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Paris 13/11: Kierkegaard and Akhmatova

By Richard Marshall.



Kierkegaard and Akhmatova overheard whispering on a stairwell on hearing Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam had admitted he wanted to blow himself up but then changed his mind. Imagine a box, made of oak, with the lock, very secret and odd…

Akhmatova: This cruel age has deflected me, like a river from this course. Strayed from its familiar shores, my changeling life has flowed into a sister channel. How many spectacles I’ve missed: the curtain rising without me, and falling too. How many friends I never had the chance to meet.

Kierkegaard: The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.

A: You will hear thunder and remember me, and think: she wanted storms.

K: No one ever comes back from the dead, no one ever enters the world without weeping; no one is ever asked when he wishes to enter life, no one is ever asked when he wishes to leave.

A: Today I have so much to do: I must kill memory once and for all, I must turn my soul to stone, I must learn to live again. We don’t know how to say goodbye, we wander on, shoulder to shoulder. Already the sun is going down. You’re moody, and I am your shadow. Let’s step inside a church, hear prayers, masses for the dead. Why are we so different from the rest? Outside in the graveyard we sit on a frozen branch. That stick in your hand is tracing mansions in the snow in which we will always be together.

K: I am alone, as I have always been; abandoned not by men, that would not pain me, but by the happy spirits of joy who in countless hosts encircled me, who met everywhere with their kind, pointed everywhere to an opportunity. By comparison with a passionate age, an age without passion gains in scope what is loses in intensity.

A: All that I am hangs by a thread tonight.

K: I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t feel like riding, the motion is too powerful; I don’t feel like walking-it is too tiring; I don’t feel like lying down, for either I would have to stay down, and I don’t feel like doing that, or I would have to get up again, and I don’t feel like doing that, either.

A: There is a frontier-line in human closeness that love and passion cannot violate. Here is my gift, not roses on your grave, not sticks of burning incense. You lived aloof, maintaining to the end your magnificent disdain. You drank wine, and told the wittiest jokes, and suffocated inside stifling walls. Alone you let the terrible stranger in, and stayed with her alone. Now you’re gone, and nobody says a word about your troubled and exalted life. Only my voice, like a flute, will mourn at your dumb funeral feast.

K: You train yourself in the art of being mysterious to everyone. My dear friend! What if there were no one who cared about guessing your riddle, what pleasure would you then take in it?

A: Why is this century worse than those others? Maybe, because, in sadness and alarm, it only touched the blackest of the ulcers, but couldn’t heal it in its span of time. We aged a hundred years, and this happened in a single hour. Each day became a memorial day.

K: When I get up in the morning I go straight back to bed again. I feel best in the evening, the moment I dowse the candle, pull the eiderdown over my head. I raise myself up once more, look about the room with an indescribable peace of mind, and then it’s goodnight, down under the eiderdown.

A: Once, someone “recognized” me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):”Can you describe this?” And I answered: “Yes, I can.” Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face. I should like to call you all by name, but they have lost the lists…

K: Battle day and night against the guile of oblivion…

A: Dread. Bottomless dread…

K: It is comic that a mentally disordered man picks up any piece of granite and carries it around because he thinks it is money, and in the same way it is comic that Don Juan has 1,003 mistresses, for the number simply indicates that they have no value.

A: I know beginnings, I know endings too, and life-in-death, and something else I’d rather not recall just now.

K: Despair is the sickness unto death. It is indeed very far from being true that, literally understood, one dies of this sickness, or that this sickness ends with bodily death. On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely this, not to be able to die. So it has much in common with the situation of the moribund when he lies and struggles with death, and cannot die. So to be sick unto death is, not to be able to die — yet not as though there were hope of life; no the hopelessness in this case is that even the last hope, death, is not available. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolateness of not being able to die.

A: Oh, you’ll foredoom us both to disaster.

K: I’m a fork. I’ll stick you. I want to run out of the world, not into a monastery—I still have my strength—but in order to find myself (that is what every fool says), in order to forget myself; nor will I go where the wandering stream / in the meadow is seen.—I don’t know whether this poem has been written by some poet, but I would wish that an uncompromising irony would compel some sentimental poet to write it, though in such a way that he himself always read something else. Or Echo—yes, Echo, you Grand Master of Irony!, you, who parody within yourself the most sublime and profound thing in the world—the Word which created the world—when you give only the tag end, not the fullness. Yes, Echo, avenge all the sentimental nonsense which conceals itself in the forests and meadows, in the church and the theater, and which breaks out there now and then, drowning out everything for me. I do not hear the trees in the forest telling old legends and such. No, to me they whisper all the nonsense to which they have been witness for so long, to me they plead in the name of God to be cut down in order to be freed from these nature worshipers who spout nonsense.—Yes, would that all these drivel-heads sat upon a single neck, then, like Caligula, I would know what to do.

A: You lived aloof, maintaining to the end your magnificent disdain. Each of our lives is a Shakespearean drama raised to the thousandth degree. Mute separations, mute black, bloody events in every family. Invisible mourning worn by mothers and wives. That woman I once was, in a black agate necklace, I do not wish to meet again till the Day of Judgement.

K: Do it or don’t do it — you will regret both. A revolutionary but passionless and reflecting age changes the manifestation of power into a dialectical sleight-of-hand, letting everything remain but slyly defrauding it of its meaning; it culminates, instead of in an uprising, in the exhaustion of the inner reality of the relationships, in a reflecting tension that nevertheless lets everything remain; and it has transformed the whole of existence into an equivocation.

A: From childhood I have been afraid of mummers. It always seemed an extra shadow without face or name had slipped among them…I cannot say if it is our love, or the day, that is ending. I have forgotten your lessons, prattlers and false prophets, but you haven’t forgotten me. As the future ripens in the past, so the past rots in the future — a terrible festival of dead leaves.

K: If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

A: I now stride where none need any more. Your voice is very strange.


Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, March 20th, 2016.