The 10% Solution

 Posted by at 8:30 pm  Atelier
Nov 232011

I am exploring the efficacy of solvents, searching for one that is neither so strong that it is destructively corrosive, nor too weak that it is ineffective, but somewhere in between: the 10% solution seems about right.

Melancholic thoughts were spilling over from the previous few days in a pervasive way. Of death, and indeed especially of the moments before death, and “death anxiety” (as it is sometimes referred), mucoid and sticky thoughts arose in the form of questions, such as how will it be for me when the chips are down? Will I be paying attention? Or, perhaps better put, will I be there in any sense at all?

However, over last weekend with friends these impenetrable questions of future dying began to turn towards the living and the present, and to another question, but still equally sticky and slimy: How does it happen that, even when I am with those who I love and cherish more than any others in the world, I sometimes find myself giving them far less than my full attention, and where do I go then?

Being generally disinclined to beat myself up too badly with a perfectionist rod, I regard myself as being good-enough-present with my attention perhaps 90% of the time. Not bad you may think, but the personal horror is in the other 10%; those times when I can fall into a kind of desperation, often in the presence of an intense feeling such as love (or it could equally be grief, or even fear) that I yearn with a childlike passion to express… but I find myself 100% stuck somewhere else with my attention. In a word, absent. ‘Where do I go then?’.

Absent: the tenacity of being stuck somewhere else, in an experience of all pervading exile, both internal and external, personal and collective – (I happen to read the same just now in W G Sebald’s Campo Santo [2005] P 114, in his essay titled ‘Constructs of Mourning’, quoting Benjamin concerning “the darker aspect of the melancholy… its tenacity”) – that is an exile involving a judgment, both a sentence of guilt and a punishment of shame.

‘Where do I go then?’ indeed… The rest of the weekend opened up an exploration of this question, around the rim of this quaking heart space, and more than once I was reminded of the “active volcano” Vulcano, which I had walked up only six weeks before on one of the Mediterranean Aeolian Islands, vertigo instilling steep slopes bereft of any form of life, and foul smelling sulphurous hot smoke emitting from dark pits located within the lip of the crater, some of them close to the footpath which circled the rim, the sign at the bottom of the volcano warning against approaching any of the smoking pits too close because of the great danger of ‘intoxication’ and falling in.Intoxication Vulcano 2011 039

And more than once over the last weekend I also fell into dark pits exploring the question ‘Where do I go then?’, as I revisited the prominent traumas of my past and the tenacious judgments which had been passed upon me, on each occasion for a time falling into a kind of desperate ‘intoxication’.

“You are an eccentric!”, an Australian friend said to me at one moment during the weekend, as I spoke out, describing another circuit of my past life, speaking with him and another. I truly had not considered the possibility before.

Eccentric! That I had survived exile, and become a survivor of past judgments, in lighthearted excursus dissolving, since by this time we were all laughing loudly together.