I read this paragraph in Kierkegaard’s amazing essay “The Present Age.” It fits so perfectly as a meditation or a note to oneself.
“Only someone who knows how to remain essentially silent can really talk—and act essentially. Silence is the essence of inwardness, of the inner life. Mere gossip anticipates real talk and to express what is still in thought weakens action by forestalling it. But someone who can really talk because he knows how to remain silent, will not talk about a variety of things but about one thing only.”
I feel like it expresses everything I tried (and mostly failed) to say here, here, here and so many other times. There is something immediately humbling and settling about seeing someone translate and elaborate what you’d never have been able to do, like a sigh of relief. Because ultimately the only reason we try to mess with these ideas is to help ourselves understand something and now we do.
Your post from January on reification has had a pretty huge positive impact on my productivity and happiness.
It goes like this: I write a short story, or, more likely, a fragment of a short story. I immediately get the urge to tell other people. I gratify this urge. I imagine myself as a Writer. I never finish the story.
For me, this reification, this grandiosity, inevitably breeds stagnancy and unhappiness. Even in NYC it’s easy to avoid considering the sheer number of people who exist in the world (who are more skilled, who work harder . . .), and it’s even more unbearable to confront these uncomfortable truths in the condition I describe above, or as you describe on this blog.
I write all of this in the present tense because it still happens to me. But it happens less. I’m more conscious of it. Things have improved. Thanks.
I really appreciate that. Focusing on it has helped me live more in the moment, made it easier to follow the dictum “always say less than necessary.” I think you’re right though, and I never meant to imply it was possibly to eradicate the impulse, just hope to manage it.
Why didn’t you include this book in this month’s Reading List Email?
Excellent quote. I just ordered the book. Thank you.
This quote reminds me a lot of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Have you read any Merton?
No, where should I start?
My favorite book is New Seeds of Contemplation, which focuses on the interior life, and a turning away from the false self…but since Merton’s writing is so varied, you could also start with a collection of his writings simply titled “Seeds”. There is even an abridged version of “Seeds” in a very small book titled “The Pocket Thomas Merton”. Let me know what you think. I’d love to get your perspective on Merton.
If you like Kierkegaard I would recommend his ‘Sickness unto Death’.
It has very religious overtones (the second part especially) but also has such fantastic descriptions of people and their fates that it is well worth the read.
The basic premise of the work is that everyone is in a state of despair, even if they do not know it. I think you would like many of the descriptions, as I think they relate to what you try to describe when talking about ‘what not to be’.