Richard Pierce

Richard Pierce – author, poet, painter

Life, Writing

Heinrich von Kleist and all that

Dear Ren,

I wonder if it is the truly personal navel-gazing nature of our correspondence which makes people not comment on it on your blog – or perhaps it is so universally true that it needs no comment. I don’t care either way, because it’s our correspondence, and I value that in itself. It drags me out of myself when I most need to be dragged out of myself, and I find myself looking at myself from the outside rather than from inside my head, behind my eyes, staring down past the grey hairs on my chest.

And this externalising does lead rather neatly into what you were saying about acting (which I guess does apply to our real-life actions, too). At university, all those generations ago, I studied a text by Heinrich von Kleist (one of my favourite irrationalists) called Über das Marionettentheater (On the Puppet Theatre), the essence of which is that humans are basically incapable of gracefulness because they are always thinking, whereas puppets will always be graceful because they have no thought.

Thus, if we catch a glimpse of ourselves (in a mirror, for example) and like what we see, if we try to consciously repeat that pose, we will never be able to recreate it because we’re consciously thinking about it. You can extrapolate this to all art, and to beauty. And, to bring it from 1810 to the present day, it just proves (to me, anyhow) that selfies are the exact opposite to spontaneous beauty and therefore, as something deeper than vanity or art, absolutely worthless. And, to take it to its ultimate extreme, we can’t be ourselves unless we are so spontaneously, without thinking about it. I suppose that’s what I’ve always believed – or maybe I’m just lazy.

And I mean that about being lazy – when I read about you making plans, setting goals, etc, I wonder if me not making plans or setting goals is the reason for me being miserable so often, the reason for not yet being as successful as I want to be. But then maybe this lack of goals, specific goals, might just actually make the burden I place on myself greater, because it’s just this whole huge expectation that I have to be successful, that each and every thing I touch should turn to gold. And perhaps it’s because of that huge mountain of expectation that I sometimes just sit at my desk unable to do anything because I’m incapable of deciding what to do next.

Two of my uni text books

By the way, to reach the cheap seats, we need to project, mainly our voices. It doesn’t mean they’ll listen, but at least they’ll hear. I would probably be an appalling actor. I’m not sure I ever found Molière funny when I was studying him at university. And Corneille was much too convoluted for me – all the formal rhyme schemes etc just did my head in. Maybe it’s that laziness of mine.

When you said you were boring yourself, I was just getting into your self-dialogue. No, academic theories don’t impart absolute knowledge; they merely prove or disprove a discrete part of knowledge. I suppose just like good education doesn’t actually impart knowledge; it gives us the tools with which to acquire knowledge. And right now I’m busy trying to explain to my children (and some friends) that there are no answers to everything, that life really sometimes is just the way it is, without rhyme or reason, that loves are lost and found and lost, that happiness is sometimes (always) transient, that some things are not meant to be easy, nor understood. Like O just said over dinner – it’s all about the journey.

And yes, the journey into 2017 has not exactly been joyous, on every level for me, actually. I find some of my old fears (the main ones of which you are familiar with from our very first exchanges all those years ago) resurfacing, and find myself feeling like I’m 18 again, not 56. If I ever had any certainties, they feel a bit remote right now. But then I think we celebrate New Year at the wrong time. The Earth might be racing back towards the sun, but nothing has significantly changed. If anything, the days seem shorter and darker than before Christmas. We should celebrate New Year on 21st March, when real spring is supposed to start, when things start growing again, when the light really is coming, when things really noticeably start to change. That is what we should do, really.

Well, it wasn’t really a night of writing; it was 70 minutes of putting a song on really loud and on repeat (Follow by Peace – it’s on your CD, and here it is on youtube), and banging out a load of words in a fug of smoke, with a full glass of red wine by my side, words about grief and the loss of love, because that’s where the story’s just got to (and that’s not giving anything away). I think I’m almost always primed to write – it’s just that very often I prioritise the day job (which can be very intense) or dealing with children’s practicalities or emotions, so that when late afternoon comes, I’m just too tired to jump straight into writing mode. Which means it all gets a bit bitty, when really novel writing needs a sustained effort (even if just to stop the self-destructive and counter-productive habit of editing when in the first draft when the first draft is actually all about writing it down as fast and furiously as possible. That’s when the best words come – when I’m not thinking about them – back to Kleist again. And the last couple of days I’ve been asked to do some song-writing again (lyrics, not music; I can’t tell one note from the other), and that’s made me really happy. It’s a fascinating process. And I did like your metaphor – nothing wrong with a bit of purple prose now and again.
As far as the rat goes, it applies to all things. I don’t think lamb would have worked as well (my attempt at being funny – no, you’re right, it never works; me being funny, that is). But isn’t it a good thing that the Old Lady still has puppy-like energy, that she can still make herself have expectations, even at her age? Maybe she’s not disappointed, not in anything we think, but instead embarrassed because she thinks she’s made a fool of herself but had fun doing it, just like we do things that young people think we shouldn’t be doing any more, and because we suddenly become conscious of what they are thinking we start to think we’ve made an exhibition of ourselves and get all embarrassed and creep back onto our own little square foot of floor. It’s happened to me recently when, for some obscure reason, the children started discussing M’s and my love life at the dinner table. I have been so self-conscious ever since I’m thinking of becoming a monk. So we’re back to Kleist again, which just goes to show the strength and universality of great writing.
Animals, I find, have an unerring sense of time, an inner clock as you say, which is always right. One of our cats, way back before we moved to Norway, always waited for me sitting on the gatepost at my usual home time. Florence, now, here, starts prowling and meowing outside our bedroom door (at least when C, whose bedroom she lives in, isn’t here) if I haven’t been downstairs with her by a certain time in the mornings. Or do they just manipulate us into their pre-existing time frames? I don’t think so.
I’m always neck-deep into my Antarctic world, because I fell in love with it when I was there, and miss it every day, and wish I could go back there, but know there is only a miniscule chance of that happening. I’m exceptionally lucky to have been once, to have had my life changed like that, because it has changed my life. And now I need to change it again, to move forwards. But maybe not until 21st March when I can see things more clearly. Maybe I’ll have Ice Child finished by then.
Glad you’re glad to be a part of this family. Many people would run a mile.
Lots of love to you and E.

Get notifications of new posts by email.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Reply