A Personal Dictionary

literature: n; 5.

We measure a great book by the quality of its shade. Terrible literature hurts our eyes precisely because of a lack of shade.

from A Personal Dictionary


Internal Exiles

The Captive Mind
by Czeslaw Milosz

251 p
1953; Vintage Books
ISBN 0-394-74724-0

   "All about him, in the city streets, he sees the frightening shadows of internal exiles, irreconcilable, non-participating, eroded by hatred."

   As my internal exile has at last broken through the barriers of appearance and laid claim to the everyday, I am taking advantage of the penetrating mirror, the gift of lucidity, which Czeslaw Milosz has proffered in his book The Captive Mind.

   His examination of the responses of creative individuals to the terrors of European totalitarian society is diagnostic for the creative individual of any age. This is not an argument for relativism— some epochs must withstand inhumanities that others may never have to experience. Yet, for the creative life there must always be forces that are inimical to it and which are detemined to undermine the world of possibilities which such a life presumes. It is for this reason that The Captive Mind speaks of an eternal, embattled, present.

   There comes a moment in every creative life when a choice must be made, or rather, when a concession is demanded. There comes a moment when one is required to judge oneself and to act decisively upon that judgment. Such moments are unmistakable— time does not only stop, it grows sick and trembles. Such moments are also often fatal, creatively speaking. This is because it is always at such moments that the internal exile takes his first, irreversible step, and where, amidst the imagined fanfare of pragmatism and common sense the specific creative challenges for which a certain mind is ideally suited are denied validity and subsequently betrayed for an ease that will always be illusory.

   If one possesses an ability and does not make appropriate use of it, this ability becomes an obstruction. So it is with the mind, and so it is with people who, in certain societies, do not fall into line, do not perform an adequate gleichshaltung. Such obstructions must be removed. Internal exile is how an individual disposes of himself. The cost of remaining within society, in such a manner, are always more than one can afford. These reasons for remaining, some of which are valid, some of which are not, run from a valorization of the authority who tyrannizes them to a love of those closest to them and a refusal to leave them behind. Reasons aside, the point is that the internal exile achieves what it often takes an inquisition to achieve…
I think
I must not think

   If internal exile is not the beginning of the end, it is how the end courts us, seduces us, assures us that it is our end.

   The phenomenon of internal exile is not solely the symptom of creative individuals, or specifically of intellectuals and writers. However, it is the writer who, as one charged with the task of subjective expression, is most able to verbalize and therefore to manifest the breach and duplicity which characterize the struggles of internal exile.

   For the writer, any questions of writing must be a question of living. For any poet, a question of writing reaches deeper than the human moment. A question such as the limits of lyricism is a challenge to being itself. It sounds grandiose to state it in such a way but such a thing far from being simply an aesthetic curiosity. There is a formula for writing: why write = why live. The justifications for either activity must be in complete agreement. It is a law of equivalence.

There are certitudes a man can never get over. And that is a strength, a blessing.

   Over the years I have asked myself the following question: If no one could read except you, what would you write? My answer has not always been the same. Or rather, the correct answer, my true answer, is always the same but it is shouted down by pseudo-solutions, complacencies and conciliations. Yes, the true answer remains:
I will write to the best of my abilities.
I will write for the ear that has been severed.
I will write.
I will

   It is not an exaggeration to decribe my entire adult life, and much of my adolescent life, as a full-time creative occupation. There has not been a day that I have not created something, a day that I have not written or developed an idea, a day that I have not been faithful to that part of myself that creates. Long ago I remember making a pact with myself, telling myself that whenever and wherever I had an idea or an urge to write, whenever I had a creative inspiration of any kind, I would attend to it, immediately. I can honestly say that I have never broken that trust. The result of such fidelity is a respect and an honest appraisal of creativity. And this, of course, is insufficient. There are also objective conditions which must exist, a realtionship to others and to one’s society, and a sense of place for one’s creative efforts to ensure that one's creative activity does not turn irretrievably inward. Incessant activity that is groundless finds its foundation in a subjective abyss. Lavish interior castles are erected as impossibilities from which the world can be regarded as a fable that one has learned by heart but which one no longer believes in.

   As Milosz reminds me “The objective conditions necessary to the realization of a work of art, as we know, is a highly complex phenomenon, involving one’s public, the possibility of contact with it, the general atmosphere, and above all freedom from involuntary subjective control.”

   Writing is not to be found in the processions of obedience; writing can only be witnessed, if at all, fleeing obedience… for its life.

   And though it is certainly true that “what can be said openly is often much less interesting than the emotional magic of defending one’s private sanctuary” there is a way to speak and to write and to think which is not a descent but an ascent, which is not a retreat but a way forward. The tension that characterizes such a situation is explicit in lyricism. The lyric poet embodies the subjective rift, the constant struggle between the consistencies of hermeticism and the contradictions of comprehensibility.
   The world is always there, making its demands. And then there comes an event, a crisis, in which its demands becomes commands, and it becomes an authority against which all subjective importunities can only prostrate themselves. As Henri Alleg said, describing his experience as a victim of French atrocities in Algeria, “in this enormous prison, where each cell houses a quantity of suffering, it is almost indecent to speak of oneself.”


   This may be exactly the moment when the subjective must speak, when the voice of an individual is needed, when the thought, the dream of a single person is the only thing that can divine a path through a collective nightmare.

   I have always believed, as Milosz also expresses, that for things that matter, “every form of literature could be applied to them except fiction”.

   A poet will always have work. The trouble is finding an employer.

   It may be that the overwhelming majority of internal exiles are poets. It may be that the overwhelming majority of poets are internal exiles. I sense it has always been this way.

   The poet writes as an attempt to alleviate the ruinous effects of the future, which as a poet must be borne and endured amidst the uncomprehending presence of others. As I said, the poet will always have work.

   Yet, if all an artist feels “is loathing at the discrepancy between what he would wish the world to be and what it is in reality, then he is incapable of standing still and beholding”.

   It is crucial that for every “disappointed lover of the world who longs for harmony and purity, discipline and faith”, that they force their disappointment to journey much further, past the ease of collective insanities. Salvation is not a condition that occurs here on Earth. To promise such a thing, or to attempt to manifest it is the sure path to mass graves and to destruction at a scale that no creative act can ever adequately redress.

word: n; 4. We all have the words we deserve. And our words cannot help but carry into the world whatever treasures, whatever rot, that constitutes our minds. (A Personal Dictionary)

“Whoever truly creates is alone”-

this statement is a shibboleth...

and with it one can


Romanian Roots

Mirce Eliade: The Romanian Roots (1907-1945)
by Mac Linscott Ricketts

1460 p; 2 vols.
1988; Columbia University Press
ISBN 0-88033-145-3

   The necessary book, the crucial book, will always find us.

   Sometimes the path of reading winds through distant countries. Sometimes a necessary book that has stalked you for years will finally encounter you on a street called Rue Princesse. That is, if one is fortunate. I was.

   One morning I wrote the following:

synthesis: n; For those blessed with an ability for intellectual synthesis, it is also a curse. The greater the lateral thinking the narrower the path available for thinking— at its extreme the way is no more than a thread stretched across an abyss. Such a way can be successfully travelled, but the thinker must possess balance, grace, and an almost inhuman lightness of being. (A Personal Dictionary)

   Later that day I was in The Village Voice bookstore in Paris buying a book by Norman Manea as a gift for someone. M., who works at the store, commented on the book and this led to a conversation about Romanian writers, including E.M. Cioran, whom he knew. The conversation expanded to include Romanians in general, peculiarities of their behavior, my father (who was born in Romania, and the fact that I only seemed to buy books from Romanian authors from him. Eventually he suggested a something that I must read. I knew the book he was referring to as it had been on my list for many years: Romanian Roots, the 2 volume biography of Mirce Eliade by Ricketts.

“To derive maximum spiritual benefit from our reading, we need a guide that will tell us in what order to read books, and at what season.” – Mirce Eliade.

   Sometimes, thankfully, buying a book is about more than just buying a book.

   If there is one writer who embodies synthesis it is Mirce Eliade. And even though he is not one of my favourite writers, I recognize his indefatigable will and his yearning for synthesis which is constantly grappling with an expansive intelligence. Moreover, that Eliade had an encyclopaedic mind is an understatement and I admire not only his achievement but what his striving entails: creativity as opposed to destruction, mindfulness as opposed to mindlessness, presence as opposed to oblivion, culture as opposed to war. Yet, there is something more problematic about Eliade that concerns me, that engages me… that unsettles me. Romanian roots, thinking, writing, living, being— his and mine— such is the extent of my involvement.

   And as in any book that is necessary one’s current obsessions and persistent exasperations rise from the pages and begin to assemble into something comprehensible. From the pages of Romanian Roots it was all that was unresolved in my conception of the relationship between thinking and being, between the intellect and morality, that began to assume a meaningful order.

   I consider it an indication of maturity when I recognize that those writers or thinkers I admire may be much more unsavoury than I would like to imagine.

   I have become convinced that it can be a brief a journey from a reader or a thinker to a fascist. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it is because the act of thinking freely not only leads one to a place where such thinking is annulled, but familiarizes us with such a place. Whatever the etiology, I am no longer surprised to find extreme and often horrific conceptions present in those whose thinking I admire, just I am no longer appalled to discover extreme and often horrific acts committed by those whose living I admire.

   It was not always like this of course. In the beginning I assumed that in order to act well one only needed to think (or the converse: to be evil or maleficent one must be ignorant). In other words, I adhered to the standard formula of enlightenment: the more one knows, the more one thinks, the better one will be. That terror and misery follow upon such an assumption is the sorry lesson of history. The formula is in evident need of revision. But this is not to abandon the relationship between thinking and being— it is an even greater error to consider thinking and being as autonomous endeavours. And so, where does thinking go wrong? How does the ability to think lead one to accept living amidst moral ruins? Is thinking, and more specifically, the ability to think freely, necessarily open to the inhuman? Eliade was certainly well acquainted with the treacherous terrain that one encounters as a consequence of free thinking. Early on in his writing Eliade was quite content to make an idol out of Romania and the Romanian people. When Eliade writes, “what originality is for an individual, nationality is for a people” he wrongly asserts that the collectivity called a nation exists and acts just as an individual does. It is often forgotten that it is a great leap from the notion of an individual personality to that of collective personality. Moral appraisals of personal conduct become impossible and absurd when the conduct is attributed to a collectivity. The contortions one’s ethical being must assume in order to even consider the so-called behaviour of a collective agency are functionally equivalent to permissive gestures. And this Eliade discovered well enough. Predictably, the dream of a pure and vigorous proto-Romanian found resonance with the ultra-nationalist, and anti-Semitic Iron Guard of Corneliu Codreanu. But the intellectual does not intend such application of his thinking, or so the refrain of intellectual detachment goes. But this is exactly my dilemma— is the intention irrelevant, is it an epiphenomenon that serves only to appease the one who is uncomfortable with the vivacity of their own thoughts? It is not enough claim a privileged position for the activities of the intellect. The idea that recedes, that excuses itself from experience in order to organize that experience is an idea that must be led from its lair.

   That a thinker or writer must ensure that only good uses are made of their thoughts or writing will ensure that nothing is thought or written. The point at issue is not what happens to a thought, but what comes after. Eliade wrote, “I only want to express a mind that thinks and feels as it pleases and not as it ‘ought’ to think and feel”. Ought comes after, always. It is the failure to definitively respond to a perceived improper use of one’s thinking or writing that characterizes a moral failure. In this sense, at least in his youth, Eliade was not above reproach.

   I am reminded of something Berdyaev wrote:
“The major evils and the principal sufferings of life are due not so much to the baseness and wickedness of individual people, but rather to the base and wicked ideas which take possession of their minds, to social prejudices, beliefs which have become vague and cloudy, which have degenerated into a mere inheritance from the environment in which they arose.”

   The thinker and the writer must be committed to recognizing and treating such pathologies. Writing can be a moral imperative— and the opposite of wronging.

   Eliade was a firm believer in the primacy of the spiritual. Consistent with this he believed that “to espouse a political ideology is to abdicate responsibility to himself”. Yet, he stated that “the majority of ‘spiritual’ currents of our century are political in essence”. The confusion here is not simply intellectual. It is a moral confusion. We all share it. Ideals of convenience such as intellectual detachment only encourage the confusion to elaborate its knots.

   It is best not to forget that when the intellect is involved, naiveté often precedes catastrophe.


   For Eliade, if all life points to the primacy of the spiritual there is attendant with this conviction a strong predilection for mysticism— and this is where any difficulties I have with Eliade and his thinking begin. Specifically, I have trouble accepting the mystical gambit: there is another world.

world: n; 3. There is no other world; there is only this world. Any other world, if it exists, must be entirely unknown to us and of no consequence. This is because we are the world and wherever we go and into whatever realms we venture, even if only in knowledge, we bring the world with us. To know is to know of the world. And we can know nothing else. The unknowable, the truly transcendent, has no relation to us. Every so-called alternate reality is an act of bad faith— reality is indivisible and though we may qualify it however we want, in doing so we earn its mockery. (A Personal Dictionary)

   The dissatisfaction with this world and the yearning for another is understandable— it may even be a sign of intelligence. However, the longing for such alternate possibilities of being usually lead away from what is and from what can be thought, resulting in a habit of thinking which is not thinking at all but mysticism. There is something distasteful, even reprehensible, about taking the mystical detour in this day and age. It seems that one should just know better and that if one must flee in such a way one should never seek to evangelize one’s retreat. The fortunate case is when a mystic believes this other world is uninhabitable. Such a world will then not be a world at all but a consistent and stable renunciation of the world of which they are a part. True renunciation of this world will make no effort to redeem it, only to survive it. There can be no problem of socially ruinous consequences stemming from such a conception since such mystics are always solitary beings. The problems begin when a mystic believes the other world is inhabitable. And the problems become unbearable should a mystic ever experience any meaningful political or social power. The promise of living in what cannot be is the mystic’s unique offering. It is here where heavens, hells, and all conceivable utopias proliferate. And the trouble with any utopia, with every heaven and every hell, is access. Some will be admitted and some will not. And so there must be rules regarding who goes where. It could be argued that we are fortunate that there are some among us who happen to know what these rules are and will act as our guides. Unfortunately the rules often seem contradictory, irrational, arbitrary. It is much simpler to bypass all the technical vocabulary and spiritual bureaucracy and to generalize: some will be the chosen people and the rest will be excluded. This is much easier for everyone to understand.

   The mystical tendencies in Eliade’s thinking, just like the mystical tendencies in anyone’s thinking, are indications of those places where thinking has ceased. And discovering where the thought of another loses its way is not a futile activity— we are all lost in precisely the same manner.

detour: n; There is no inner world, just as there is no outer world— there is only the world. We think that simply by closing our eyes, or our mouths, we have established ourselves as something separate— a world apart. However, any close examination of our anatomy, our physiology, is enough to convince us that we are convolutions of nature, a detour that the world has taken. Complexity and inexplicability are not sufficient arguments for dualism. And though we can call this continuity of the world into question by closing our eyes, or our mouths, it is by opening our eyes, or our mouths, that the true extent of the detour the world has taken becomes evident. (A Personal Dictionary)


   Along with mysticism and utopianism there is one final element in this problematic trinity which manifests itself in Eliade’s thought: nationalism

   Perhaps my objections to nationalism are a consequence of living in a country where waving a flag seems absurd, even distasteful; or, perhaps my objections are due to my living above a country where waving a flag is more than distasteful, it is oppressive. Nevertheless, any nationalism which is not a negation and which is not expressed in the form of not-this is unimaginable to me. I like to think that such fantasies are frivolous but often they are nefarious. To be proud of one’s country is, in the end, to be proud of something that does not exist. To die for it, or to live for it, is do die or live for an ideal, a phantasm. Yet, because this is what we spend most of our lives doing does not make it commendable. It should be remembered that often when we live or die for an ideal, for what does not exist, we do so at the expense of what does exist.

   To attribute a meaningful and messianic difference to one’s objectified fantasy as compared to the fantasy of another would be laughable if the consequences were not so brutal.

   The xenophobic and chauvinistic argument that underlies nationalism has a fatal inconsistency— the so-called culture which is to be preserved, or even saved, is the same culture that has been overrun and overwhelmed. To preserve such a thing one should expect the same results, that is, to be challenged and overrun by the same forces. If someone were consistent in their nationalistic reasoning they would call for the institution of a radically new culture, one which would not respond negatively or succumb to perceived threats to its vitality. But this is never done. Every so-called man of the future is always a man from the past. There is always a model, a proto-being who existed in a Golden Age. The fact that I understand every desire to return to a Golden Age, whether it is childhood or a primeval forest, as revealing precisely the direction one should not go is what differentiates my thinking from that of Eliade. In this sense I am not Romanian. Yet, I am not about to raise my flag and claim that Canada is responsible for my anti-utopian tendencies— I would not consider my outlook typical of the breed.

   To his credit Eliade moved from the simplistic attribution of an animus to a people to the more abstract position of hypothesizing that there is an intelligible structure which animates a culture. It was in this field that his later work on myth and religion would flourish. Yet, there remains in his thinking a tension between whether it is the abstract people who are bearers of such structures or whether such structures are created and people are then able to live within them.

   The possible existence of such a structure holds some fascination for me. To further abstract such a structure and call it a home leads me to wonder whether there might be some proper place for each of us, a true home to which we might return, or which we might discover for the first time. A true home within which we will be recognized and will be able to recognize others as being of the same kind. A home that will have little to do with ethnicity or inherited beliefs, but a place existing at a more fundamental existential level.

   Is there such a thing as a cultural trait? Is there something which defines and therefore separates one from another? If there is an organic relationship between a historical period and the disease which dominates it (e.g. hysteria), is there also an organic relationship between a culture and the ideas which animate it?

   I have always wondered why it is that some of my favourite writers are Romanian, if there was not something in their lives, some wind that blew in through their windows… a wind which also disturbed the sleep, or comforted the dreams, of my ancestors.

   Eliade (and others) have suggested that if there is such a thing as a Romanian soul it can be found by passing through the word dor. This is a word for which there is no English homologue; it refers to a nostalgia or longing, not for something in particular, not for an object, but for an existential condition: I am not where I should be and I know it, I feel it. I know this word. Dor expresses a melancholia founded upon a general dissatisfaction with what is, with the here and the now of man’s predicament, his alienation from the sacred, his spiritual longing, and the necessity of his profane pursuits. Yes, I know this word— it has never been foreign to me. I have read it and recognized it in those writers which led me here: Celan, Cioran, Fondane, Manea. And if, as Eliade believed, “it is impossible to convert anyone to a belief that is foreign to them”, my recognition of such a thing is a recognition of what I myself possess.

   Yet, it is this dor, this dissatisfaction with a current state of affairs which seems such a suitable precondition for reactionary thinking, nationalism, and so on, which is also that specific cultural trait which enables us to live in this world in a human way, demanding that things which are unbearable be remedied and things which are indefensible be abandoned. And to refer to such a trait as Romanian, or Brazilian, or Malaysian, etc., is to misunderstand its nature. That I, a Canadian with tenuous Romanian roots can recognize what is alive in the thoughts of so many Romanian writers is evidence not of descent from a common progenitor or of membership in some exclusive community. Instead it speaks to the possibility of collapsing distance and time, of transcending local restraints and one’s adherence to collective objectifications.

   It means that human possibility is not a prescription but an effort.

clarity: n; 2. There is a very good reason why it is difficult to find examples of writing that is clear— clarity must be lived. (A Personal Dictionary)

   There is no satisfying way to end what amounts to introductory remarks about a life that was lived and written and thought as exhaustively as could be imagined. Instead I will consider all that I have written here as contribution to a foreword to the labyrinthine literary legacy bequeathed by Eliade.

...remembering that in spite of everything

“every person retains some capacity to love, some capacity for spiritual growth, and so long as that is nourished, he remains alive”– Mirce Eliade.

and yes,
we all have the words we deserve.


An Unresolved Conversation

Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger :
An Unresolved Conversation (1951-1970)

by James K. Lyon

249 p
2006; Johns Hopkins University Press
ISBN 0-8018-8302-4

   In his introduction to Paul Celan and Martin Heidegger: An Unresolved Conversation (1951-1970) James Lyon states, “What some may also consider a limitation of this study is the question— which I do not answer to my satisfaction and probably not to that of many readers— of what drew Celan to someone who in many ways was his polar opposite. I have not so much refused to answer this question as I have concluded that it probably cannot be answered”.

   And so, I will propose an answer. In fact, I have had the answer. It was only this book that was missing.

   And it is a book filled with treasures, unexpected treasures. The subject of the relationship between Celan and Heidegger has had to bear many instances of criticism that proceeded from often dubious personal biases. Here, Lyon’s analysis issues not from some historical, cultural, or aesthetic critique but primarily from the (available) correspondence and the detailed notes and marginal comments Celan made during his reading of Heidegger’s works. It is refreshing to find someone who is not uncomfortable with what is, while also maintaining an admirable sense of when to refrain from allowing their arguments to proceed from what should be, or what should have been. (I should also mention that I also find it irresistible to discover what my favorite writers have read, and to read how they read).

   I am going to pass over the details of my own decisive encounter with Celan, just as I will bypass the history of my often treacherous entanglements with Heidegger. Let me only say that Heidegger taught me the immanent critique of all being— the basis for the understanding that every creative activity will always seek to overcome itself. And as for Celan— all the weight of experience, of being-in-the-world where language has betrayed, where the language has been an accomplice in all that is terrible, where language can only be held with the greatest scepticism— this is the weight that the poem must bear. A poem is then an effort, an almost impossible, futile effort. Such a burden is too much for any poem to bear and so during the poem's emergence there is a buckling and then inevitably, a collapse. What remains is what we (as readers) encounter as the poem. What remains is what is resistant in language. Such poems as these are poems of foundation.

   I have always thought that Celan’s poetics was the best fit for Heidegger’s thinking. And I always thought that Heidegger also knew this; yet, for reasons that may be repugnant, or innocent, he used Holderlin, George, and Trakl as his exemplars.

   Simply put: For Heidegger the Jewish poet both radically complicated and decisively informed (his, German) thinking and Being; for Celan, the German thinking and Being both radically complicated and decisively informed (his, Jewish) poetics.

   More specifically: The problematic involvement of Celan and Heidegger was ontological in nature. Heidegger, being a thinker and not a poet, recognized the poetic world that Celan inhabited. He approached it in thought but could get no closer than that. He forgot, or did not know, or did not want to believe that the final, decisive steps must always be more than merely-thought… they must be lived. Celan, being a poet, recognized in Heidegger one who was approaching his world in thought. He understood that in Heidegger was the possibility of encountering one who spoke the same language. The problem was that for Celan, one’s poetic being was prior to one’s thinking, as it was to one’s actions. One’s thoughts, one’s life, must necessarily follow from one’s poetic orientation. As difficult as this might be to achieve it was still the only possible ontology. And so, for Celan, it was bewildering and enraging that Heidegger could think his position but could not live it, could not be it.

   Life is a complicated undertaking. And no more so than when a poet is thinking, or when a thinker journeys into poetry. When two such people meet, even if they are thoroughly acquainted with each other’s work, it will not be surprising if they encounter each other as strangers— and this only because they cannot help but greet each other with their burdens of generative confusions and exasperated certainties. Speaking a language so similar, or speaking from a language so similar, they can hear only echoes. For each it is as though there is no one else speaking. For each it is as though an encounter never took place.

   At times I feel it may be fortunate to remain a stranger to those who are the most influential and captivating. Regret is often an inflection of relief. Sometimes distance, even that of decades, or of cultures, is a gift that enables a conversation to not only persist, but to find a resolution.

Celan: n; 2. His resistance is the resistance of having everything to say and only language with which to say it.
(A Personal Dictionary)

   And so... this is an answer.

   Not the answer, but a response.


The Legitimacy of the Modern Age

The Legitimacy of the Modern Age
by Hans Blumenberg

677 p
translated by Robert M. Wallace
1983; MIT Press
ISBN 0262021846

   This book sat, slouched, reclined, and finally slept on the shelf above my desk for over six years. I made a start at it once but immediately realized that I was incapable of engaging it. There were requirements that I did not possess. My papers were not in order. Not knowing what I was lacking I returned the book to its purgatory and read Blumenberg’s much more modest Shipwreck With Spectator. Years passed and my literary wandering continued until I reached Hans Vaihinger and The Philosophy of What If ? From this I was delivered into The History of Materialism by F.A. Lange. Suddenly, that presence on the shelf above my desk, instead of mocking me, seemed to welcome me. I was ready.
   And so I set out into The Legitimacy of the Modern Age. Its demands are not slight. It is not a book that can be picked up and then abandoned. To participate in Blumenberg’s expansive view of history, and to accompany his arguments rather than try to catch up to them, one must dedicate one’s time. Silence helps. Being in a foreign country by yourself for a month is also useful.

   The proposal that modernity, and its attendant idea of progress, are the secularization of eschatology is what Blumenberg denies. His arguments issue from his detailed analyses of the intellectual and theological history that begins with the Greeks and continues through the Middle Ages and into the early Renaissance. Much philosophy of history seems too clean. Dreams are clean; life is a bloody and imperfect spectacle. In reading Blumenberg’s account of spiritual and intellectual history I understood that the intellectual exhaustion that besets certain individuals is symptomatic of a spiritual exhaustion of their corresponding culture. As well, his conception of history, so deceptively simple, is undeniably fertile. As Blumenberg argues, the continuity of history is a “continuity of problems rather than of solutions, of questions rather than of answers”. Moreover, once a certain question is posed “it becomes unavoidable”. It is precisely such possibilities of being, such survivors of questions, which I recognize as companions.

epoch: n; In the history of ideas, in the accounts of the intellectual battles and the corresponding successes and failures, what is not recounted is that within any epoch there are those who have thought through, partially or fully, the contradictions which characterize and haunt their age. In an individual the end of an epoch can be reached and the subsequent transcendence of their particular age may be, if not achieved, then at least attempted. A process that may take a culture hundreds of years can be achieved within the intellectual development of a single person. And yet, it is as though only the small, hesitant steps can be followed. For a culture the giant strides that lead irreversibly elsewhere are not enticing. Understanding, at the level of a culture, is less a matter of arriving somewhere than it is a question of maintaining cohesion. It would seem that the less understanding the better, as though understanding itself has a dissipative effect, as though any epochal conception is culturally ruinous. (A Personal Dictionary)

   The question is not important for the answer which may succeed it, but for the possibility that will survive it.

   I will leave it at that.


Follow the words

   A book is a fever that should be followed… because it wants to be followed.

book: n; 4. When we read a book the book also reads us. And often, with nothing but platitudes and banalities before it, it is the book which closes us and sets us aside.
(A Personal Dictionary)

   A writer who does not read has never written anything.

   I read. I have always read. It may not be hyperbole to suggest that in books reside everything that I seek and everything that seeks me.

   I follow words into often miraculous places yet I am always surprised to find little evidence that others have made a similar journey.

   And so, perhaps I should make some noise, attract some attention. Perhaps I should alert people, or at least remind them, that here there may be something of interest…


   I discover books almost entirely through reading other books: the recommendation or denunciation by an author I love; a chance mention of an author who resembles one I admire; the possible futures to be explored in an extensive bibliography; the identification of similar concerns in the publisher’s catalogue listings, etc. Suggestions from friends usually go unheeded. Book leads to book— that is how it has always been.

   And so, in these pages some of my literary wandering will reveal itself. Neither advertisement nor critique, I will merely send some words forth from my reading. And rather than fill my days attempting to detail everything I read I will focus on those places where I have found few signs of others.

   The fragments that can be found here will be of no value to the non-reader. They are for those who read, for those who live with their language and follow its course through the thinking of others so that they may think their own way through the life that confounds and enchants, enrages and encourages, everyone who cares to approach it.

   What follows are not reviews or exhaustive accounts, but glimpses of one who has wandered, of one who has been and now is elsewhere.

   You might call these efforts paths.

   Then again, they may be love letters.