Monday, December 27, 2010

A week of readings for a year's end: Continuity

Excerpted from "Emissary (V)", on T.R. Hummer's blog, Mindbook (September 10 2010). Hummer is the self-described "pariah of creative writing at Arizona State University" and the author of twelve books of poetry.

... Life increasingly becomes attenuated—as if the passage of time (whatever time is) through a human psyche had a caustic effect, scrubbing impurities away. Logically, the opposite would appear more likely—that one would begin life “clean” and accumulate clogs in the psychic plumbing. But the discipline of farewell enters here: the knowledge of one’s own fragmentary incompleteness presses toward the desire to live invisibly, humbly, quietly, on one’s knees in respect to the mystery that is about to swallow one up.


A man, a woman, in the middle of life, in the middle of a relationship mellowed or decayed by time, in the middle of a fissioning universe. Precision of the atom. The poisonous glow of the lyric. ...


The emissary examines with great care all the objects he carried with him to sustain him on his journey. He wraps them in a piece of yellow silk and takes them out into the garden, where a beggar sits beside the gate. Without a word he hands the bundle to the beggar. These objects—all he owns in the world—were for the journey here; where he next goes, they will be of no use to him. But to the emissary’s surprise, the beggar speaks. “Everyone strives after the law,” he says, “so how is it that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” For the first time in a very long time, the emissary smiles. “You’re from the tale by Kafka, are you not?” The beggar thinks a moment, and then nods. Bending down, the emissary kisses the beggar on the forehead. “Bless you, my opposite,” he says, “my brother.”


Everyone who contemplates the question of death is equalized in human ignorance. No one is privileged here, not even those who have had what we call “near death experiences,” since nothing objective can be established from such accounts. Though there are virtuoso practitioners of death, we have no geniuses in the epistemology or phenomenology, or—if it is not too paradoxical a category—the ontology of death. And so? The meditation devolves at once to the crucial forking of possibilities: 1. when we die we are gone; or, 2. when we die we go on going. ...

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