Friday, May 15, 2009

wastepaper (for amie)

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.


Anonymous said...

Wastepaper. Dirty underwear. Caddy's soiled underwear, an image that leads to the writing of a book called The Sound and the Fury.
Wastepaper as this then, a girls's dirty underwear, and the book, the sound and fury it occasions.


Roger Gathmann said...

Yeats said he made his poems from the "sweepings of the street."
I hope you didn't mind me making this post for you, Amie, but our chat a few days ago obviously grew in my mind - and as in most of our conversations, I get to a point where I can't really keep track of the fatal line of ownership between "my" ideas and "yours". I like Socrates idea of a conversation as being a living thing - a beast, or maybe a daimon. And this is definitely from our beast/daimon!

Anonymous said...

("La révolte est une page froissée dans la corbeille à papier, écrivit Reb Tislit. Mais de cette page sacrifiée, naît souvent le chef-d'oeuvre."
Et Reb Ezé: "La vrai revolte est celle que l'impossible terme anime. Dieu est un perpétuelle révolte contre Dieu."

- Alors, je renie ce Dieu, dit Yukel, qui a sacrifié le sourire.)

Le silence enveloppe la ville avec ses immeubles appuyés l'un à l'autre, énormes boîtes dont certaines brillent de l'intérieur par une ouverture de hasard; un coup reçu, peut-être.
Il songe aux différents défilés auxquels il a participé, aux parades, aux marches forcées.
Nous prenons les rangs and nous suivons.
Nous ne voyons pas le visage de ceux qui nous précèdent mais nous savons qu'il fut une fois le nôtre.
C'est derrière lui que nous vieillissons, que nous laissons échapper le temps, que nous prenons congé.
- Moi, j'appartiens à une génération sans visage, dit Yukel.

Ils étaient la ligne et l'échec.

(Edmond Jabès, Le Livre des Questions)


Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, I'm ashamed to admit that I skipped Jabès. I don't remember why I decided not to read him - you know how you decide not to read somebody. But I made a mistake! As is obvious from your quote. Damn, that is a beautiful sequence, which I seem, in my post, to paraphrase.

Anonymous said...

Hey, of course I do not mind your sending a post my way. If anything the problem is responding or even receiving the post. All the more problematic in that system building and systematic thought seems such an elusive thing, constantly eludes me. I tend to wander off, as one might have noticed. For instance, your comment on Socratic conversation and daimons. For it has me thinking that it is upon Socrates' advice that Plato will not just throw his youthful poems in the wastebasket, he will burn them. Poetry and music will be banished from the Republic. But when Socrates is dying, a daimon comes to him and tells him - Socrates, make music!


Ray Davis said...

I began blogging ten years ago when I finally came to terms with my embarrassing but ineradicable love for wastepaper as form and communication-failure as muse. If I had not come to that realization already, you might have inspired it -- although I hasten to add that you've sustained a far swifter, wider, and deeper flow of the stuff.

A related title for your list: Posthumous Papers of a Living Author.

Roger Gathmann said...

Ray - another victory for literature's garbage men and women!

I know exactly what you mean about failure as a muse and the blogging impulse. There's a certain sense that every post is your last chance.