(In the peninsula: bears, seals, lobsters, stories, generous hospitality, cats, fires, birch and fir and maple, and the Milky Way so close you could lean back and trail your hand in it, as though into the cold river water from a canoe. Singing Bowie to the hawks.)
(Around forty eight degrees thirty two minutes north latitude, the houses look the way children draw houses, with steeply pitched roofs, but painted lavender with red trim, or grey with a violet roof, or lemon yellow with pink shutters. The houses are set back on stretches of bright green grass, on red cliffs that plunge down into the ultramarine sea. There are coves of salt-and-pepper granite and dove-gray slate – layers of crumbling slate, once the abyssal floor of silent Ordovician seas. Rolling cloudy waves veined with kelp beds. The air is filled with black and white birds: gulls, guillemots, gannets, ravens. And when the sun comes out everything is vivid to the point of unreality, every detail clear regardless of distance, without haze or fuzz, and each shadow so crisp it looks like it was put down by airbrush.)
Kafka loved writing about about America, a place he had never visited, never seen. (His Statue of Liberty holds a sword, rather than a torch, in the winds of the harbor.) It was so vast in his imagination as to contain further vastnesses – the Nature Theater of Oklahoma (Kafka spelled it “Oklahama”) seems to have another world inside their tents, room for all to come aboard, even as they inhabit the desolate prairies and windblown railyards of Kafka’s imagination. (Adorno perfectly captured Kafka’s dream-America when he wrote “The resurrection of the dead would have to take place in the auto graveyards.”) As much as he was making it all up, his love of rushing motion through the landscape, and of seeing for a moment a solitary, occupied person illuminated in their window, feels so right here, and right here. And part of that sense of familiarity is the sense of another world and life just next to this one, as close as your clothes on your skin but inaccessible except in flashes, moments, in the distance or in a glance through a partly open door. Maybe by the time we figure out how to get there we have ceased to be the person who wanted to in the first place.
So he’s been on my mind.
“The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling than to be walked along.”
+What I love about this (a line from the notebooks he kept while staying with his sister after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis) is that there is a true way, but it’s something you can fall over when you’re not paying attention. It’s not a tightrope but a tripwire. It’s only true, the way you have to go, because you can leave it at any time.+
Of Josephine’s singing: “Something of our poor, brief childhood is in it, something of lost happiness which can never be found again, but also something of active present-day life, of its small gaieties, unaccountable and yet real and unquenchable.”
“Beyond a certain point there is no return. That is the point that must be reached.”
+But not, we should note, to itself be crossed. Just reached.+
“All the legends and songs that originated in this city are filled with longing for a prophesied day when the city would be destroyed by five successive blows of a gigantic fist. This is why the city has a fist on its coat of arms.”
+Awaiting, with the greatest anticipation, the moment when it will cease to wait – in rubble, dust, and silence.+
“The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveler.”
“A cage went in search of a bird.”
+Which presumably means it must fly, this cage, over oceans and through forests, to be where the birds are, and to become more and more bird-like and less and less cage-like in its search – maybe to become something unlike either.+
“I have never been in this place. Breathing is different, and a star adjacent to the sun shines even more brightly than the sun itself.”
+You have arrived, you see by the light of a new star, but you are still from somewhere else, and will always be from somewhere else, a stranger, a foreigner.+
My beloved Robert Musil wrote: “The truth is not a gem you put into your pocket, but an endless river into which you dive headlong.” And, similarly, you don’t come into the Rockies as though arriving in a place, but as if you were entering a new phase of your life. And the sound of first seeing the mountains across the horizon like a line of thunderheads over the high arid sagebrush steppe is Valet’s song “Nature”, from the amazing new album of the same name.
There are four-second YouTube videos capturing slow versions of various human microexpressions like disgust and contempt. There are sixteen-second videos explaining how to pronounce “Balenciaga” and “Volkswagen”. These feel like they should probably be combined somehow.
(Coming soon: pieces on the history of money from the work in progress!)
(Thanks for reading, as ever.)
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