Friday, May 3, 2013

kleist - arch.

On the evening before that most important day of my life, in Würzburg, I went for a walk. When the sun went down, it seemed as though my happiness were sinking with it. I was horrified to think that I might be forced to part with everything, everything of importance to me. I was walking back to the city, lost in my own thoughts, through an arched gateway. Why, I asked myself, does this arch not collapse, since after all it has no support? It remains standing, I answered, because all the stones want to fall down at the same time - and from this thought I derived an indescribable heartening consolation, which stayed with me right up to the decisive moment: I too would not collapse, even if all my support were removed.

Heinrich von Kleist, Letter to Wilhelmine von Zenge, November 16, 18, 1800

Image: Ravenna, Kirche San Vitale. Geweiht 547, byzantinisch. Kapitell im Chor.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

tell them I've had a wonderful life.

At the age of ten he constructed a working model of a sewing machine out of bits of wood and wire.

It was not true that he couldn't hear, simply that he wouldn't listen.

He took The Brothers Karamazov to the front.

Continued to wear his uniform for many years after the war.

His sense of humor was "heavy".

And this is how it is: if only you do not try to utter what is unutterable then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be - unutterably - contained in what has been uttered!

I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.

What we say will be easy, but to know why we say it will be very difficult.

The solution of the problem of life is to be seen in the disappearance of the problem.

The inexpressible (that which seems mysterious to me, geheimnisvoll, and that I am not capable of expressing) provides the ground upon which all that I am able to express acquires meaning.

The sense of the world must lie outside the world.

What is good is also divine. Queer as it sounds, that sums up my ethics.

A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein for a positivist because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must be silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds - and this is its essence - that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Whereas Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must be silent about. (Paul Engelmann)

I ought to have done something positive with my life, to have become a star in the sky.

His last words were:  "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."

- Text and images from:
Ludwig Wittgenstein The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk 
Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein with a Memoir by Paul Engelmann

Saturday, March 9, 2013

to disinvent.

I should like to erect here a modest stele to the memory of Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875), a secretary and confidant of Queen Victoria. It was probably he who invented the marvelously useful verb to disinvent. The only illustration of this word in the Oxford English Dictionary (Vol. III) is a quotation from Helps dated 1868: "I would disinvent telegraphic communication." The word is not listed in Vol. I of the Supplement (1972), but a recent use will be found s.v. fantasy in the same volume. If I were younger, I would found the Coverers' and Disinventors' Club.

Erwin Chargaff, HERACLITEAN FIRE. Sketches from a Life before Nature.
(Footnote in the Trembling of the Balance chapter)
Image from the German edition: Das Feuer des Heraklit (KLETT-COTTA, Vierte Auflage, 1988)

Thursday, February 14, 2013



The Stars. Blue. Expanse.
Flaming song of stars!
A million nightingales are singing.
Springtide light is flashing.
Myriads of eyelashes are flaring up in quivers.
The green happiness of spring-night banquets
Commences its own rutting shine.
Balmy showers take their magic turn:
Millions of nightingales are singing.
Do I recognize a friendly ghost?
I will earnestly contend for it.
The sign wants to be carved into perceiving:
Who knows when my dream-life will be blazing?
Ghosts resemble our gentle animals,
They are fast to sense the nature of attraction.
They heave and hover and weave about
And keep us very gingerly under their spell.
I do not want to lose this light-swarming silence.
An old theurgy must stir here soon from gentleness.
Millions of nightingales are singing.
Kindred voices are urging us through the night.
It seems a moon is smoldering arcanely.
But the night she is too warm, so full of breathing pleasure!
Myriads of sparks fly as if in rut to seek each other.
They whirr back and forth and yet still as a part of spring.
The ghost of spring, the ghost of spring is prowling in the wood-lot!
The broad-leaved forest can wander and anticipate itself,
It sways and waltzes to all the old ways of transformation;
The night is laughing: Big Dipper's daring, Libra is keeping watch.
Here are flashing myriads of dance-besotted queries -
Millions of nightingales are singing.

Millionen Nachtigallen Schlagen
Translated from Theodor Däubler's DAS STERNENKIND.
For my Kirston, on this day, and for bringing his book to me.

An edition of Däubler's poems in letterpress available from us soon. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

every log that falls.

The successive thump of logs on the paving of the courtyards. They were unloaded from carts, house by house, as the cold weather loomed. The wood fell on the ground and announced winter. Baudelaire stayed awake. There was no need of anything else but that sound - dull, repetitive. The sun already knows that soon it will be imprisoned "in its polar inferno." It is as if auscultating labored breathing: "Trembling. I listen to every log that falls."

Anatole France, with the amiable skepticism that sometimes prevented him from understanding, recounted that one day a sailor showed Baudelaire an African fetish, "a monstrous little head carved out of a piece of wood by a poor negro." It's really ugly, said the sailor. And he threw it away in scorn. "Watch out!" said Baudelaire anxiously. "It might be the one true god!" It was his firmest declaration of faith.

The two last fragments from LA FOLIE BAUDELAIRE 
by Roberto Calasso
(Image: Félix Nadar - Charles Baudelaire au Fauteuil, 1855 - Paris, Musée d'Orsay)