Sunday, 5 February 2012


When I was just a few weeks shy of my departure for a semester of study in Germany, I visited my undergraduate advisor, whom I had never met yet in person. A professor of Islamic studies, I quickly encountered the eccentricity that so wonderfully characterized the faculty at my school.

"Jordan," she said, "Jordan" (like she'd just had four espressos)  "you're going on a journey, you have- you have a question for yourself, a question. And what's the root of 'question'? "

My mind was ambushed, it was fumbling back to Latin class, trying to remember the verb- quae something- so that I could make a properly scholarly sounding answer..."Um" - I took too long.

- "QUEST!" She interjected. 

I had hoped the connection was going to be more profound. But before I could say more, she sat me down on the couch, handed me a cup of tea and said she would be back in 10 minutes.  I just had to do one thing, read this: and she handed me the Four Quartets of T.S Eliot. 

When she came back I'd had, unfortunately, no epiphanies. So she gave me a task. She said, "Jordan, before you come back from Europe, I want you to email me a single word. Whatever word. Just one." 

It ended up being spinat auflauf (mit schlaf's kase); thoroughly mundane and unpoetic. But I don't think that really was the word I had set out to look for.  Despite all the camp, this is a fond memory. Discoveries and epiphanies do not require grand overseas journeys. Sorting out the questions of life can be as ordinary as casserole, I suppose. I am still looking for "a word". Or, rather, I am looking for all places that this Word might be and how it might be, and how it connects all things, and how it hides. 

This blog is therefore just my thoughts and experiences. It is dedicated to the days of longing that film, art, poetry and religion help us along with, and is here for anyone who feels like they are a companion or a "comrade" on this kind of journey. 

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime of burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under the starlight,
A time for the evening under the lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. 

T.S. Eliot


  1. Perhaps I am not the best person to start this thread, as I got in a bit of a pointless argument on your previous blog. An intellectual bully is in effect no different than the brute who steals someone's nickel for milk money.

    Rainer Maria Rilke's optimism is lost on me, especially because I have little clue what Sehnsuchtgeweiht actually means (my guess is something like "sanctified nostalgia").

    Rilke wanders through his conflict. I prefer to let conflicts flow through me, as if it is better to fall and crash among the crags of life rather than swim upstream. Rilke grapples with the conventions and contradictions of life. I am merely resigned to inhabit a world of contradiction, of conflicting allegiances, a world where all romanticism has been squeezed out of life. Many days I prefer the monochromatic Montreal February morning, as if the world is purposefully without hue and covered with greyish slop. Postmodern, post-Christian Montreal -- there is no sanctification here, and nothing to be sanctified. All that is left is the biting cold.

    Sehnsuchtgeweiht -- is not the Mass Life itself to be grasped, the eternal song ever maturing before us? No, at this moment is it for me no more than a cacophony of sounds, full of meter, structure, and allusion, but nothing more than a cultural dance. I wonder if Rilke's Sehnsuchtgeweiht is devoid of the eternal. All that is left is to be lived now.

    jordan (other)

  2. Jordan, I’ve never considered you to be an intellectual bully- no worries there, please.

    The text I have translates Sehnsuchtgeweitht as “dedicated to longing”.

    This poem resonated with me precisely for this line. I often ask myself, what is this longing that I am always feeling? Is this what might be called “unhappy consciousness”: a state of mind that sacrifices the effort of making a brave concordat among the warring elements of the Present for an inflated notion of fulfillment deferred to the “over-there”, the always “not-yet”?

    Is the richness and poetry of “longing”- so productive for the life of our imagination- that splits the self between the world of now and the world of the promise not an elaborate technique of my psyche to avoid real confrontation and action in the present?

    This is really so, but I am convinced it is also not so simple as this. Longing can be a shield to hide from responsibility in the world, and this is perhaps how I have been using it in my life. But the ego can use anything towards its own small ends- including the very desire for the good.

    The self does not, at any rate, really exist in “the now” at all but is constituted relationally through memory and anticipation. To live in the present is to sentence it to death. It must not be grasped, but must be allowed to rest on the hand like the monarch whose wings are spoiled by the human touch.

    We must strive "to ripen far beyond life and far beyond time".

    I don’t think Rilke’s longing is devoid of the eternal:

    You are the future, sovereign morning red
    Streamed out over the eternal plains;
    Cock-crow after the great night of time.
    Dew, matins at first morning, maid,
    Stranger, mother and death’s final name.

    You are the Self-transfiguring, looming
    Limitless upward out of fate, lone
    Figure uncelebrated, unlamented,
    Unwritten like the wildwood of the unknown.

    You are the essence deep in things, holding
    Its ultimate word silent in your band,
    The unchanging face of endless change, revealed
    To coastland as the ship, to ship as land.

    (from The Book of Hours)