In moments of idleness, I sometimes go through my back pages at LI. I wince at the misspellings, the clang of cracked sentences, the leaps in logic. I am appalled by the boring lengths of certain of my posts. But, overall, I am pleased that I leave this trail behind me. This paperless trail. This waste paper.
But of course it isn’t paper.
Two writers – Lichtenberg and Rozanov – left behind “waste paper” books. Rozanov’s were intentionally named “baskets” Lichtenberg’s Sudelbücher were, I think, named by his son in law, who edited them. But I believe he was naming them in the spirit their author intended.
The pretense that one is publishing a “lost” manuscript has a long and honorable tradition in fiction. Several functions are served by pretending that the text was lost and then found. For one thing, it treats the text as a kind of arcana imperii – secrets of state. Secrets of state are written with one eye on the possibility that they might be “lost” – that is, might fall into the wrong hands. Thus, they are always on the edge of being in secret code. The “lost’ manuscript fell into the wrong hands of the world – the chest, the back of the desk drawer, the space between the bookshelf and the wall.
The book that is lost is the equivalent of the author that is dead. So, to “find” a manuscript gives the author the rare privilege of rediscovering himself – becoming his own posterity.
But a waste paper book is at the opposite pole from a lost manuscript. Far from emanating the secret of imperial power, a text composed of those sheets of paper one has balled up and thrown away is a text composed of defeats. Of course, I admit it is odd to call Lichtenberg a defeated author. And yet, aware as he was of Kant’s critical system, and of other systems, too – like Lavater’s – and dubious as he was of all of them and of all systems in general, he was still driven by a fatal systematic desire – or rather, a desire for a system. Systemlust. That he never produced one could be put down to his hypochondria. The irritated gesture of throwing away his thoughts is certainly in response to his being neither and nor – a stranger to systems, the outsider who longs for insider status, but directs all his energies against insider-dom.
Rozanov, too, was a hypochondriac. He also fashioned himself into being an underground man – and not only by marrying Dostoevsky’s old mistress. Dig through the trash and you will find nasty things on the thrown away papers – sputum, spots of blood, snot, stains of unknown origin. Rozanov turned these things into prose, and presented himself as a nasty creature, always playing tricks, always backstabbing, an antisemite, a sado-masochistic Christian in his fits, more like Pere Karamazov than Ivan or Alyosha.
Myself, I am a neurotic in just this vein. I have, on the one hand, a nasty disposition. I’m always willing to wave my dirty underwear as a flag, and weep over myself while doing it. On the other hand, I have that systemlust, and no system. Like Dylan’s immigrant, “who lies with every breath/who passionately hates his life/and likewise fears his death”, I’ve invested who I am in this life in an ultimately futile project: wastepaper.
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