No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.— James Joyce, Ulysses
He thought if he wandered long enough, he’d get good and lost. He’d get so hopelessly lost that he’d be forced into some part of himself that he’d never known before. Some part he’d be forced to meet up with. The proposition thrilled and terrified him. It was the mind that wouldn’t cooperate. He couldn’t control the picturings. There was no rhyme or reason to their appearance. He watched them pop up in his head as though he were sitting in a Wednesday matinee from long ago, with no one else in the theater. He saw John Wayne wearing a buffalo coat. President Bush in a baseball cap, with a tie on. Bombs falling on Baghdad. Bombs seen from high above as though he were looking straight down through the hatch. The fat, self-satisfied face of General Schwarzkopf. A boy swinging a sledgehammer at the Berlin Wall and not making a dent. Pictures of news. Pictures of faces making news. Pictures of crows and hawks. A dead rabbit’s head. Then Madilia. Her eyes. Her violent, magnificent eyes.— Sam Shepard, “Dust”
Everyone knows. The world knows. It knows. But they’ll never know, they’ll never know, they’re in a different world. I adore you. I’m madly in love with you. I can’t believe that what anyone is at this moment saying has ever happened has ever happened. Nothing has ever happened. Nothing. This is the only thing that has ever happened. Your eyes kill me. I’m lost. You’re wonderful.— Harold Pinter, Betrayal
If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,
Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost
Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.
He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;
As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.
It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.
It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.
If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,
A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.— Wallace Stevens, “Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit”
No, it won’t do, my sweet theologians.
Desire will not save the morality of God.
If he created beings able to choose between good and evil,
And they chose, and the world lies in iniquity,
Nevertheless, there is pain, and the undeserved torture of creatures,
Which would find its explanation only by assuming
The existence of an archetypal Paradise
And a pre-human downfall so grave
That the world of matter received its shape from diabolic power.— Czeslaw Milosz, “Theodicy”
… it’s a bit difficult to take an objective view of myself. But I’m aware that I do possess two things. One is that I’m quite violent, myself. I have violent feelings and… I feel quite strongly about things. On the other hand, however, I’m quite reticent. You have to look very carefully at your motives if you become a public figure. The danger is that you become an exhibitionist, self-important, pompous. Politicians fall into this all the time, of course. Before you know where you are you’re having make-up put on, your eyelashes are being tinted.—
Harold Pinter, ”A Play and its Politics”
[Interview with Nicholas Hern, Feb. 1985]
To come back like autumn
to the moss on the stones
after many seasons
to recur as a face
backlit on the surface
of a dark pool one day
after the year has turned
from the summer it saw
while the first yellow leaves
stare from their forgetting
and the branches grow spare
is to waken backward
down through the still water
knowing without touching
all that was ever there
and has been forgotten
and recognize without
name or understanding
without believing or
holding or direction
in the way that we see
at each moment the air— W.S. Merwin, “Under the Day”
Like countless others in the digital age, I seem
To have written a memoir on my new computer.
It had no memories—anyone’s would have done,
And mine, I hoped, were as good as anyone’s.
This playmate was programmed for my ‘personal’ needs
(A bit too intricately, it would transpire),
But all was advancing at the smooth pace of dream
Until that morning when a faint mechanical shriek
Took me aback. As I watched, the paragraph
Then under way deconstructed itself into
Mathematical symbols, musical notation—
Ophelia’s mad scene in a Czech production
Fifty years hence. The patient left on a gurney,
Returned with a new chip, the following week.
Another year or two, the memoir done
And in the publishers’ hands, the pressure’s off.
But when I next switch it on, whatever Descartes meant
By the ghost in the machine—oh damn!—gives itself up:
Experts declare BRAIN DEATH. (The contriver of my program
Having lately developed a multiple personality,
My calls for help kept reaching the wrong one.)
Had it caught some ‘computer virus’? For months now a post-
Partum depression holds me prisoner:
Days spent prone, staring at the ceiling,
Or with an arm flung over my eyes. Then sleepless nights
In which surely not my fingertips upon the mattress
Count out Bach, Offenbach, Sousa, trying to fit
Into groups of five or ten their metronomanic host.
Or was the poor thing taking upon itself a doom
Headed my way? Having by now a self of sorts,
Was it capable of a selfless act
As I might just still be, for someone I loved?
Not that a machine is capable of anything but
A selfless act… We faced each other wordlessly,
Two blank minds, two screens aglow with gloom.
Or perhaps this alter ego’d been under ‘contract’—Yep,
You know too much, wise guy… Feet in cement,
A sendoff choreographed by the Mob.
But who the Mob is, will I ever know?
—Short of the trillionfold synaptic flow
Surrounding, making every circumstance
Sparkle like mica with my every step
Into—can that be sunlight? Ah, it shines
On women in furs, or dreadlock heads on knees
(Hand-lettered placards: BROKE. ILL. HELP ME PLEASE),
This prisoner expelled to the Free World,
His dossier shredded. Now for new memories,
New needs. And while we’re at it a novice laptop
On which already he’s composed these lines.— James Merrill, “Scrapping the Computer”
Say life is the one-way trip, the one-way flight,
say this without hysterical undertones—
then you could say you stood in the cold light of science,
seeing as you are seen, espoused to fact.
Strange, life is both the fire and fuel; and we,
the animals and objects, must be here
without striking a spark of evidence
that anything that ever stopped living
ever falls back to living when life stops.
There’s a pale romance to the watchmaker God
of Descartes and Paley; He drafted and installed
us in the Apparatus. He loved to tinker;
but having perfected what He had to do,
stood off shrouded in his loneliness.— Robert Lowell, “Watchmaker God”
I am doing my best, and failing again, yet again. I don’t mind failing, it’s a pleasure, but I want to go silent. Not as just now, the better to listen, but peacefully, victorious, without ulterior object. Then it would be a life worth having, a life at last. My speech-parched voice at rest would fill with spittle, I’d let it flow over and over, happy at last, dribbling with life, my pensum ended, in the silence.— Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable