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The Feels of Silence

There is nowhere to go, nothing to be done, and no-one to be. No-one needs you, nothing depends on you, you have no opinions and are unseen. You look out from your dwelling place and perceive objects, but you draw no conclusion.

The thumb raises itself
for no particular reason.
The air looks at it, rearranges,
then settles back into apparent sleep. (1)

You’re not dead. Are you in a state of negative capability? No, because even that phrase implies that you’re being enabled in the pursuit of a goal. Are you depressed? Not in the observable, clinical sense, nor in the etymological sense of being ‘pressed down’. You are, if anything, too light.

There is some conclusion to be drawn from the sky,
but looking catches blue pure and simple.
Blue does not exist except as a reaction
between light, air particles and the retina.

This is not a syndrome. You are not locked in. As far as anyone is free, you are. Hopeless, yes, but also without pain or chains.

There are no memories rolling up the streets,
filling the spaces at my hind,
packing themselves into backalley bins,
treasure troves for nozzling.

Human or no? You are constituted as a human, you have language, your brain is a human brain. You are joined to the race by your existence, but not, at this moment, by shared experience or meaning.

We become aware of the void as we fill it.

                                                                            Antonio Porchia (2)

If you waited, or rather, stayed still and neither waited nor acted, what would become? Nothing maybe, and does that matter? Something maybe, and does that matter?

Our use of the verb ‘matter’ suggests that only what is substantial counts. Materia in Latin means ‘timber’, ‘substance’; from ‘mater’, ‘mother’. Generation, regeneration, constitution, tangibility. I suggest that there is always matter as long as you and I can see and hear each other, that our notion of emptiness is a direct consequence of matter, and that it is the notion that causes us distress.

The absence of desire is the cornerstone of Buddhism. I think about the absence of need – how much do we? Putting off the meal, delaying the inbreath, denying oneself the coffee, gives one a sense of emptiness that feels like release. Sacrifice. But sacrifice is usually about identification with an ideal.

The ego ideal spans an orbit that extends from primary narcissism to the categorical imperative, from the most primitive form of psychic life to the highest level of man’s achievements. Thus the fright of the finitude of time, of death itself, is rendered nonexistent, as it once was in the state of primary narcissism. thus propelling man toward incredible feats of creativity, heroism, sacrifice, and selflessness. One dies for one’s ego ideal rather than let it die.  

Peter Blos (3)

                                                                                                                                                                                                         
But if there is no ideal? Maybe that state translates as depression – absence of context. My feeling is that if we can accept the lack, we can face the stress associated with fullness and desire. Context is often about oppositions.

The north, south, east and west
of food are all the one.
All the same whether the tongue
flicks, trips, curls or clicks,

there is always a lack.

At the end of every profound line of poetry there’s a large space onto which you are silently, emptily spread. Ecstasy depends on emptiness. The apprehension of a poetic line, the attainment to orgasm, depends on vacating the inner to some degree. In the moments of orgasm, one’s rationality is absent.

My poverty is not complete; it lacks me.
                                                                        Antonio Porchia (4)

What inhabits constructs, whether it’s food, thoughts or culture. Ever-incumbent, underlying everything, is the void, an incomprehensible, pot-bellied what.


Italo Calvino (5), in his ‘Cosmicomic’, story, 't zero', steers very close to the Eckhart Tolle concept of the power of now. In Calvino’s story, the speaker postulates that all moments are unique in the time landscape, and to live in one moment is to live in it forever. There are a series of subjects Q(n) who live in a series of moments T(n), and to know a given T, a given Q must move into it, thereby losing all other Ts. To stay still in time i.e. experience the moment, one must move with time. To be objective one must be subjective. To gain something one must lose. To fill up, you must first empty.

It’s impossible to fully enter a terrifying moment. The brain very wisely separates the observer from the actor so that we can continue to function. In the extreme, this morphs into post-traumatic stress disorder, but we have survived. I wonder if we might continue to experience the mental division that we have when we first register the news: she’s dead; you have no money; your project has failed; they don’t want you; he doesn’t want you; and, according to the Buddhist aspiration, deconstitute the notion of self. Or as the stoics counselled, accept all things equally.

Never to feel one’s feelings wholeheartedly and then to elevate that wan victory to the point of being able to regard one’s own ambitions, longings and desires with indifference; to pass by one’s joys and griefs as one would a person in whom one feels no interest…

Fernando Pessoa (6)
                                                                                                                                                                                      

Can this attitude be borne into situations where you risk losing all your teeth, having a part of your anatomy cut off, or starving to death? Or rather, borne out of them? Because it’s often the day after that most challenges the stoic attitude.

When everything is finished, the mornings are sad.
                                                                                            Antonio Porchia (7)

Empty, and not even survival matters. This is the way to be inspired in art, though not the way to be effective as we define it. Effectiveness demands desire and application, fullness. Here again the paradox, the impossibility of one thing without the other. Impossibility, the salient silence.

I am soluble in silence.
There is a sharp fizz
and I am altered.
I remain as a tint, I think.

 

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Notes
(1) All poem excerpts are from ‘These are the Feels of Silence’ © Máighréad Medbh, ¡Divas!, Galway: Arlen House, 2003
(2) Antonio Porchia, Voices / Voces, Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2003, p.43
(3) Peter Blos, The Adolescent Passage, quoted at: http://www.marthablake.com/sacrifice.html
(4) Antonio Porchia, opus cit., p. 9
(5) Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics, London: Penguin, 2010
(6) Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, ed. Maria José de Lancastre, transl. Margaret Jull Costa, Introd. William Boyd, London: Serpent’s Tail, 2010. P. 186
(7) Antonio Porchia, opus cit., p. 43

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