Saturday, 27 March 2010

The House of the Past

The sun has withdrawn from the world, leaving in its place a creeping light, from which my body is exposed to the contingency of this place. This is the place. This is the place where furniture sits side-by-side by a history older than the human body. I am crawling in the moonlight. The moonlight has come, and the house in its barren unfamiliarity has been exposed. Turning the key to the “house of the past,” Algernon Blackwood makes a discovery: “…a spirit of intense sadness came over me, drenching me to the soul; my eyes began to burn and smart, and in my heart I became aware of a strange sensation as of the uncoiling of something that had been asleep for ages.” I confess: I own nothing in this place—the furniture has been dis-possessed by the history of others. This furniture, none of which belongs to me, except this kitchen table, exceeds its own materiality. It is hostile, alien, opposed to the “I” which seeks to dwell in this strange house. Against the moonlight, in solitude, I ask myself this question: How did this table end up here? No genealogical analysis will resolve the oceanic fog that encircles the solidity of the table. No causal explanation will abate my desire. We are alone, the table and I. What if I were to sleep? Then where would I find a place to seek repose? Everything here has a life that is outside of time, a shadow of another person’s memory. Like me, the table has traversed the deepest recesses of the human body, its eerie presence a testimony to the mystery of the universe. 3.45 am. We are lit by the portentous moonlight: the house shown in a different light, its alcoves and corners suffused with an otherworldly aura more suited to the ominous regions of the deepest, forest than the super-natural banality of the kitchen table.

Off to San Francisco to speak on behalf of another life. Expect a report on the metaphysics of the redwood forest shortly.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

At the Station

“We do not understand the absence or death of a friend until the time comes when we expect a reply from him and when we realise that we shall never again receive one” (Merleau-Ponty, 2006, p. 93).

One day, a human presents himself to the world, the idiosyncrasies of his personality manifest in the movement in his mouth, the sharpness of the voice, the uncertainty in his eye, and the kindness of his manner. The next day, he is dead. Nothing is left of those mannerisms, their vitality transformed to the hum of a diminishing memory.

We were in the middle of our studies. In the middle of our course. There was work yet to do. The last topic we looked at was Schopenhauer on self. That was two weeks ago, and there was nothing to indicate it would be our last class together. The night you fell ill, we were due to look at Freud on the unconsciousness. Two days later you died. The class is still outstanding, projected into the future, and yet you yourself belong to a past that is now inaccessible—stranded in an unmapped present.

You drove me from Eastbourne to the Sussex countryside. The car park was dark, and I wavered at the exit of the empty station until I saw you and your wife in the car. I sat in the back, and you glanced toward me. In that glance, a life stretched into the past, its experience sewn in the face that bears witness to memory. That was two weeks ago, and I can still sense your glance. You and your wife sat in front of me, we drove in the dark, through the silent landscapes and into the Sussex Downs. When I asked, “How are you?” you replied: “I’m fine, but I cannot speak on behalf of Elizabeth.” Your presence was robust, though in the dark you carried a small torch and walked slowly. At the door to the house, you knocked gently and remained vigilant over your wife’s safety in crossing through the door.

You carried news of the wellbeing of your friends, some of whom were already ill but now precariously recovering. You were the spokesperson for their health, and yet your own health was never in question. In our seminars, we had spoken about death, selfhood, life, memory, experience. Your presence was calm, and you sat opposite the open fire in the same chair, ensuring your wife was able to hear the discussion despite her poor hearing. The chair will remain: its emptiness metamorphosed into a monument. Our future discussion of Freud, Merleau-Ponty, and Bachelard will never take place. A final goodbye remains unresolved in the darkness separating the living from the dead. In this lacuna, your mannerisms leave a shadow, their singularity carried over into a world, in which your own self persists through a glance that is now seized in time.

Sunday, 7 March 2010