Whiskey. I need a drink, badly.
What does it mean to know? To know is always to know something; to know something is to know something that before we hadn’t known. To say we know X is to effectively concede that we hadn’t known X before – a second ago, a month ago, a lifetime ago, but now we do. But now we do. It is therefore reasonable to infer that we have gained something in the knowing; and no, by gain I do not mean the humanist acquisition of some life-lesson, or moral credit that brings us a step closer to self-actualization. None of that fluff, none of that preachy optimism. By gain, I mean, and only mean, an epistemic increase – quantifiable, accountable; an empirical, or should I say, phenomenological increase, in the mind, of ideas and sensations. When we know Y, we may therefore say, brutally, that we now know Z + Y, where Z is the pre-existing quantity of knowledge prior to the increase. No, no saccharine sweet life take-aways or teachable moments – nothing.
But who can vouch that he has known, and only known? Who can say that knowledge when acquired, is simply that solid rock hurled, as it were, into the watery abyss of consciousness, to sink, to let loose some orders of concentric ripples, to totalize rock and water, and to say that now there is rock in addition to water; a transient disturbance, an increase in volume, a reassertion of smothering quietude. We cannot. I cannot. Every instance of knowing is in the inviting, viscous, potent globule of liquid ink that one lets fall into a receptacle of innocuously clear water; we think that our psyche consumes – we always speak of the consumption of texts. But no, it is knowledge that consumes – infects. Watch, how that chromatic splotch of pigment – the contagion of thoughts – descends from the airy heights, reflecting from its glassy curvature, the light of its sheer fullness and potential – to infect, to breed, to alter, to devour. And down it falls, and in that moment of collision, of surface and surface, there is an intolerable resistance, as when one’s vehement foot is slammed on a child’s balloon – and does not miss – and in that moment of meeting within the moment of impact, there rises the raw, excruciating anticipation of dissolution – of consummation, of unity and destruction. Then the surface
breaks. It is then that we begin to know. Our consciousness is breached, and in floods the flows of capital knowledge – molecular critters – home in on the unstained and unadulterated – the primitive body, unmarked, or marked primitively. From our safe place outside the dramatic glass, we – who are we? – see the downward creeping distributaries of contagion, deeper and deeper creep. Staining, irrevocably. Forever henceforth the water is hued with an alien glow – the nocent mark of experience. That is, to know.
And I have just now known. Or else I stumbled, and knew. I know realise that I shouldn’t have, but I did anyway – search. I started in small brushes, like an archeologist at work in the desert heat, revealing a digit here, and a rib there embedded in the archaic sand. Then I grew ravenous – I wanted to know, and know everything. Tossing from my hand the instruments of that delicate profession – of rational inquiry, I launched, or leapt, whichever, and with the claws of my bare hands ravaged the unrevealing soil, like a dog hungry not for the spoil, but for where it buried it. Now ashen skull revealed, now a rusty joint unearthed.
“But why must I speak now and later feel that I have not spoken”, I mused, as crystal nodes of frustrated sweat rolled intermittently down the sides of my face, the stubbled sideburns, down the glistening jawline, gathering at the chin, and then falling in drops profuse. With wandering glance I surveyed the skeletal frame that now began to materialize, though still enframed – entrenched – in that musty soil. “Why all this speaking around? Why can’t I articulate, enunciate, vocalize? Desire – what I speak is not mine”. My fingers traced out the ancient vertebrae. “I always say what I mean, in a way that does not mean what I say”, muttering as I dislodged a mound of packed earth from the gaping mouth of the skull – teeth still intact, some twenty odd, the last muted orifice. Within that weathered maw there came a flood of blackness, and swirling sand-dust in its wake. I rubbed my eyes – dry from the vapid air. I now began to tear from the stray grains displaced by the restive flailing of an oncoming gale. Squinting, I gazed on that mouth(piece), that probably in its last moments of crying, of gasping, had wished to speak. At this point, Reason checked the Romantic, yet reason itself turned to romance; for I thought idly, “if we live in preordained finitude, then must not our breath be finite too? And we trade breath for words – so this man, his lips parted, could not speak because he could not breathe. He hadn’t breath enough – he hadn’t life enough. Don’t we all? So our words, like our breath, like our lives, are finite. When will you speak to mean what you say, before your words run out?”
Before this romantic argument had reached its upshot, a desert storm began to stir, kicking up, all around me lashes of arid sand; I crawled, veiling my eyes with my coarse hands, against the flagellating winds, and snatched at the nearby roll of tarpaulin. Unspooling the weighted canvas, I proceeded, half-gingerly, half-somberly, to shelter the exhumed grave of bones that lay in sleep exposed, but no less in sleep.
As I reached to shroud his head, I saw that the poor man’s gaping mouth had once again filled up with sand.
Whiskey. I need a drink, now. Yes, I imagine – let me imagine, now, preferably with someone who wishes to drink to drown – no, not sorrows, not griefs, but confusion; to drown confusion. To sit with me as the ambient music plays, under the stars extinguished by these passing clouds – it’s been raining these days, hasn’t it? In between our exchanges, the rush of cool warm alcohol down our parched throats and brains, there is silence; a comfortable one, like you once said you liked it. It is our punctuation, this silence, which gives our speech – sober or slurred – coherence; the difference between speech and speech – silence. That. Demarcates. Every. Word. It is absence that presents. We raise our half-done glasses midway, laughing at how we’ve started so ardently, that we have forgotten to toast. A toast is in order, a toast to something. This one, I say, is to our confusion, that for a moment we shared; or else for the one that from that moment till now I’ve inherited; haha! – do you hear how I hardly make sense? I look at the swirling elixir in my glass, and I think I see the fumes. So, I say, let’s talk about life, philosophy – no – psychoanalysis! And we talk; that’s how it should (have) be(en). You know nuts about the unconscious, but want to, in a playful sort of way; in a playful sort of way that belies an alluring, inquisitive mind; in a playful sort of way that knows it’s important to me. And I tell you; you smile that grin of yours, but I know you’re listening. The sky is dark – what need have we of light? All it ever does is destroy the dreams we’ve had sleeping. You call for another glass, and I say, yeah – get me another too; I’m hardly done. You ask me, why I’ve been gone for so long – but I say, it’s not me, it’s you; and we laugh uproariously at ensuing mentions of relative motion and displacement. Comfortable silence – we fall into its arms, weary of laughter (though still smiling). Silence begins to speak (parenthetically). You gaze out into the streets, at the street lights, (from behind this dewy glass); I follow that gaze. What are you thinking of, right now, staring at those neon lights, or those couples strolling by? (I’m not quite sure, you say – perhaps of tomorrow?) I rub my eyes; (those lights are getting brighter, aren’t they?) I know you heard me, because you stifle a chuckle. Heh, you say, we shouldn’t go too fast (, drinking). I laugh – inwardly, and then laugh. (Yes, we went too fast; but it doesn’t matter now, does it?) It matters, you say, now (and you laugh) because if you get wasted no one’s gonna carry you home. Nah, I have pretty good self-control, you watch. You laugh that playful, cynical laugh of yours. Heh, I say – what a sceptic. You reply, that’s what they all say, isn’t it? (- and you knew that, didn’t you? When it comes down to the moment, there’s no such thing as control, because the moment has to pass; you made a false promise). There is an uneasy silence, as I raise my glass to my lips – I sense something approaching, something sobering. Looking back, it was a departure as much as it had been an arrival, or a dawning. Epiphanies come, and always take us to another place, another consciousness.
“It’s getting darker, no?”, I enquired. You gazed a little at me, but blankly.
“I mean, it’s getting darker – later”. I pointed to my watch, but I ended up pointing to my wrist. You nodded weakly to show you understood, but I knew you’d been made to understand something else, and I understood it too. I took a long sip, then replaced my glass on the coaster; my hands were cold.
“I guess it’s time to go then(?)”. Was that an interrogative or a declarative? I wasn’t sure, but I knew it mattered whether it was one or the other. I took the cue anyway – I made it an imperative.
So we left our empty glasses there – mine was empty, yours hardly. I had many, many things to say, that were in that glass – mine.
But the sand of the Hourglass, in its tragic necessary descent, has since filled those empty spaces. I wish I could empty that glass again, but who makes drink out of sand, if only the poor man who wanted to speak, but ran out of breath?
So I said, I know now. I searched compulsively – in a moment of sheer desire and indulgence – against the best of Reason and sensibility; and what have I unearthed but the very face of dead possibility. No, not impossibility – it wasn’t always this; it was always an enduring possibility, the potential for a kind of return, no matter how remote the chances were, I’ll admit. That, that was what fettered me to this death drive, this repetition, this compulsion – to emphasize again and again, to enact, to react to, to reenact the horror; no, not horror – the grief? No – the unspeakability. But now that the stimulus has faded in the wake of knowing, desire – whatever it is – has arrived at a terminus. I try to imagine, like I’ve always done, but this time there is an obstruction, a denial. There is a brute facticity that forestalls fantasy, or possibility. The door that I’d left open and locked – so that it wouldn’t shut – has now bashed itself closed; and the lock, being maimed, no key can ever open. This knowledge, it seems, like a spot of ink in clear water, has changed everything.
“On th’ other side Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed,
Astonied stood and blank while horror chill
Ran through his veins and all his joints relaxed.
From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve
Down dropped and all the faded roses shed.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost (IX.888-93)