Named Tomorrow

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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

from Roubaud’s “The Great Fire of London”

§136 Something that would be a project (a future), a project for existence

In a project for existence— it doesn’t matter which— only a single, pragmatic answer exists to the overall “what’s-the-point?”: time passes.  Every project, particularly a formal project of writing, like mine today, which has outlived all its value (I ascribed the Project value, thus opposing it to the what’s-the-point), takes up time, structures it, erases its empty pockets.  Each hour determines another, pushes it along, consumes and nullifies it.

If I myself seek (and I don’t, really) some sort of organized answer to the overall what’s-the-point today, I only come up with skepticism; I declare myself a skeptic in the classical style of Sextus Empiricus; I seek an ataractic calm in reading and “suspended judgement.”

From a philosophical point of view, my skepticism is essentialy shallow; I don’t seek the philosophical possibility of living skeptically, but simply (a lid on the kettle of appalling thoughts) some kind of protection for an affirmation: belief in nothing so as to not have death be my only belief.

This is a voluntarist attitude, whose corollary is a strategy for life that I’ve practice spontaneously, unreflectively, and unsystematically for a long while; I’ll dub it avoidism.  I avoid time by means of tasks—counting; describing, and searching for sonnets in libraries; this work at hand, pushing along and then recopying these black lines.  I avoid the world and its remains: I don’t answer letters, nor the telephone; I walk, I keep to myself, I keep my activity to a minimum.

It is true that in all this I am neither really “consistent” nor absolute.  Perhaps such is not possible without rapidly falling into the conclusions of a total what’s-the-point, but along another path, through a sort of death by starvation.  But precisely in this probable inconsistency (I don’t really subject it to questioning) lies the possibility for my current skeptical existence.  I practice a modest skepticism; I don’t allow myself to be dragged into the pitfall of passionately denying my contradictions.

This “avoidist” version of skepticism (which I acknowledge can only prompt an irritated shrug from a philosopher…), my own version of skepticism is, finally, rather close to what Coleridge recommended to fiction readers in his famous expression: “willing suspension of disbelief.”  I find this position eminently skeptical: entering into the novel (and more generally, placing yourself before the poem, the work of art) in such a frame of mind means (and the use of the word suspension, as in the skeptic principle of “suspension of judgment,” seems characteristic) living out my reading in the same exact terms as I live my daily life: by willingly suspending my belief, by deciding momentarily, and for a limited time, to believe in nothing at all.  The skeptical world is a world of the incredible that can be entered only in brief fragments odf demarcated time, in which the impossibility of accepting that things and worlds exist will be suspended between parentheses.  And the world of a novel is penetrated similarly; the world of the great novels imposes its force of conviction, not in its capacity as an exact replica or the revelation of a world that might be our own, but because by immersing ourselves withini t we gradualy yield our consent to the fact—though with an inner conviction that we remain masters of this choice—that every life is on the whole improbable.

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Filed under: Quotes, Roubaud

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