“A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility.”
–Karl Ove Knausgaard My Struggle
In Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, he writes eloquently about how writing is what helps one escape the prison of our “purely fabricated world” that gives us the feeling that “the world is small, tightly enclosed around itself, without openings to anywhere else.” This bubble world that the construct of modern civilization has locked us into is only exacerbated by the closed feedback loop of our cell phones and social media which pretend to expand our known worlds while, in reality, deeply limiting our consciousness to a simulacrum of screens.
What does writing do? Well, as Knausgaard observes, it speaks to our desire for more, “The longing I always felt, which some days was so great it could hardly be controlled, had its source here. It was partially to relieve this feeling that I wrote, I wanted to open the world by writing.” And despite people’s dismissal of his romanticism, he insists on the reality of “sudden states of clear-sightedness that everyone must know, where for a few seconds you catch sight of another world from the one you were in only a moment earlier, where the world seems to step forward and show itself for a brief glimpse before reverting and leaving everything as before.”
And in the art museum, Knausgaard finds himself similarly unsettled as he surveys the pictures and senses that “what they possessed, the core of their being, was inexhaustibility and what that wrought in me was a kind of desire. I can’t explain it any better than that. A desire to be inside the exhaustibility.”
For Knausgaard this experience of art was about drowning in the sublime, “the moment I focused my gaze on the painting again all my reasoning vanished in the surge of energy and beauty that arose in me. Yes, yes, yes, I heard. That’s where it is. That’s where I have to go. But what was it I had said yes to? Where was it I had to go?”
I don’t know where it is, but I too have been there (and perhaps you have too).
Sometimes sitting, reading, listening to music and then staring out at the endless horizon of the sea, I am overcome with a feeling of boundlessness.
The bubble world cracks, and the world is transformed by a kind of ecstatic joy.
As I lose myself in the landscape painting of an emerging sunset, the sound of the waves on the shore is the song of the world, the sound of the planet breathing and me breathing along with it.
In these moments, I am inside of everything and yet outside of it at the same time.
I close my eyes for a while and just listen to the cadence of the surf, lilting. When I open them again the gorgeous, golden light is so blinding that it hurts to hold my gaze, but I squint hard and bear with it. And after the burning sun drops below the horizon, I drink in the blood red sky and nurse the subtle changes that each moment brings as the clouds dance with the dying light.
There is no describing the vast love that wells up in you when you find yourself in rapture with the stunning, naked radiance of the world.
The redness of red.
To be present and alone with the resonance of everyday life annihilates us.
The borderland of twilight.
We long for places we’ll never be able to go but still desire nonetheless.
The deep well of grief that gives birth to joy.
“This is why we are alive,” I think.
I am mad to be in contact with it, whatever it is.
About The Summer Chronicles: In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil. As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes. The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds incomparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”
What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.” As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.” It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.
More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe. Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”
Nonetheless, the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer, I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.