How to Kill a Category
“It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.
It is time.”
~~ Paul Celan, Corona
There are hints dropped along the way, as a particularly astute gardener might notice on a high summer afternoon: her plants have in a flashing moment reached the unnameable summit, and she senses a descent through the brilliant crest of leaf or petal, smell of autumn in the root.
When does it arrive, this crossing-over? How can one awaken to the fact of one’s own somnulance, and yet remain anesthetized? It is an act, or a process (and is a process a series of acts, stop-time, or does there exist a secret fluidity one cannot name or see or grasp….) of being patient, doctor, weeping relative, pain specialist, all at one time. And then the roles break apart from the pressure of their own deceptions and fear…. what remains? What remains?
I think of Paul Celan, especially these days, the days of loss so heavy it sinks beneath the net – there is no pulling this grief toward the light. The clown who dances on a prince’s grave, immigrants treated as vermin, flirtations with weapons so stupidly lethal we might be erased like chalk. Despair, despair, despair… language the only respite, which reveals itself, always, as Celan knew so intimately, as failed experiment.
His suicide, after so many years digging through memories unbearable – his mother, who taught him as a child to hold with reverence the language of her murderers, slaughtered at the camps, his father dead from disease – he raised to the light delicate insights, carved from the toughest brutality, that defined and gave shape to what amounted to a New World, the life of After: after the War, after the Camps, after the sight of what modern humans can do to one another. He stood, or crouched, and faced the blood-strewn storm, and gave us a language to surround, occasionally comprehend, an unimaginable context.
And then he turned from it; his suicide, to me, is a denial of language, a denial, finally, of one’s capacity for strength and endurance. He haunts me, as I see the cracks grow in my own psyche and form: my own suffering, the suffering of our brutalized grand Earth, of refugees of women of children, of my own children – when does strength become a facade holding up a long dead corpse, false scaffolding of Self?
And it has always been thus: language is an illusion, it is a mere category of invention, a graceful artifice at best, a lie of hope at worst. We need it. But do we? There are sculptures in India of Shiva wearing a necklace of skulls. Each skull represents a letter from Sanskrit, its connectedness represents finality, an impenetrable death. Perhaps the death is a metaphor, and when one accepts our addiction to language (the search to be other than Other) there exists a passing through to peace, internal strength, and acceptance. Or perhaps the death is literal, and when one realizes the false promise of our needed interconnectedness the soul fades, the body slouches to the highest bridge.
I am in the shadows of knowing-not~knowing. Divorce, the disability of my daughter, the stolen Presidency, all our rage and ignorance that seem to only grow with the years, despite our intellectual sophistication: it is too much, and yet we endure, sometimes even with a winking glimpse of Joy, Ananda, Bliss-state.
I do wonder what Mr. Celan would make of the white supremacist in the White House, what he would make of our astonishingly stupid forms of communication: twitter, Face Book, email, text. None of it human, none of it even language, really.
When I stumbled upon the full force of my ex-husband’s dislike of me, it was through the pathetic medium of text (the irony of the phrase – a text is rarely text), oddly not far from Celan’s home. It was a moment so filled with horror that life became, for a second or a minute or a day, electric with Pain. Perhaps it is this sort of electricity, the sort made of grief and struggle and rage, that spurs an artist on, despite the dullness of depression nipping at his heels. And when the current fades to black… what remains?