chasing the book

writing August 6, 2016

“But I am cold. It is dark. Let me come into the house.”

“There is a lamp on my table. And the house is in the book.”

“So I will live in the house after all.”

“You will follow the book, whose every page is an abyss where the wing shines with the name.”

-Edmond Jabès, “At the Threshold of the Book”

In one of the fragments from his book the Idea of Prose, Giorgio Agamben relates the anecdote of the ancient scholar Damascius who spends years laboring over a text on the origin of thought until he is exhausted with his effort. Abandoning himself in a pause of repose he recalls the threshing floor of the peasants from his youth where the wheat is separated from the chaff. He see the empty floor (the empty stage) before differentiation and realizes that the first thought would reside in the moment when the word separates from the world:

The uttermost limit thought can reach is not a being, not a place or thing, no matter how free of any quality, but rather, its own absolute potentiality, the pure potentiality of representation itself: the writing tablet! What he had until then been taking as the One, as the absolutely Other of thought, was instead only the material, only the potentiality of thought. And the entire, lengthy volume the hand of the scribe had crammed with characters was nothing other than the attempt to represent the perfectly bare writing tablet on which nothing had yet been written. This was why he was unable to carry his work through to completion: what could not cease from writing itself was the image of what never ceased from not writing itself.

Even when I was writing poetry it was the closed book that I circled endlessly. I wanted to write around the thing itself, as if the poem could have a book within it untouched. I wanted the poem to have the thing itself because I knew that I could never have it. And now, writing about performance, I find that I still cannot live in its house. I would that I could light the lamp of my attention, shining only on those outside covers, those external walls.