nothing

Jenny Diski, “Diary,” London Review of Books 28 May 1992

I do nothing. I get on with the new novel. Smoke. Drink coffee. Smoke. Write. Stare at ceiling. Smoke. Write. Lie on the sofa. Drink coffee. Write.

It is a kind of heaven. This is what I was made for. It is doing nothing. A fraud is being perpetrated: writing is not work, it’s doing nothing. It’s not a fraud: doing nothing is what I have to do to live. Or: doing writing is what I have to do to do nothing. Or: doing nothing is what I have to do to write. Or: writing is what I have to do to be my melancholy self. And be alone.

Nothing Happens

Mark O’Connell, “The MacGuffinist,” The Slate Book Review 2 June 2014

The only thing these books really have in common is the fact that nothing much happens in any of them. Which is to say that what happens in these books is, primarily, Geoff Dyer’s writing. One of his more impressive gifts is the ability to create a sense of momentum within essentially static narratives; the way in which nothing happens, in his work, can often have the aura of spectacle. […] The subject of a Geoff Dyer book is only ever the pretext, the flimsiest excuse, for a book by Geoff Dyer. In books like Out of Sheer Rage and Zona, for instance, the topic itself — D.H. Lawrence, Tarkovsky’s film Stalker — is always essentially in service of the writing, which is exactly the opposite of how nonfiction is set up to operate.

The Experience of Nothing

Karl Ove Knausgaard, “The Other Side of the Face,” The Paris Review 28 May 2014

This intimacy, which did not just apply to the sun, but to all things and phenomena, is impossible to explain, I now find, for it appears to be a personification of the world, imbuing it with spirit, but it wasn’t, it was something else, a sort of interiorization, perhaps, as if I approached objects and phenomena in the world in the same way that I approached familiar faces, with the same trust, without ever having thought of the sun or all the rest of it as persons, as being alive. It was rather that everything had a face, every tree, every hillock, every bicycle, and therefore was something I felt connected to, for I saw the tree, the hill, the bicycle, and I recognized them. This way of seeing is gone. The sun is the sun, a tree is a tree, a hill is a hill, a bike is a bike. I no longer regard the world the way I look at faces, it is as if the faces have turned away from me.

[…] This familiarity or intimacy may seem like an addition, for now the world is just the world, but back then it was always something more, but it wasn’t an addition, it was just the reverse, it was that the object or the phenomenon was seen as something in itself, something in its own right, with an identity of its own, this is what created the intimacy that gave everything a face.”

[…] It’s easy to think that now I see the world as it really is, as faceless, blind and mute matter. Just as these photographs of necks allow me to see the human being as it really is, flesh and blood, cells and strings, biology. In everything I write, there is a longing for out there, to that which is real, outside of the social realm, while at the same time I am aware that what is out there, beyond the light of the faces, and which we occasionally catch a glimpse of, through art, turns everything to nothing. That the experience of the sublime is the experience of nothing. That God is nothing, which we exist in spite of. And this is why the real is such a dangerous category. In ourselves, as bodies of flesh and blood, things growing somewhere in the world, we are nothing, and I think this is why I am so fearful of the cultivation of organs, the manipulation of genes, of the human machine on an operating table, since even though it saves and prolongs life, it also reduces it, brings it closer to nothing, a wire, a string, a tube, a gutter.

[…] To be socialized is to learn to see yourself as you appear to others. To bring up a child is really nothing other than representing or personifying this, the gaze and the voices of others, for at the outset the child possesses only a sort of undifferentiated self, permeated by feelings and needs, which can be, as it were, lit or extinguished, but not otherwise controlled. Since this is all, it is also nothing, that is to say, unknown. Something is lit, something is extinguished. All the boundaries one gradually imposes as a parent, all the prohibitions and commands, do not only have to do with teaching the child how to behave, are not just about making it function without friction in daily life, though that is perhaps often the motivation, but it is also always a gaze, it is also always a place from which the child can see itself from the outside, from a place other than the self, which only then can emerge as its own, whole self. It becomes an adult. One process is completed, and another sets in: slowly the world turns its face away.

[…] We live in the social realm, which is sameness, the light of the faces, but we exist in the non-identical, in what is unknown to us, it is the other side of the face, that which turns away mutely, beyond the reach of language, just as the blood trickling through the tiny capillaries of the brain is beyond the reach of the thoughts thinking them, a few millimeters away, in that which upon closer inspection turns out to be nothing more than a chemical and electrical reaction in the spongelike object that the neck holds aloft.

Infraordinary

Georges Perec, Introduction, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris

There are many things in place Saint-Sulpice (…) A great number, if not the majority of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, talked about, or registered. My intention in the pages that follow was to describe the rest instead: that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds.

Un livre sur rien

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Louise Colet, 16 January 1852

Ce qui me semble beau, ce que je voudrais faire, c’est un livre sur rien, un livre sans attache extérieure, qui se tiendrait de lui-même par la force interne de son style, comme la terre sans être soutenue se tient en l’air, un livre qui n’aurait presque pas de sujet ou du moins où le sujet serait presque invisible, si cela se peut. Les œuvres les plus belles sont celles où il y a le moins de matière. […] C’est pour cela qu’il n’y a ni beaux ni vilains sujets et qu’on pourrait presque établir comme axiome, en se plaçant au point de vue de l’Art pur, qu’il n’y en a aucun, le style étant à lui seul une manière absolue de voir les choses.

What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.