Cioran’s Insomnia

How did your severe insomnia affect this attitude at the time?
 
It was really the profound cause of my break with philosophy.  I realized that in moments of great despair philosophy is no help at all, that it holds absolutely no answers.  And so I turned to poetry and literature, where I found no answers either, but states that were analogous to my own.  I can say that the white nights, the sleepless nights, brought about the break with my idolatry of philosophy.
 
When did these sleepless nights begin?
 
They began in my youth, at about nineteen.  It wasn’t simply a medical problem, it was deeper than that.  It was the fundamental period of my life, the most serious experience.  All the rest is secondary.  Those sleepless nights opened my eyes, everything changed for me because of that.
 
Do you suffer it still?
 
A lot less.  But that was a precise period, about six or seven years, where my whole perspective on the world changed.  I think it’s a very important problem.  It happens like this:  normally someone who goes to bed and sleeps all night, the next day he begins a new life almost.  It’s not simply another day, it’s another life.  And so, he can undertake things, he can express himself, he has a present, a future, and so on.  But for someone who doesn’t sleep, from the time of going to bed at night to waking up in the morning it’s all continuous, there’s no interruption.  Which means, there is no suppression of consciousness.  It all turns around that.  So, instead of starting a new life, at eight in the morning you’re like you were at eight the evening before.  The nightmare continues uninterrupted in a way, and in the morning, start what?  Since there’s no difference from the night before. That new life doesn’t exist.  The whole day is a trial, it’s the continuity of the trial.  While everyone rushes toward the future, you are outside.  So, when that’s stretched out for months and years, it causes the sense of things, the conception of life, to be forcibly changed.  You don’t see what future to look forward to, because you don’t have any future.  And I really consider that the most terrible, most unsettling, in short the principal experience of my life.  There’s also the fact that you are alone with yourself.  In the middle of the night, everyone’s asleep, you are the only one who is awake.  Right away I’m not a part of mankind, I live in another world.  And it requires an extraordinary will to not succumb.
 
Succumb to what, madness?
 
Yes.  To the temptation of suicide.  In my opinion, almost all suicides, about ninety percent say, are due to insomnia.  I can’t prove that, but I’m convinced.

From Jason Weiss’s 1983 interview with Emil Cioran, which is now available in full at his website, Itineraries of a Hummingbird. The interview was originally published in Weiss’s book, Writing at Risk, which is now out of print.

Werner Herzog’s Utopian Film Academy

Tell me about your ideal film school.

This is something we can talk about later when we discuss Film Lesson, the programmes I made for Austrian television, but let me say here that there are some very basic skills that any filmmaker must have. First of all, learn languages. One also needs to be able to type and to drive a car. It is like the knights of old who had to be able to ride, wield a sword and play the lute. At my Utopian film academy I would have students do athletic things with real physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every evening from 8 to 10 with a boxing instructor: sparring, somersaults (backwards and forwards), juggling, magic card tricks. Whether or not you would be a filmmaker by the end I do not know, but at least you would come out as an athlete. My film school would allow young people who want to make films to experience a certain climate of excitement of the mind. This is what ultimately creates films and nothing else. It is not technicians that film schools should be producing, but people with a real agitation of mind. People with spirit, with a burning flame within them.

From Herzog on Herzog.

Does Werner Herzog subscribe to the belief that his films are art?

So you certainly don’t subscribe to the belief that your films are in any way ‘art films’?

Absolutely not, they are no such thing. I dislike intensely even the concept of artists in this day and age. The last King of Egypt, King Farouk, completely obese in exile, wolfing one lamb leg after another, said something very beautiful: ‘There are no kings left in the world any more, only the King of Hearts, the King of Diamonds, the King of Spades, and the King of Clubs.’ The whole concept of being an artist is also somehow outdated today. There is only one place left where you find artists: the circus. There you can find the trapeze artists, the jugglers, even the hunger artist. Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of the mind; cinema comes from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism. I truly feel that in the world of the painter or novelist or film director there are no artists. This is a concept that belongs to earlier centuries, where there was such a thing as virtue and pistol duels at dawn with men in love, and damsels fainting on couches.

Michelangelo, Caspar David Friedrich and Hercules Segers: these men are artists. ‘Art’ is a legitimate concept in their respective eras. They are like the emperors and kings who remain the crucial figures in the history of humankind and whose influence is felt even today, something that certainly cannot be said of monarchies today. I am speaking not about the death of the artist; I just feel that creativity is perceived with something of an outdated and antiquated perspective. That is why I detest the word ‘genius’. It too is a word that belongs to an earlier time and not to our own era. It is a sick concept nowadays, and this is why with utmost caution did I once call Kinski a ‘genius’. My use of the word comes close to my feelings about the man, but the expression itself and the concept behind it is something that heralds from the late eighteenth century and just does not fit comfortably today.

From Herzog on Herzog.

Happiness is a strange notion (Werner Herzog)

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For me, the word “writing” is the exact opposite of the word “waiting” (Roberto Bolaño)

The truth is, I don’t believe all that much in writing. Starting with my own. Being a writer is pleasant—no, pleasant isn’t the word—it’s an activity that has its share of amusing moments, but I know of other things that are even more amusing, amusing in the same way that literature is for me. Holding up banks, for example. Or directing movies. Or being a gigolo. Or being a child again and playing on a more or less apocalyptic soccer team. Unfortunately, the child grows up, the bank robber is killed, the director runs out of money, the gigolo gets sick and then there’s no other choice but to write. For me, the word “writing” is the exact opposite of the word “waiting.” Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong—it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise. But, as I said, I’m probably wrong.

Roberto Bolaño, in a 2001 email interview with Carmen Boullosa. First published in Bomb and then collected in Melville House’s The Last Interview.

 

David Lynch Interview from 1979

“We Need Cruel Comedy” | A Lars Iyer Interview

I first interviewed Lars Iyer in 2011, after the publication of his novel Spurious, the beginning of a trilogy that concluded with Exodus (my favorite of the three). I asked Lars to talk with me about his trilogy for an email interview, and we ended up discussing failure, comedy, optimism, academia, American writing, Britain in the mid-eighties, and his forthcoming novel Wittgenstein Jr.

You can get Lars Iyer’s trilogy from publisher Melville House, check out his blog, and find him on Twitter.

Biblioklept: Why a trilogy? Was that by design? Is it a trilogy?

Lars Iyer: Spurious was only a beginning. I wanted to historicise my characters, to present their friendship as part of a larger social, economic and political context. Otherwise, I risked merely contributing belatedly to the literature of the absurd.

Biblioklept: I want to talk about the end of Exodus but that seems like bad form for an interview. Spoilers, etc. Can you comment on where you leave your protagonists, or how you leave them, or why you leave them?

LI: I leave my protagonists roughly where they were at the beginning of the trilogy: rudderless, rather lost, full of a sense of their failure, but with their friendship, such as it is, intact. ‘No hugs, no lessons’: my characters haven’t learned anything…

larsBiblioklept: Why can’t they learn? Why the repetition? Why not a heroic arc? Why not a saving grace?

LI: Perhaps because learning implies a kind of resolution that I think is inappropriate for the characters. Kundera says something apposite about Don Quixote. Cervantes makes his would-be knight-errant set off in search of battles, ready to sacrifice his life for a noble cause, ‘but tragedy doesn’t want him’. Kundera goes on:

since its birth, the novel is suspicious of tragedy: of its cult of grandeur; of its theatrical origins; of its blindness to the prose of life. Poor Alonzo Quijada. In the vicinity of his mournful countenance, everything turns into comedy.

So it is with my trilogy. No tragedy! No heroism! No tragic catharsis, that would see the tragic hero being dragged back into line. And no comic catharsis either, in which the older norms of a traditional societal system are reaffirmed. So much comedy is self-congratulatory, self-reassuring: the humour of good cheer, of port and cigars. It shores up things as they are. This is why I can never bear to watch comedy on television. It’s so rare to see comedians turn the joke on themselves. We need cruel comedy. Black comedy, which laughs at itself laughing…

Why the use of repetition in my novels? Because I want to portray the breakdown of things as they are, not once, but again and again. Failure, without amelioration. Serio-comic breakdown, without restitution. Anomie. Helplessness. Crushed hope. How else to acknowledge the prose of our lives?

Much of the humour of Don Quixote, depends on the contrast between lofty ideals and the concrete, everyday, corporeal life. The humour of my trilogy is analogous – but, of course, our everyday is utterly changed! A generalised precarity, un- and under-employment, free-floating anxiety, consumerism, the emphasis on self-representation, the sense that history is over, that politics is all played out, that financial and climatic catastrophe loom…

The tragedy of everyday life is that it’s not even tragic. It never reaches the lofty heights of tragic grandeur. Well, nor do my characters. When W. is at his most wretched, he cannot even die – that’s the end of Dogma. When W. is at his most revolutionary, participating in his own version of the Occupy movement, as at the end of Exodus … well, I won’t spoil the story, but it won’t surprise readers of previous books in the trilogy that there is neither a heroic arc nor a saving grace. Read More

“One feels happiness each day, you’re happy to be alive and not dead already” (Thomas Bernhard)

 One feels happiness each day, you’re happy to be alive and not dead already. That’s a great capital.
From the person who died, I know that you love life to the very last moment. Basically, everyone loves to live. Life cannot be so terrible that you don’t keep on with it after all. The motivation is curiosity. You want to know: what will come next? It is more interesting to know what will come tomorrow then what is here today. When the body is ill the brain develops astonishingly well.

I prefer to know everything. And I always try to rob people and get everything that is in them out of them. As long as you can do so without the others recognizing it. When people discover that you want to rob them they shut their doors. Like the doors are shut when someone suspect comes near. But if nothing else is possible you can also break in. Everyone has some cellar window open. That also can be quite appealing.

From a 1986 interview with Thomas Bernhard.

Gertrude Stein on Football

In a 1934 radio interview, Gertrude Stein talks American football:

INTERVIEWER: You saw the Yale-Dartmouth game a week ago Saturday didn’t you? Did you understand that in the American way or the football way or how?

STEIN: IN the American way. The thing that interested me was that the Modern American in his movements and his actions in a football game so resembled the red Indian dance and it proves that the physical country that made the one made the other and that the red Indian is still with us. They just put their heads down solemnly together and then double over, while on the sidelines the substitutes move in a jiggly way just like Indians. Then they all get down on all fours just like Indians.

INTERVIEWER: But those jiggles are just warming-up exercises.

STEIN: It doesn’t make any difference what they are doing it for, they are just doing it, like the way the Indian jiggles in the Indian dance and then there is that little brown ball they all bend down and worship.

INTERVIEWER: But the ideas in that is to get the ball across the goal line.

STEIN: But don’t you suppose I know that, and don’t you suppose the Indians had just as much reason and enjoyed their dancing just as much?