When I still was myself, Catalogue, In Het Park, Middelheim, Antwerp (BE)

When I still was myself


When I still was myself, I did not know this. I also was not aware of the fact that I was a happy man. At present, this appears to be thoughtless and strange to me, but it was the consequence of the fact that I was not preoccupied with myself. There was no need for this either, for I was myself, unconstrainedly. I practiced and studied the phenomenon of falling asleep several times a day. It was quite an accomplishment to stay awake in the process, however, it proved to be worthwhile. I know that it was always raining at that time. As I was sitting in a propped-up reclining chair with my black rubber boots on in a steadily widening puddle of water under a leaking roof, warming my back to the heat of a wood-burning stove and was thinking – or rather, and to put it more accurately, was distracting myself, as I often got totally confused, even though I did not fully realize this at that time – about the depth of the deep sea, the bottom of the earth and the distance of the universe and as I was listening to the rain pattering on the roof, the sound of which mixed with the glowing of the stove in which wood cracked and snapped, its window glowing with an orange shine, and its lid popping at times, causing a cloud of smoke to escape and spread all over the room, I attained a state of mind in which everything was equally important: a crust of bread, a fountain pen, a shoelace, a screwdriver, a patch of light on the floor; everything acquired the same value. I considered this to be something extraordinary and wrote on a virgin page in a notebook: “Never leave your house”. And in a Chinese book I read: “If someone asks what cannot be asked, his question lies beyond the boundaries of reason”. And in the same book it was written that: “If someone provides an answer where no answer is possible, he does not have true knowledge of the subject at stake”. Subsequently, I asked myself whether it is possible to find out what it is that cannot be asked and also whether and how an answer to a question, which can be asked, could be distinguished from an answer to a question which one should not ask. Did not this philosophical problem of the true nature of knowledge have much ground in common with a criminal act or, to put it in a different manner, wasn’t it part of the task of Justice to draw people’s attention to their digression and its consequences if they find pleasure in asking questions to other people which one actually cannot ask, whether they do it out of nastiness, perverted enjoyment of power or for any other reason (one can expect anything when dealing with something unreasonable)? Because the one who answers the question could by doing so and in complete innocence cause harm to himself and to others. If only for the reason that the answer which was given was an answer to a question which could not be asked and, consequently, by replying to it, one was forced to tread on the path of unreasonableness. If this act was perpetrated in all ignorance, it only aggravated the seriousness of the transgression, because one brought harm upon oneself and possibly also upon others. For – as everyone who reads a serious book sometimes ought to know – one does not tread on the path of unreasonableness unless well prepared. Totally engrossed in these reflections on the limits of unreasonableness, I ended up by asking myself whether it may not be better to consider everything one perceives as an answer (to a question which can or cannot be asked) to be a question. I assessed that all present things enabled us to proceed because of their unknown nature and wrote this down. Apparently, the unknown is part of what is known in such manner that these opposites cannot be separated any longer. The unknown was an essential and inalienable part of what is known; question and answer were identical! That much was clear and this insight solved the problem of question and answer. It had now become possible to actually speak about things and about the world. I then wrote the following: “Slowly, the hidden word is being let down, slowly, like freight is carried into the ship, which, loaded down, yet unweighed, ventures this draught into the water”. Time had come to speak to myself. In a solemn voice and standing in front of an old mirror, I declared, whilst trying to suppress a scream: “Here before you stand an organism with which the speaker identifies himself”. This was the least one could say and, in this condition, I could not imagine that anyone would disagree with it. I waited and didn’t do anything for some time, waiting for the eventual effect of this almost magic formula. I realized that the crux of all confusion lies with man’s conception of himself as a stable, permanent entity and his unwillingness to relinquish this idea. Since experience continually threatens to reveal our transitory nature to ourselves, we resort to turning everything into a game of question and answer, which, intoxicated by our thinking, creates the illusion that we deal with the world in an adult and responsible manner. “Yes, that’s how things are, that much is certain”, I declared to myself. In the meantime, it appeared that speech was more than merely a faculty of the organism. Although I could not and still cannot fully grasp the social dimension of the spoken word, the notion of the invisible (and – as later became clear to me – not always extant) connection between people started to dawn on me. This made me shiver. And my fellow man occupied a central place in this shudder. This surprised me with anxiety and insecurity: “Because of you, I became respectful”, I wrote. And I continued in an inspired mood: “You are a rotunda, they hunt for you and yet, you are no refugee, you are an arrow cleaving the air, you are quite well-known, yet, you are not registered anywhere, you are quicker than the word which is yours, you do not have servants, yet, you are very rich…” She appeared to be a ballerina who lived high above the ground and was speaking to her father because it was Christmas. She looked outside absent-mindedly and smiled. I was set ablaze. For the first time, the problem of hierarchy – which I had summoned myself by introducing the ‘you’-character- dawned upon me. I fell completely under the spell of this higher power, which was feeling quite well at home with me, it seemed, in order to overpower me. “He who controls himself, controls the world”, I screamed voicelessly, as well as “Love finds its balm everywhere”, a maxim I thought I remembered, while I looked over her shoulder into the dark street, as if my salvation was to be found there, between neonlight and raincoat, somewhere in the exhaust fumes of rusty buses and changing traffic lights. “The thinking skeleton had armed itself with a strong body,” shot through my head. I was no longer amenable to reason and was spinning round in metaphors. A strange desire for immutability and immobility came over me and, although this alarmed me, I forced myself to remain lucid and, at this moment of stagnation, when shadows were dancing in an impenetrable darkness while they tugged at me, only one sentence escaped from the dark void: “United beyond itself”. This idea – albeit ambivalent in view of the extrapolation of everything which I had discovered to be an inalienable part of the human condition – cleared my mind and restored order into chaos; I was united beyond myself, part of the world. This brought some peace and offered away out. I accepted the incompatibility between what is and what could be. This was my salvation and I went home. Upon returning, everything is different, as everyone knows.

When on parting
the eyes are closed and at a complete loss
look for something to hold on to in the unfinished
where the black emerges smilingly
like a child growing up in a suburb
where it learns how to smoke too soon
then something is growing in this darkness
that will seduce shadows
to a wild dance
in large nocturnal hours
in which everything is sealed
and nothing is said or concealed anymore
and nobody knows why
this is
and nobody knows why
this is not