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catch & release thoughts on thinking, photography, family, dicebat & nothing—induced (& subsequently extinguished) by reading Beckett & Bernhard in Dublin

(13 Oct 2011, leaving Rome): «On the plane from Rome to Dublin reading Thomas Bernhard’s Extinction,» I wrote in my field notes. «Not that Bernhard has anything to do with Ireland. It was a book picked up a few weeks ago in Sussex, on impulse (there was a buy-2-get-1-free sale & it was there next to the register & I'd been meaning to read more Bernhard). The narrator Murau does coincidentally live in Rome though, in self-imposed exile from his Austrian family, so there's some talk of the eternal city, as a place of exile/escape, but no mention of Dublin,» I noted & am now transcribing. «Extinction was the last book published by Bernhard, a few years before his death, though it is a book seemingly driven by teenage angst, of distancing himself from his rich family & the sterile yet intellectually toxic homeland of 'Wolfsegg'. Even the German language Murau finds oppressive: «Every word inexorably drags their thoughts down, every sentence forces to the ground whatever they venture to think, and thus forces everything to the ground. That’s why their philosophy and their writings are so leaden.» I won't go much into the plot, I don't care much about plot & there isn't much of one (he travels home to bury his parents & brother killed in a car crash)—it's more a book you read for the insightful ideas & language sublimated through the cathartic exorcism of his demons. For example, these are some things Bernhard has to say about photography, in 1986, when the novel was published, before the advent of digital photography: «Every photograph—whoever took it, whoever is pictured in it—is a gross violation of human dignity, a monstrous falsification of nature, a base insult to humanity. [...] I despise people who are forever taking pictures and go around with cameras hanging from their necks, always on the lookout for a subject, snapping anything and everything, however silly. All the time they have nothing in their heads but portraying themselves, in the most distasteful manner, though they are quite oblivious of this. What they capture in their photos is a perversely distorted world that has nothing to do with the real world except this perverse distortion, for which they themselves are responsible. Photography is a vulgar addiction that is gradually taking hold of the whole humanity, which is not only enamored of such distortion and perversion but completely sold on them, and will in due course, given the proliferation of photography, take the distorted and perverted world of the photograph to be the only real one. Practitioners of photography are guilty of one of the worst crimes it is possible to commit—of turning nature into a grotesque. [...] Photography is the greatest mockery in the world, the ultimate mockery of the world.» This rant goes on & surfaces later in the book too. I can only imagine how Bernhard would’ve felt about digital cameras & cellphones if he'd survived another decade or two. Anyone that 'reads' this 'blog' (if you can call it that) knows that I can at times get trigger-happy & often hate myself for it,» I find myself now writing. «I go through phases. I’ve gone for decades without a camera, travelled to a lot of places with no photos to show for it & other times I admittedly feel that addiction, the vain propensity to 'capture' something. I justify it as documentation, for my own purposes, but that’s no excuse. It’s still a crutch. A few weeks ago I went to NYC & brought a camera but I ended up not taking a single photo, just didn't think to. Now, on my way to Dublin, I decided to not even bring a camera. So Bernhard's anti-photography rant is serendipitous & validating, comes at the right time. Not that Dublin is that photogenic of a city (we've been before & I took photos then). Perhaps there is a 'proof' component to photography too. If you go to a place like Timbuktu of course you have to 'take' some sort of photo, if not to show others then to show yourself at a later date, as a reminder, to jog your memory, to reflect on after the fact, as often there is not time enough to reflect on it at the time. But the «shoot first ask questions later» mentality is lame,» I now write. «If you don’t stop to reflect in the moment then you weren't there, you didn't do it—you may as well have just looked at photos from someone who was there. The compulsion to 'take' photographs is driven by the need to 'capture' something, I think. And now, back in Rome, where I am transcribing & posting this, after the fact, 'developing' it you might say, the words, there are some Germans outside my window taking photos of the vine-covered house across the alley. Often I stick my head out the window of our home to see a camera pointed back at me. J says that, from the street, when I stick my head out our window I look like that snobby French asshole in Monty Python's Holy Grail that mocks King Arthur & his men (which suits me fine). I am sure there are lots of photos on stranger's cameras of me looking like that. Sometimes when you live in a photogenic city you take your surroundings for granted. But I think it’s only when you stop taking pictures that you are truly experiencing it, rather than just being a tourist. So if you're here, on this site, looking for photos of Dublin, look elsewhere. You probably won't find much of a narrative travelogue either,» I write. «I feel the same way about photography as I feel about plots & stories—another theme reinforced by Bernhard. More & more I read for ideas. Sometimes a semblance of 'plot' is necessary to hold interest, as a framework to fold in ideas, but more often than not it ends up getting in the way, muddling things. Per Bernhard: «By contrast, one might say, the thinking person is at his most active when he is supposedly doing nothing.» I have no agenda in Dublin, I am merely along for the ride as always. If I did have a reason or agenda it wouldn't make things any different for you, reading this. More & more I am only interested in capturing ideas. Whether this be through images or word sequences. But in this 'capture' process you must be careful not to trap the words or images so that they are isolated from context, so that they can be labeled as such, but rather should be neither, just a thought, an idea, that is able to stand on its own. A few dozen pages into Extinction I realized there hadn't been a single paragraph break. I admit I cheated & looked ahead & there isn't a single paragraph in the entire book except for a section break half-way through. It's just two long tethered sentenced sequences. The original sequence was written in German so the version I read was a 'translation' which inevitably translates the path from the original intent. In fact, not that I even know a lick of German, but the title seems to be misleading. The title in German is 'Auslöschung' which google translator translates to Extinction, but I suspect extinction has different connotations in english than it does in German, or in German it might have a dual meaning. Bernhard keeps coming back to the idea of 'extinguishing' in the book, that by Murau writing down the words, he is extinguishing them from his conscience, purging them. Which ties in to what he is saying about photography—that when you 'take' a photo of something you effectively kill it's essence. In fact, the book, the sequence of words, is really about how he came to write Extinction. It's been done before, the self-referential writing of the book that becomes the very book in your hands, but there's an original distinction here in that in Extinction he never admits to putting pen to paper until the very last line of the book, so it's more about thinking to write the book. Though yes, getting back to the title, through writing he is saving himself from extinction, so perhaps he intended it in that sense. This reductionist concept of 'writing as a form of extinguishing' is interesting & novel, sort of like collapsing a wave function in quantum mechanics. Rather than accumulating information in reading (& writing), you could see reading & writing as ridding yourself of this information. Rather than thinking that everything has been said, you can think we, the human race, with language, started with a set of every possible sequence of words & with each book we are checking off that sequence. Rather than it being an additive process, writing is a subtractive process. Tied in with this are the dueling ideas of nature (reality) vs. artifice. Per Bernhard: «We start from the premise that everything is natural, but that's a fallacy. Everything is artificial, everything is artifice. Nature no longer exists. We always start from the contemplation of nature, when for ages we should have been starting from the contemplation of artifice. That's why everything's so chaotic. So false. So desperately confused.» Though again, I can't know for sure what the true affect of these words would be in German (does 'artifice' resemble an 'orifice'?), but I think I get the idea, as I contemplate my own artifice. «The more I study myself, the farther I get from the truth about myself, the more obscure everything about me becomes, I told Gambetti, and it's the same with these philosophers. When I think I've understood them I've actually understood nothing.» Those words are Bernhard's (via Murau—Gambetti being Murau's student, a device he uses to tell the first half of the book) & perhaps that sequence of two sentences could serve to 'summarize' the book, or it's objective of extinction. (The idea of humans (or writers) as non-stop thinking machines, unable to stop writing (perhaps yes, for fear of extinction), is something I will get back to on the return trip post as I was reading Beckett). It is quite remarkable how Bernhard could string together a 325 page novel with only one break in thought & at the same time have a chain of events that could be summarized in one or two sentences, between two places. I'm not sure if Bernhard ever lived in Rome, but it is obvious he spent significant time there (here, upon transcription). Murau consider's it to be the center of the universe, or at least the best city for thinkers: «Rome is of all cities the most congenial to the mind. It was the ideal city for the ancient mind, and it's the ideal city for the modern mind—precisely for the modern mind, given the chaotic political conditions that prevail here today. No other city, not even New York, is as ideal for the mind, but Rome quite definitely is, beyond all doubt.» Rome is an artifice for Murau. It is not his natural home. It is a place that allows Murau to extinguish his history, to sever his genetic lineage, to purge his attachment to the place he was born. It is a theme, this natural repulsion to family, we all know. Almost every animal species feels this calling to flee the coup at a certain age. & frankly, mostly of the book bored me, all the details of his family drama—something that has been written about over & over in so many ways & that we all experience firsthand in our own ways. The book probably could've been written in half as many pages. But apparently Bernhard had some family issues to get off his chest, family issues that he'd been harboring his whole life. Perhaps he needed to wait for his family to die off before writing this book. I've always chosen to live a healthy distance from my family & though I occassionally visit, it's usually out of some sort of engrained (genetic) sense of obligation,» I wrote. «Those in my family that would take offense to me writing this or take it personally are still alive & read this blog, but I don't care. Whether you know it or not, families are toxic,» I wrote in my field notebook. «Brimming on the surface of any gene pool is an inherent toxic sludge that needs to be skimmed off, like the chicken broth froth I just now spooned into the sink,» I now add, whilst cooking dinner in Rome. «I'd rather say it than harbor it my whole life & write a book about it on my deathbed that would only bore others. Why go on playing this charade, this artifice? Isn't that what punk rock (or it's equivalent in Bernhard's time) was for? 'Family' & the illusion of 'home' are dependencies like any other, that conflict with being independent, that conflict with free thinking because those attached to their families or homes often do things that are not true to themselves, as individuals. But at the same time being obsessed with distancing yourself from your family or homeland (and all the time cognizant of it), which I feel this Murau character is doing, is just as harmful, just as cloudy to your judgment. Not that Bernhard's judgment was clouded, in the writing of the book, some novel & worthwhile tidbits come of it,» I now write. «And even if it was, perhaps this is the idea—of extinguishing things by saying them.»

J world food day

my better half & some of her colleagues doing something in Dublin

(16 Oct 2011, leaving Dublin): «While I am busy reading about & doing nothing, J is busy doing something. Someone captured the above photo of what she & some of her colleagues were doing in Dublin at the base of the spike,» I now write, transcribing my field notes: «We got into Dublin & went to our hotel on the canal then went straight to a pub for a pint. Sat outside actually, the weather was surprisingly beautiful. Then J met up with some of her colleagues while I wandered about Trinity college & Grafton street & had a burrito at Pablo Piccante. The next morning J went off to do what she does & I went off to master the fine art of doing nothing, in Dublin. I gravitated towards the water, along the canals & past the locks & flour mills, to the grand canal & all the new developments in the docklands & along the Liffy river. Everything illuminated in gray & reflected off the still quays. Dublin reminds me a bit of a mix between Boston & Portland, Oregon—progressive & laidback. But sometimes progressiveness comes with a bit of sterility. Walked across the new Beckett bridge which wasn't there last time we were in Dublin—a stylish harp-shaped design. Most Dubliners seem lost in thought, less talkative than, say, Italians. Until you get a pint in front of them, then it's a different matter. But for the most part there seems to be more thinking going on,» I wrote. «Then I went to Trinity college to see the Book of Kells. I was first in line so once I paid I went straight back to the book & had a good ten or fifteen minutes alone with it. Then I went back & read the displays & other exhibits (most notable being the ones on the Ogham writing script & descriptions of the scribe processes in creating illuminating manuscripts such as the Book of Kells (for example, rather than repeat every instance of 'he said,' or 'dicebat' in Latin (the language of the book of Kells), they came up with a symbol for it),» I wrote in my field notebook & am now transcribing. «If I had a kid or a dog or was in a band I'd name it 'Dicebat',» I was thinking but didn't think to write until now. «Maybe I'll write a book titled Dicebat. Maybe I'll rename this blog to Dicebat. The URL is available, though now that I looked & am saying this, it probably isn't. Perhaps the best part of the Book of Kells was the upstairs 'long room'—a long vaulted room filled with shelves & shelves of old books. Then I went to the Hotel Gresham & saw J speak at some event for world food day, quite a treat as I don't often get to see her give talks. Unlike me, she is a natural speaker, regardless of the size of the audience she is comfortable. After that I went to the Dublin Writer's museum, which was interesting, but I'm not sure it was worth 9 euros. I did learn that Bram Stoker was Irish though—who would've thunk. Spent a while in the Chapters bookshop after that, which is a massive independent bookstore, both new & used. Then ate some fish & chips at Kingfisher, which, as i mentioned in my Sussex post, I've decided I like less & less, so hard to say whether it was any good. Went back to the Gresham & met J & we walked around more some then went on this Literary Pub Crawl, which despite my aversion to organized tours, was worth it, I think. We started at Dukes bar where these two guys acted out part of Beckett's Waiting for Godot (which I bought earlier & just happened to have read the same part they were acting out while I was waiting for J at the Gresham). They knew all sorts of literary trivia & were good storytellers. After that we moved on through Trinity college to O'Neils & then to the Old Stand, downing pints of the dark stuff along the way. We were supposed to finish the night at Davey Byrne's, but J & I ducked out early to meet D at the GPO (still pocked with bullet-holes & shelling scars from the 1916 Easter Rising). Took the new LUAS tram to the Smithfield area where D lives, met S at Dice bar, which, much as I liked the sound of it & it's resemblance to 'Dicebat,' was crowded & loud so went across the way to another pub. Then we walked around the Smithfield area, near the old abandoned Jamison distillery which has since been converted to trendy condos & retail shops, which mostly are again abandoned because of the recession. Ended up at the Cobblestone for some live music & a pint & then whiskey. Was planning on waking up & running the next morning but obviously that didn't happen. Woke up & met my cousin J. Cousin J is one of only two 'real' (genetic) cousins I have on my father's side that defected to Ireland a ways back. In the context of my thoughts (induced reading Bernhard) about family & place & the renouncement thereof, it got me to thinking some more about it,» I now write. «Whenever I've made half-ass efforts to trace back my pedigree (like in gradeschool when you're supposed to do reports on where your ancestors came from), I haven't gotten much further than Pennsylvania & vague speculations related to a certain William White that was on the Mayflower. My mother's maiden name is Collins, which is obviously Irish in origin, but White could be traced back to England, Scotland or Ireland. Evidently cousin J had looked into it a bit more & traced our lineage further back to Northern Ireland, though not with any certainty. She's been in Ireland long enough that she speaks with an Irish accent, which was strange to behold—an Irish cousin. When my brother first went to Ireland, he described it as some sort of epiphany, like the scene in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich runs into all these clones of himself in a bar. I don't know if I would go that far, but if I had to say I felt a connection to any country (besides America, which I renounce any connection to) it would be Ireland. Truth is I don't feel a need to have any connection to any country & am quite happy to live, like Joyce & Beckett, in exile. Though regardless of geography, perhaps it is something you always carry in your blood,» I now write. «Spent the day with cousin J walking around Dublin. Went to the Chester Beatty Library, which we went to last time we were in Dublin & I can't recommend enough. Had a porter at the Porterhouse (the first of a few anti-Guinness pubs we'd hit that night—believe it or not there's a lot more to Irish beer than Guinness). In the evening ended up at Whelan's where a band consisting of 5 ukulele players was playing. Than went across the street to Against the Grain & met up with D & S. Against the Grain had an insane selection of beer, including Sierra Nevada, which the Irish were chugging like it was going out of style. We sat at the bar eating & watching the bartenders milking the draft taps like they were the udders of a sacred cow. At one point some hooligan's started singing in the back which prompted the lead bartender to go back & grab all their half-drunk beers & bring them back to the bar & pour them down the drain. When the hooligans made a fuss he gave them their money back & told them to leave & they did with their tails between their legs. After that we went back across the street (one of us was on crutches so hard to get around) to Whelan's—a loud & decently indecent sounding band was playing in the main room but it was sold out. But the upstairs space had some band of leprechauns with droning guitars & a trumpet that sounded like a mix between Butthole Surfers, Calexico & Sunn O)))—if you can imagine that. Next morning we woke up & went running, I went out all the way to Dublin bay. Then we flâneured more, sans camera, around the docklands area. Tried to go to the National Print Museum but it was closed. Bought a bar of sweet lemony soap from Sweney's (the chemist in Ulysses where Leopold famously buys his soap). Went back & met cousin J & her Irish hubby G for brunch, then they took us to the airport where i finished reading Extinction. Then I started on Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Right before this trip to Ireland, I re-read Beckett's The Unnameable, perhaps the quintessential book about nothing. Not that I had planned on reading three books in a row essentially about nothing, but funny how it turned out that way. Waiting for Godot, is not really a book though, but a play, the dialogue between 2 people (with brief interactions by 2 others) as they wait for this Godot guy. The experience of reading it is made stranger,» I wrote, «because on this plane we are stuck behind a group of 6 or 8 of the most obnoxious Italian women you could possibly imagine. They have been talking/yelling non-stop for the entire flight. I mean, they don't let up for one second. At times it crescendos into hysterical arguing, all of them yelling louder & louder at the same time to be heard over one another. It's truly a phenomena. It's as if they think they might die if they stop speaking, for just one second, as if speaking is the only thing validating their existence. If an Italian lives in a forest but no one hear them, do they exist? They need to be heard, not just by their friends, but by everyone on the plane. The more Italian I learn the more I don't want to learn. The more I realize that 97% of what Italians talk about is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not in the way Beckett or Bernhard speak of nothing. The only time it means anything to speak of nothing is when that is your intent. People that try to say something but say nothing are just taking up space on this planet. This planet that we are now flying over. As we speak, we are flying over Paris. I'd take a photo to prove it but I didn't bring my camera,» as I already said. «You'll have to take my word for it.»

«There. I put a paragraph break because I am no longer talking about Bernhard, but I am talking about Beckett. Though Beckett also was known to write with really long multi-page paragraphs & sentences. Waiting for Godot is all dialogue & stage directions though. Here's some sample lines from it:

ESTRAGON: In the meantime let us try and converse calmly since we are incapable of keeping silent.
VLADIMIR: You're right, we're inexhaustible.
ESTRAGON: It's so we won't think.

«Besides talking because they fear death, like these chatty Italian women in front of us, people talk so they won't have to think. They keep talking without thinking about what they are saying & they think that will keep them alive, if they do think, as if your cardiac muscle were not involuntary but voluntary & required constant conscious talking to keep it pumping. That is how it is with most people. Beckett chose Paris as his city of exile so it is strange we are flying over it as I am reading Waiting for Godot (where the play premiered). I don't know Paris too well, but I've been there enough that even from 30,000 feet I recognize the configuration of roads & the river, there is something strangely familiar about it that is mapping it's way into my genes. The network of avenues, amidst the otherwise chaotic clustering, radiating out from the Arc de Triomphe was the dead giveaway, as to it's identity. From there I spotted the Eiffel tower & the wave function collapsed.»

«The only other noticeable distraction besides these obnoxious Italian women is that Jeremy Irons is on this plane. Despite his sunglasses & funky beret, J spotted him as he was boarding, she's good like that, though she had the advantage of knowing he was travelling to Rome for some sort of World Food day thing at FAO, so it makes sense. Since there's no first or business class on this Aer Lingus flight, Jeremy Irons is sitting with us peons. I tip my hat to him, though poor guy seems to be surrounded by even more loud Italians who are standing up in their seats & in the aisle next to him. Jeremy Irons is just sort of spacing out looking out the window, trying not to be recognized, an existence I wouldn't envy, always having to be conscious of yourself in public. There's two things I think of when I think of Jeremy Irons. One is him naked screwing Juliette Binoche, his son's wife, in Damage. The other is for stealing the show as Scar in the Lion King. Playwriting or screenwriting is a strange thing. Where people aren't reading your words, but hearing your words acted out. Where the actor becomes a vehicle for transmission. To us, 'Jeremy Irons' is a fictitious accumulation of the roles he's played. But then you see him on a plane & realize he's real & he's one of us, flying coach, something I'm sure Jeremy Irons is not above saying.»

«It's no wonder Beckett took the easy way out & for the most part chose to write about nothing. If I came to be in the wake of Joyce, was his personal assistant, I would also probably throw up my hands & declare there was nothing left to be said. But still, that needed to be said. «For it is all very fine to keep silence,» he wrote in The Unnameable, «but one has also to consider the kind of silence one keeps.» And in the spirit of Beckett, to just keep this narrative flowing, I am writing about how Beckett declared that there was nothing left to be said. I am/was writing by hand in a journal & now I am transcribing this electronically, blogging, under the same spell. Putting it out there for what it's worth, in a vain effort to keep mortality at bay. To make this sequence of words about Thomas Bernhard & Dublin & Samuel Beckett available to the world, for anyone searching, for anyone reading for these very reasons that we write.»

VLADIMIR: To have lived is not enough for them.
ESTRAGON: They have to talk about it.
VLADIMIR: To be dead is not enough for them.

«The interpretation I read somewhere is that Godot = God. IMHO, Godot = death,» I now write. «Perhaps one & the same thing if we heed Nietzsche.»

«Today is a beautiful day to die,» I compulsively wrote in my field notes. «If this plane we're to crash, I think the fact that Jeremy Irons was on the plane is what would make headlines. Nobody would miss these obnoxious Italian women, who I'm pretty sure are not Roman. I'm guessing they are from further south, Naples, maybe even Basilicata or some other podunk place. If this plane crashed, you wouldn't be reading this because most likely it would be extinguished, much to the delight of Thomas Bernhard. I wouldn't live to type it into Dreamweaver & push the 'Put File' button, which in this day & age means 'to publish.' The fact that these words are here, at this particular Uniform Resource Locator, means I'm alive. I've lived another day. I've seen this place. I read this book. I used to take photos to prove my existence but that is no longer necessary. I honestly don't think I'm afraid of dying. If you died you'd never know the difference. You'd just cease to exist. I'd just cease writing & there would be an end in sight to this site. But for now, per Beckett, «in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.»»


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