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In with the good, out with the bad. But it’s not air of which the teacher speaks. Something more valuable. Essence. Out with ignorance, in with wisdom. Knowledge of the self means knowledge of things hidden in plain sight. When you can see what’s in front of you these hidden things will be revealed. Because when you let out what is in you, that is creative. Held inside (which does not mean withhold from say another person but from existence) these uncreated forms living in darkness will consume you like the fires of hell. Speaks a lot about consuming, and fire. Equating fire with bodily lusts, whether for food or sex or material possessions. That is the hell that will destroy you. Ignorance of that causes madness — you can see that our world is becoming more and more mad, driving more and more ignorant souls mad, because it is a push in the wrong direction.

The aspirant must work in solitude, because only then comes the ability to know yourself. Without distraction. Without guidance, except that which answers the bell of the mind. Word the teacher used was gnosis, but which seems mistranslated merely as knowledge, because some knowledge is empty learning, whose purpose is empty because not aimed correctly. Hamartia the Hebrew word for sin — derived from archery: missing the mark. Who sets the mark? The archer. The two words which interest us most are therefore gnosis and logos. Gnosis better translated as insight or vision, and logos as proclaimed by the teacher (who reserves the term for himself, and thus represents the highest form of being): truth.

To uncover, to disclose, to reveal: apocalypse. When I shed my clothes I am an apocalypt. Every moment has that potential, of showing something hidden. Every person carries his apocalypse within, every person his logos. These are neither subject to nor subjective of, but connected strands of the same unity. Who can through hard work of the spirit achieve true insight will be greatly troubled, and astonished, tells the teacher, but will never die. Much confusion over the use of that word: death. In some accounts does not exist, in others a condition of ignorance to which most are condemned. Talks a great deal about light, as representative of the true condition of anthropos. We are the sons of the Anthropos. Or of the source of the source of the source, higher than any source.

His usage of light distinguishes between even the light of the sun, which is an artificial light, because made by the maker. And the maker himself made, in some versions, by those he made. Did we create the sun or did the sun create us? Or did something else create both, or have we always existed, but in different, possibly less cumbrous, form and content? Or — do we exist in different form even now but lack the means to see? Willful ignorance, everything returns to that. If you do not know the manner of your coming you cannot know how to go.

Painting: Paul Nash, Totes Mere


“[I] laugh at the vanities and the fopperies of the time, to see men so empty of virtuous actions, to hunt so far after gold, having no end of ambition; to take such infinite pains for a little glory, and to be favoured of men…. Some to desire to be obeyed in many provinces, and yet themselves will know no obedience. Some to love their wives dearly at first, and after a while to forsake and hate them; begetting children, with much care and cost for their education, yet when they grow to man’s estate, to to despise, neglect, and leave them to the world’s mercy. Do these behaviors not express their intolerable folly? When men live in peace, they covet war, detesting quietness, deposing kings, and advancing others in their stead, murdering some men in order to beget children of their wives. How many strange humours are in men! When they are poor and needy, they seek riches, and when they have them, they do not enjoy them, but hide them underground, or else wastefully spend them… I laugh at such things being done, but much more when no good comes of them, and when they are done to so ill purpose. There is no truth or justice found amongst them, for they daily plead one against another… and all this for riches, whereof after death they cannot be possessors…. Others affect difficult things; if they dwell on firm land they will remove to an island, and thence to land again, being no way constant to their desires… It were enough to make them wise, if they would but consider the mutability of this world, and how it wheels about, nothing being firm and sure.”

Democritus (ca. 460 BCE – ca. 370 BCE) as quoted in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)

Screen cap from Le Samouraï (1967) by Jean-Pierre Melville

Theme music: “Car Wash”

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A resident of England for much of his adult life, a professor of European Literature at the University of East Anglia, Sebald was obviously fluent enough, 35 years after arriving in his adopted homeland, to write in English had he wished. His stated reason for not doing so, in an interview given (in English, to the British newspaper The Guardian) mere weeks before his death, at 57, in a car crash, was that “…I become self-conscious about having a funny accent. Unlike Conrad or Nabokov, I didn’t have circumstances which would have coerced me out of my native tongue altogether. But the time may come when my German resources begin to shrink. It is a sore point, because you do have advantages if you have access to more than one language. You also have problems, because on bad days you don’t trust yourself, either in your first or your second language, and so you feel like a complete halfwit.”

That time, of course, never arrived. He did, however, work closely with Michael Hulse and Anthea Bell, translators of his major works into English, and I often have to remind myself that these books were not originally written in English, such is their remarkably limpid prose. Much has been said, or written, about Sebald’s (full name —Winfried Georg Maximilian Sebald, and apparently familiarly known as Max) preoccupation with memory, and rightly so, as memory was a major theme throughout his novels; but that’s not much better than saying about a writer that his preoccupation with writing is a major theme of his writing. Writing is by its nature an investigation of memory, and time, and death, and the infinite assortment of tangents associated with both personal and universal memory (which is to say history).

It is certainly a tragedy that he died so young, after having written and published four remarkable novels, which taken in sum, with their hybrid of fact and fiction, interspersed with enigmatic unlabeled photographs, drawings, and maps, seemed to this reader a radical reinvention of the novel form. Of course, every writer of talent radically reinvents the novel form, but Sebald’s innovations, for whatever reason, resonated with peculiar strength in me.

I was greatly looking forward to whatever Sebald, clearly at the height of his powers with the sublime Austerlitz, would turn his hand to next. I had devoured his three previous novels as well, and though his literary reputation had been steadily growing throughout the late 90s, I was nevertheless surprised and pleased to pass by a local bookstore in mid-December 2001 and find a front-window display of all his books. “At last!” was my first thought. “People are discovering him.” Then a second, more morbid thought, occurred to me, and I bought a newspaper, where my fears were confirmed: on December 14, 2001, Sebald had had a heart attack while driving and crashed somewhere near his permanent exile in Norfolk.

“I find that frightful – the incapacity to know what’s round the corner,” Sebald said in the interview referenced above, the last one he would ever give. For a writer whose use of irony seems inextricable from his concept of humanity, that confession is almost too perfect.

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Inspired by the example of my betters, here’s a short film I made in France. It was shot at the Château D’hérouville, about an hour outside of Paris, which was once a famous recording studio – the “Honky Chateau” of Elton John fame – but is now overgrown and mostly a ruin. I intended at first just to shoot some test footage of the location. But the test was meant to be in HD, and the HD cable on my rented camera broke, so I had go old school SD video. Looking at the footage later, I decided to construct a false narrative and write some dialogue. Which you can’t hear very well, which is intentional, but for which I apologize nonetheless. On the upside, it’s pretty short.

I provide subtitles for those who do not speak French. Unfortunately, those subtitles are also in French. Fortunately, (most of) the text is simply a French version of the Wikipedia page to which I linked above. The English text is a different matter. I take full responsibility for that.

The name of the film comes from when I was driving back with Constance Cardon, the non-actress actress featured here, and she was talking in her adorable deep gravelly voice to her boyfriend, who was asking her about the shoot. She told him that essentially she was playing the role of “la femme qui n’était rien,” which can be translated as “the woman who wasn’t there.” I thought that was a great title for something, and eventually, why not, for this.

One small note: it doesn’t really matter, but Constance’s accent renders the line “I think I may be a robot” into “I think I may be a rabbit,” at least to my ears. Just FYI.

I wrote this story long before the movie franchise of the same title appeared. I’m not saying the movie people stole the idea from me, even though I’m pretty sure I invented hangovers, but if Zach Galliafinakopolisopoulous wants to kick a couple of euros my way for, you know, “thanks, man” or whatever, I would not complain.

In fact, I wrote this story a long, long time ago, when I (briefly) attended college in Charlottesville, Virginia, a town and a state I had never visited before enrolling there, and which I have not visited since dropping out, which was either the best decision I’ve ever made or the worst, or both, or neither.

The story when I first wrote it was close to 15,000 words. In its current form it is less than 900. People should not subject other people to their prolix juvenilia, is my point.

Though the conceit of the story suggests that it takes place during the time it takes to listen to both sides of R.E.M.’s Murmur, I do not advise taking that conceit as veridical, though if someone wants to test the proposition, please do not let me stop you.

Two further notes: 1) this story originally appeared in the fine literary/music journal Yeti (issue 6), which can be found here; 2) the character Violet McKnight, keen-eyed observers may note, has the same name as the character Violet McKnight in my most recent novel The Failure. The two girls are not related and in fact remain unaware of each other’s existence. I’d prefer to keep it that way, if it’s okay with you. Thanks.

The Hangover


 1. Calling out in transit (4:05)

Sam Anonymous had a drinking problem.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Brown vinyl of the sofa peeled with sticking sound from humid flesh of back and legs as he sat up. Pattern of raised swirls on the vinyl were reproduced on skin: corresponding incarnadine impressions.

2. Your hate: clipped and distant (4:30)

Low whistle of kettle rose in pitch and volume to climax in piercing shriek that unmoored the murmur of Sam’s thoughts. From tin of instant coffee he spooned quantity of dark powder. Hands shook slightly as he struggled to fill the cup with sour-smelling coffee. Scratched idly at the corner of one sleep-swollen eye: steadied himself against the counter. A ribbon of water lined the front edge of sink where he had sloppily rinsed the mug. When he pressed against the counter water seeped into the waistband of his boxers.

3. Martyred: misconstrued (3:58)

Her name was Violet McKnight. Five foot two in bare feet. Short hair dyed unnatural red swept back from lunar face: cranberry strands fell in her eyes when she made an emphatic gesture. Nose small, well-formed, eyes the color of root beer, narrowed to skeptical slits when challenged.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Spitting toothpaste into sink Sam noticed with equanimity that the spent paste was streaked with blood from his gums.

4. Not everyone can carry the weight of the world (3:24)

He was twenty-nine years old. In February he would be thirty.

5. Inside the moral kiosk (3:32)

A wave of nausea broke and receded. Sam hunched forward on the couch. Palpating his cheeks: annoyed by growth of stubble. Counting backwards could only manage four days before the fog of elapsed time refused to lift.

6. Shoulders high in the room (3:30)

Weaving unsteadily down the street, he saw her outlined against the black glass of her bedroom window, body limned by a nimbus of yellow streetlight.


1. Did we miss anything? (3:55)

Sam yawned, stretched his arms, stood and heavily walked across the room to turn over record. Returning to couch: revisited by a coil of his earlier nausea unwinding in his gut and feathering upwards through his chest. Unsnapped the cap from a plastic bottle on the table next to alarm clock, shook two aspirin into his hand, placed them with thumb and forefinger carefully in back of mouth, and swallowed with effortful gulp.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

What use is experience without memory?

2. We could gather: throw a fit (3:18)

One thing at a time: watching Violet bend towards him by light of a guttering candle.

3. All nine yards (3:05)

Scratched his hair in imitation of thought. Hoisted himself off the couch and began sorting through pile of clothes on ugly square of brown-and-white carpet.

Love is a crazy and unkempt thing that grows like a wild weed in the heart. It will suffer the cruelest attempts at eradication with quiet strength, and will take root and prosper in even the stoniest soil. True love, like true art, admits no moral influence. Had he read that or was it original?

4. Shaking through: opportune (4:30)

In frustration he ripped the front buttons and stripped off the shirt: left hand got tangled in the cuff: which he had abstractly buttoned moments earlier: and pull as he would: flap as he might: the shirt refused to let go. Sat down on the couch: head in hands, the tattered shirt trailing to the floor like captured flag of some defeated army.

5. Up the stairs to the landing (3:01)

World adheres to stringent rules of form and content: these rules, Sam knew from prolonged contact with books, were not frangible. Just as a story must have beginning, middle, end, so a soul must have one body to inhabit. Proliferation of the soul’s forms would mean rewriting rules of human contact.

6. Long gone (3:17)

The wind picked up and there was a smell of rain. Sam buttoned his overcoat with reddened fingers. The tips of a succession of telephone poles flecked the sky on the far side of the broad avenue: up one of these scrambled two squirrels.

Dark tracery of oak limbs: russet and orange and mustardy leaves: cold rain-scented air: combined to form an impression of remote beauty that reinforced and focused his sense of longing.

Continued past a brick house, windows ardent with citrine light. Fragrant gray smoke curled from its chimney: leaves of a silver poplar fluttered in the wind, undersides flashing white like a flock of luminous moths: from thick tangle of azalea bushes came sounds of a small animal scrabbling for food or shelter.

Fine rain needled his face but he did not mind the wet because in his heart he carried a word —finally! — that was the word he needed. He held the word before him like a lighted candle to ward off the rain, and the cold, and the black despair of night as he walked towards Violet’s house.

Recently, rooting through my garage, I came across an old Polaroid JoyCam which must have been given to me sometime in the early- to mid-90s. I also found several cartridges of very old and poorly stored Polaroid film. So I figured I’d see what would happen if I tried to use the old camera with the old film. Here are some of the results:

“Photography is unclassifiable because there is no reason to mark  this or that of its occurrences; it aspires, perhaps, to become as crude, as certain, as noble as a sign…. Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.”

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Sometime last winter while I was driving at 140 km/ hour from Point A to Point B there occurred a sunset I couldn’t resist, and I took a silly risk to shoot these pictures.

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When I was young we used to call this a mackerel sky. Maybe we still do. I don’t know, I’m not young anymore.