Friday, March 14, 2014

"I rely on that which I cannot doubt, on doubt"

Someone says, more or less, “I then felt as if the order of the world had been revealed to me” or else “I understood the language of the birds” or “The veil that is normally between us and reality was rent” (which is also a theme in fairy tales). These are, indubitably, facts, of course, experiences (you can treat them as lies, but they happen, nonetheless) --- an experience of that kind can take on various forms, but the result is always the same. It has happened ever since man first appeared on earth, and you can find hundreds of examples in mystic, philosophical, or purely literary texts. You could object that such an experience is a mirage, but what makes such a mirage possible, and why could it not have a meaning, even as a mirage?

That mirage, or that intuition, revelation, or dream, sets an order against disorder, a fullness against the void, and wonder, enthusiasm, hope against disgust. Is it possible to believe that man’s obsession with order in so many different fields could be totally devoid of sense? And do we not have the duty, or at least the right, to listen to that very deep nostalgia within ourselves, as if it really said something important and true? Is it not narrow-minded to refuse to believe in the enigma that attracts and enlightens us? Is it more equitable to believe only in skeletons, ruins? Would life not, indeed, flow into us if we grew more supple?

Phillipe Jaccottet
Notebook -- November, 1959
(translated by Andre Lefevere)


  1. i find myself struggling to respond to this jaccottet quote. it is so full. so complete. and it is playful too. i can't help but laugh at how he challenges us, "These are, indubitably, facts, of course, experiences (you can treat them as lies, but they happen, nonetheless)". he manages in a short expanse to shut my mouth to any possible protest and open my skin to possibility, for who might choose "disgust" or "ruins"?

    what more might i say? like an eager child i suddenly want to please. who will i please in becoming more supple? of course i will please myself but i can't help but notice there is someone (or something) else i yearn to please. so where might this nostalgia or intuition come from?

    last night reading from rilke's Letters to a Young Poet i was shocked to read this which any longer seems to be far past coincidence in all we are coming into contact with:

  2. "And if it worries and torments you to think of childhood and of the simplicity and silence that accompanies it, because you can no longer believe in God, who appears in it everywhere, then ask yourself, dear Mr. Kappus, whether you have really lost God? Isn't it much truer to say that you have never yet possessed him? For when could that have been? Do you think that a child can hold him, him whom grown men bear only with great effort and whose weight crushes the old? Do you suppose that someone who really has him could lose him like a little stone? Or don't you think that someone who once had him could only be lost by him? But if you realize that he did not exist in your childhood, and did not exist previously, if you suspect that Christ was deluded by his yearning and Muhammad deceived by his pride - and if you are terrified to feel that even now he does not exist, even at this moment when we are speaking about him - what justifies you then, if he never existed, in missing him like someone who has passed away and in searching for him as though he were lost?

    Why don't you think of him as the one who is coming, who has been approaching from all eternity, the one who will someday arrive, the ultimate fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into the ages that are coming into existence, and living your life as a painful and lovely day in the history of a great gestation? Don't you see how everything that happens is again and again a beginning, and couldn't it be His beginning, since, in itself, starting is always so beautiful? If he is the most perfect one, must not what is less perfect precede him, so that he can choose himself out of fullness and superabundance? Must he not be the last one, so that he can include everything in himself, and what meaning would we have if he whom we are longing for has already existed?

    As bees gather honey, so do we fetch the sweetest out of all things and build Him. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start Him whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us. And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our destiny, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time.

    Is there anything that can deprive you of the hope that in this way you will someday exist in Him, who is the farthest, the outermost limit?

    Dear Mr. Kappus, celebrate Christmas in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working at Him, as you have already once, in childhood, breathlessly worked at Him. Be patient and without resentment and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for Him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.

    And be glad and confident."

    (a combination of two translations, one found on-line and the other from our copy of his letters.)