I’ve been asked at several points in my life by acquaintances and friends why I don’t write about past events, periods of life, etc. Was just reading this bit in The Paris Review by Karl Ove Knausgaard from his new book The Land of the Cyclops and it made sense to me.
As such, history always lies, it turns what was inconsistent, all over the place, perhaps even meaningless, into something consistent, systematic, and meaningful. The situations and events that occurred, the people who were there, and the discussions between them were of course real, it is not the case that writing about something is the same as lying or distorting, but the moment that reality is written down it is given a form that is basically abiding and unalterable, which pins it down in a certain way, whereas what was significant about it was that it was all over the place and could not be pinned down at all. To write about a situation is to take out part of its potential, at the same time as its remaining potential disappears into the shadows of the unsaid, the unthought, and the unwritten, in the valley of opportunities lost.
When I was a younger, dumber person – more inclined to evenings of considerable debauchery – my friends and I would consider any mountain bike ride that started before 1oam as ‘Dawn Patrol’.
Then at some point you have to start getting up at like 6 for work. And to get kids to school. Or to hurriedly rush a vomiting dog out the back door.
Then maybe you decide that in order to get a jump on things and/or keep your sanity as well as a moderate amount of joint flexibility into your twilight years you should get up early to meditate and do yoga, so you decide 4:30am is a good number because Jocko Willink says so.
At some point on weekends you’re already awake and there’s no work and the kids are still asleep so you decide to skip the meditation and yoga, because it makes you feel somewhat rebellious – in as much as a middle-aged dad who’s a slave to the Man can rebel – kind of way, and ride bikes. Invariably as the seasons change you end up riding in the dark, pre-dawn. The true Dawn Patrol.
You end up seeing a lot of things you’ve never seen before and come away changed. As a bonus you get back just in time for breakfast – sometimes you’re even back before anyone else gets up.
Heading out before dawn in the dark also means you get to ask yourself interesting questions like “how is it possible I’m this fucking cold and still enjoying this,” “is it possible for quiet to get even quieter,” or the more thought-provoking “where do I want to watch the sun come up today?”
Sometimes it’s a walking bridge. Sometimes it’s a field on a river flat. Sometimes it’s a town square. Sometimes it’s an empty intersection. The possibilities are endless, really.
Our Man, the champion of achieving transcendence via the mundane, Karl Ove Knausgaard, has a chapter in his book Autumn called ‘Dawn’.
“It isn’t the light in itself that feels good, for once it’s here, say at around 2:30 in the afternoon, we take it for granted. What matters is the actual transition. Not the light from the immobile sun, which shoots across the horizon as the earth’s sphere turns towards it, but the faint glow cast by this light in the minutes before, visible as a pale streak in the darkness of night, so faint it almost doesn’t seem to be light at all, merely a kind of enfeebling of the darkness.”
“Dawn is always the beginning of something, as its opposite, dusk is always the end of something, and when we consider that in practically every culture darkness represents death and evil, while light represents life and goodness, these two transitional zones between night and day become manifestations of the great existential drama we are caught up in, which is something I rarely think about as I stand in the garden gazing towards the growing light in the east, but which must still resonate in me somehow, since watching it feels so good. For darkness is the rule and light its exception, as death is the rule and life its exception. Light and life are anomalies, the dawn is their continual affirmation. “
Over a month now, I’ve been getting out before dawn at least once, if not twice on the weekends. At first it was about finding the best Hallmark Calendar spot to watch the sunrise from. A hill. Over a river. But there’s been other spots too. Sunrise over a strip mall is still the same sunrise as the one you watched 3 km away from the riverbank – well, that’s not really true – no two are the same. It’s the same sun rising, over the same planet – but even then, very little is the same – but you have to see both of them to figure that out. Or perhaps to figure out that you’ve really got nothing at all figured out.
The more I’m out pre-dawn, the less I tend to think of the darkness as ‘evil’ or ‘death’ and the more I think of it as merely the opposite of light. This is no news to anyone who’s familiar with eastern notions of non-duality – the idea of “not two” or “one undivided without a second.” Obviously there’s a mathematical/astronomical formula that tells me exactly when the sun rises and ‘day begins’. Actually, it’s the app on my phone that tells me personally, but is that really when it happens? Really, it’s just one continuous moment endlessly spooling out. There is no distinction between the two.
One of the main revelations I’ve had with these rides is how much there is to see before dawn. It’s exciting to rediscover what the human eye can see – even in almost pitch black – if you let your eyes adjust. On a clear night, even if there’s only a sliver of moon, it’s astounding the amount of light it casts and on the night of a full moon, you can conduct yourself quite easily without any artificial light at all – even more so if there’s snow on the ground to reflect it. It occurs to me that my ancestors knew all these things innately and somewhere they got lost for me to find again.
Every now and then, I’ll sleep in on a weekend. I invariably end up regretting it. There’s so much to see – even in the dark – I feel bad wasting it – and days take on a whole new perspective when you’re able to literally watch them begin.
I am currently reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Autumn (part of what’s considered (‘The Seasons Quartet’), it’s a book of many short chapters describing relatively everyday things – premise being it’s a ‘letter’ to his as yet unborn daughter, due in a few months. In the chapter titled ‘Beds’ he writes:
“The bed is placed in the bedroom, which is often the innermost room in the house or apartment, and in two-story houses the bedroom is usually on the upper floor. This is so because we are never as vulnerable as when we are asleep, we lie defenseless in our beds at night without knowing what is going on around us, and to withdraw from sight at such a time, to conceal ourselves from other animals and human beings, is an instinct that runs deep in us.”…
…“But if it were possible to see everyone who has retired to their beds in a great city at night, in London, New York, or Tokyo for example, if we imagined that the buildings were made of glass and that all the rooms were lit, the sight would be deeply unsettling. Everywhere there would be people lying motionless in their cocoons, in room after room for miles on end, and not just at street level, along roads and crossroads, but even up in the air, separated by plateaus, some of them twenty-meters above ground, some fifty, some a hundred. We would be able to see millions of immobile people who have withdrawn from others in order to lie in a coma throughout the night.”
My takeaway of that is regardless of race, creed, religion, gender or best-lineup-of-van-halen background, we are all vulnerable in so many similar ways – and that itself, is singularly unifying. Thanks for that, K.O.
After a stint of trying to read only one book at a time, I’m finding now that reading several books at once and sprinkling the head-brew with frequent doses of solitude outside is producing favorable results. I’m reading the Knausgaard intermittently as the chapters are very short and one can be absorbed within 10 minutes. I have it on the phone for quick hits here and there. I’ve already read through the whole thing once, but am going to keep re-reading it until – you guessed it – winter – when I’ll start Winter. I just finished reading Brad Warner’s book, Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen – it’s excellent and as I told Titus, reading Brad always makes me want to go back and re-read all his stuff.
Finally I’ve started on the brick that is Dune by Frank Herbert – I mentioned to the Mrs. that I’d been reading William Gibson sci-fi novels and enjoying them so she got this paperback last Christmas. I’m currently like, 1/37th of the way in. Prolly take me all winter.
Should be an interesting enough cocktail.
Also, the latest Brandon Semenuk is not-of-this-earth. The manual into the ‘payoff’ (didn’t want to spoil it) at the end made me laugh out loud. H/T to Stevil for the post.
Nothing is more ordinary than existence—than being there; nothing is easier to miss. This is the heart of the project of My Struggle: all these thousands of pages are attempts to pay attention. They arise from the realization of how easy it is to miss the adventure of one’s own existence, to live one’s life without noticing, without paying attention to that one thing: that I was there. But they also arise from the realization that we will inevitably miss much of that adventure, that our only hope is to recreate the moments of existence from memory.
My Struggle is one man’s attempt to tell us how it is to be here, now. To show us existence as an ordinary phenomenon. But it is also an attempt to record his own existence. The book tells us that he, Karl Ove Knausgaard, was here. That he existed. That he struggled to be present in the world. This is why description is the key formal device in My Struggle. Description is precisely the literary form which unites the voice of the subject (of the narrator or writer) with his or her interest in the object of the description. Uniting the utterly concrete and precise with the question of existence, the description we just looked at achieves the “inexhaustible precision” which is Knausgaard’s aesthetic ideal.