Sep 182023

And besides, what is suffering? I’m not afraid of it, even if it’s numberless. I’m not afraid of it now; I was before. You know, maybe I won’t even give any answers in court … And it seems to me there’s so much strength in me now that I can overcome everything, all sufferings, only in order to say and tell myself every moment: I am! In a thousand torments—I am; writhing under torture—but I am. Locked up in a tower, but still I exist, I see the sun, and if I don’t see the sun, still I know it is. And the whole of life is there—in knowing that the sun is.

Sep 052023

Yes, everything becomes attenuated, but it’s also true to say that nothing entirely disappears, there remain faint echoes and elusive memories that can surface at any moment like the fragments of gravestones in the room in a museum that no one visits, as cadaverous as ruined tympana with their fractured inscriptions, past matter, dumb matter, almost indecipherable, nearly meaningless, absurd remnants preserved for no reason, because they can never be put together again, and they give out less light than darkness, are not so much memory as forgetting. And yet there they are, and no one destroys them or pieces together their sundry fragments scattered or lost centuries ago: they are kept there like small treasures or out of superstition, as valuable witnesses to the fact that someone once existed and died and had a name, even though we cannot see the whole person and reconstructing him is impossible, even though no one cares at all about that someone who is now no one.

Yes, the dead are quite wrong to come back, and yet almost all of them do, they won’t give up, and they strive to become a burden to the living until the living shake them off in order to move on. We never eliminate all vestiges, though, we never manage, truly, once and for all, to silence that past matter, and sometimes we hear an almost imperceptible breathing.

Aug 222023

The best Polish poem of recent years.
Author unknown.
But certainly not poet A,
poet B, poet S.

The text is densely written
from right to left
and left to right
and from top to bottom
and bottom to top
and crosswise
and in tiny veinlets
up to the beautifully serrated edges.

The customs agent didn’t know the suspect code.
He just checked for letters,
seized books,
tossed photos,
shredded diplomas.

The best Polish poem of recent years ended up abroad.

And it can now be read against the light
in Vienna
in Toronto
in Haifa
in Amsterdam.

As with all true poetry –
it’s difficult to translate
into the leaflet of a different birch
from a different cemetery.

Translated by Clare Cavanagh

Aug 222023

SOCRATES: All right. The story I heard is set in Naucratis in Egypt, where there was one of the ancient gods of Egypt—the one to whom the bird they call the ‘ibis’ is sacred, whose name is Theuth. This deity was the inventor of number, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, of games involving draughts and dice—and especially of writing. At the time, the king of the whole of Egypt around the capital city of the inland region (the city the Greeks call “Egyptian Thebes”), was Thamous, or Amon, as the Greeks call him. Theuth came to Thamous and showed him the branches of expertise he had invented, and suggested that they should be spread throughout Egypt. Thamous asked him what good each one would do, and subjected Theuth’s explanations to criticism if he thought he was going wrong and praise if thought he was right. The story goes that Thamous expressed himself at length to Theuth about each of the branches of expertise, both for and against them. It would take a long time to go through all Thamous’ views, but when it was the turn of writing, Theuth said, “Your highness, this science will increase the intelligence of the people of Egypt and improve their memories. For this invention is a potion for memory and intelligence.” But Thamous replied, “You are most ingenious, Theuth. But one person has the ability to bring branches of expertise into existence, another to assess the extent to which they will harm or benefit those who use them. The loyalty you feel to writing, as its originator, has just led you to tell me the opposite of its true effect. It will atrophy people’s memories. Trust in writing will make them remember things by relying on marks made by others, from outside themselves, not on their own inner resources, and so writing will make the things they have learnt disappear from their minds. Your invention is a potion for jogging the memory, not for remembering. You provide your students with the appearance of intelligence, not real intelligence. Because your students will be widely read, though without any contact with a teacher, they will seem to be men of wide knowledge, when they will usually be ignorant. And this spurious appearance of intelligence will make them difficult company.”

PHAEDRUS: Socrates, it doesn’t take much for you to make up stories from Egypt and anywhere else in the world you feel like.