Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We Should Be Blind

Despite countless looming deadlines for various projects, I decided to do two things this evening. First, I took my dog Eliot for a night-time walk down to the ocean. And when I got home, I decided to pull all of the "books I don't often reach for" out of their hiding places and re-organize them. It was Rilke, of course, that brought both of these moments together.

There was something so strange about the air and the sky tonight, about how they seemed to separate from one another in the wind. I walked, walked, and walked down to the water. I dragged my poor dog who was scared and wanted to go home. I listened to Lykke Li on my ipod and tried to ignore him, throwing my head back in exasperation at one point. And when I did, there was the sky, in a moment at which I felt both warm and cold air swirling about inside each other, intertwining but refusing to intersect.

On this particular street in my neighborhood, there is a ridiculous number of palm trees. And as I faced upward, looking at their branches against the sky, and feeling winds of conflicting temperatures, I felt a bit of vertigo. And then a bit of something else. It felt nothing like Santa Monica. Instead, I experienced physically the memory of being, long ago, on Miami Beach--alone in the middle of the night. Walking, walking, walking. And waking. It was something about the wind, the dark sky, and the colliding temperatures.

But it wasn't my memory I was experiencing tonight. While I've been to Miami a number of times, I've never walked that beach alone in the middle of the night. And it occurred to me that perhaps I had stolen someone else's memory.

I reached the sand. I chose not to go all the way to the water. I turned around and walked home, still dragging my disgruntled little white dog. But my skin felt alive, crawling with energy and excitement.

I'm pushing stacks and piles of books around when I get home. I'd forgotten I owned a Margaret Fuller book. I flipped through the book until I found "Leila," and then turned away. I once gave a talk on "Leila" in Philadelphia, attempting to bring Fuller into dialogue with Blanchot and Levinas, the ones I really wanted to talk about. And then I saw Rilke--my favorite copy with the German and English translation side-by-side. I read "Blind Man":

Watch him make lacunae in the town,
Which his wandering presence makes unseen,
Like a crack of blackness wavering down
Through a shining cup. As on a screen,

World reflected paints itself on him,
But is not admitted to his core.
Sensing only stirs as from a slim
Catch of world in ripples on his shore:

Now a light resistance, now a calm--
Then he pauses (seeming to decide
On some choice) and raptly lifts his arm,
Almost festivelyk, as to his bride.

The word "lacunae" caught my eye, of course. Here we have a blind man creating (or illuminating?) gaps in the space in which he wanders. He's taking something right out of the air, breathing it in and leaving lacunae in its wake. He's stealing memories, I thought to myself, and leaving the town unseen. And yet, he is blind. We should all be so fortunate.

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