Futility and its remedies


Trying to write an equestrian article for Sports Illustrated, Kurt Vonnegut stared at the blank page all day before typing, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence.” He then left the offices of the magazine and never came back.

“For years I was tormented by the thought” Kafka wrote in an undelivered letter, “that this giant man, my father, could almost without reason come to me in the night, and lift me out of bed, and leave me on the balcony.” Kafka believed his domineering father saw him as nothing, vermin, a worthless insect. Rather than dispute this view, the writer instead took on the identity of one Gregor Samsa and then took to his bed.

Occasionally, when he received visitors, Samuel Beckett would take great care not to turn the lights on in his Parisian apartment. As the sun set and night began to fill the room, Beckett, a remarkably polite and otherwise kind man, would say nothing until his guests took the hint and left him alone, sitting in the dark.

Denied coffee by his Bastille jailers, the Marquis de Sade went to the window and shouted that they were slitting the throats of the prisoners inside. A mob began to gather. The French Revolution followed shortly thereafter.

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8 Responses to Futility and its remedies

  1. Jeff says:

    Quality stuff! The De Sade story is rather exaggerated though. The revolution was rooted in deep social divisions, punitive taxation (salt being one of the most contentious), and according to revisionist historians, the revolution was fanned more by bourgeois ambition than an ascendant 3rd estate. As for the Bastille itself, there were plans to convert its usage (for e.g. Brogniard’s), and only 7 prisoners were liberated when it was stormed. Maybe the symbolism and the desire for Romantic heroism is what’s more significant than accuracy in literary anecdotes? I wonder if there’s a work that examines the veracity of them? There was one written about Kafka wasn’t there? Not a great work, but an attempt to demolish the mythology. The ruin of good stories though!

    • aw I’ve no doubt the De Sade story, or at least the timing and sequence of events is fictitious (though his very real involvement in the Revolution is interesting) and the others have been exaggerated no doubt but I take Behan’s line about “never letting the truth get in the way of a good story” as a given. it’s more fun. in another sense, the fact that someone made the stories up and why is much more interesting than did it really happen. almost as if certain stories, certain explanations want to be told. plus when you delve into memory and perception of events, what objectively happened starts to become much less objective the more you investigate and the more witnesses you consult. I’m starting to think that memory and the past is partially a form of fiction. as an example, I used to think my earliest memory was walking along a wall next to a fire station in my hometown until I discovered a photo of me at the same age walking along a wall next to the fire station. the memory wasn’t of the event but of the photograph, which I had forgotten existed. a friend of mine did a similar thing, he started recounting a story along the lines of “remember when we…” and I realised he had included himself in an event that he hadn’t actually been involved in. but the distance in time and the different recountings of it down the years had convinced him he was there. he probably has what he thinks is a genuine memory of it. perhaps De Sade did too or perhaps it was a convenient story for those bewildered by the economic and social factors for the revolution. or perhaps it happened and was just a coincidence like Franz Ferdinands driver taking a wrong turning down a side-street and passing Princip as he ate a sandwich, gun in pocket. sometimes all the underlying factors are there but the powderkeg needs a spark and an accident can do it.

      • Great point with the photo. Engaging that experience vs. photo mnemonic challenge is a more than valuable pastime, with plenty of room for fiction and forgetting to work their deep magics!

  2. joseph ridgwell says:

    Reblogged this on JOSEPH RIDGWELL and commented:
    Pity the poor hack

  3. Jeff says:

    Oh yes, for sure, bellowing and goading a crowd by using the plumbing as a loudhaler is inventive. De Sade’s art seems appropriate to the ontological sensitivity that would come up with such a wheeze. And the memory of him has the twin benefit of being a celebrity / minor aristocratic anecdote, as well as a joyous recollection of painful events: the suffering of the 3rd estate only heightened with the terror and then the Napoleonic wars.
    The danger with de Sade and other literary figures is that their stories, interesting though these undoubtedly are, can obscure rather than represent the reality of their time by becoming its representatives. It’s easy to forget the great careers these people had. Most canonical authors benefitted from privilege. There’s an aura of suffering they accreted over time that could have come from the trials concomitant with their time, or has simply been overlaid, like a veneer, by followers who prefer to airbrush out the fact that the voices of the time that would have had the most to say didn’t have the opportunity for reasons beyond their control.
    Not that those who had and used privilege should be airbrushed out either. Someone had to record history. And like your recollection of the fire station, the fictional version of memory can be an art of recollection by distortion that most encapsulates and compels! Despite the above, I can’t help but laugh at the Vonnegut tale!
    In regard of memory, you might be interested in reading Zoltán Aszód’s blog at:

  4. Cleo says:

    This is a great read!

  5. manga.daca says:

    Reblogged this on Marković Darinka.

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