Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with those affected by generations of structural violence. You can help »

The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues
APRIL 2020 Issue
Critics Page

The Prayers of the Saints

What is at stake—what has been wagered—is neither our hope for recovery nor our faith in retribution, but our dream of escape


ϕ


The confidence that any change in aspect or expression has its source in some particular emotive truck—in an intrinsically delimited transit of migration, as a breakneck plunge down sidelong slope—is built on the avowal of a universal motive, the belief that the reflection of one’s fitful excitations—the inference of one’s own discrete comportment in the nearness of an awkward gibe, a panicked gulp—justifies a subsequent ascription of that animus to any fractured seity that happens on one’s course. That every acceptance of such traits as a standard of appraisal involves a form of credence—a baseless drive to sanctify the constancy of character both fore and aft one’s marking of such cipher as event—is proved by nothing more than the frequency of our misjudgments, the glaring admonitions of our principal mistakes…


ϕ


We are grounded—we are tethered—to an absence without term. We think we must progress to be contented, to be succored, but it’s decadence that leads us into boredom, as a cure…


ϕ


They slept naked in their cassocks. There are reasons to admire their decision to withdraw. They hesitate before us. It was never their desire to advance a scheme, to claw their way back from the brink, but this is now their world. What difference if the mountain leaps? If every prick and twinge forecasts the ecstasy of pincers gauging almond eyes? No matter where you place your glance, they will appear. Crawl into any orifice and plot a path to nescience; feel the tongue turn once and twice, then vanish, like a worm…


ϕ


The intensity of inattention. Withdrawn from alterity, we cleave only to affect, to the differentiation of redacted sighs…


ϕ


Let the suitors take their pot shots, the cannons hurl. Let them fall in drunken conquest to the blacktop, the bloody sward. Only—cower in the corner. It’s not your fight to lose. When no one else is left the exile takes up the prerogative. The final substitution, and—the endless interlude…


ϕ


Sense is an addiction from which one can’t be weaned. The problem is that each attempt to force such disaffection is as much an act of sensing as any other vain exuberance, any passion importuned with curling lips or pinioned wings. And thus of the ascetic one must brook no easy quarter, one need only ask the question: With what have they replaced their rot but this conscripted molder? To what have they surrendered but—another joy


ϕ


The next last opportunity—or perhaps it’s just the first. Something always happens, something I’m forgetting; something that is neither seen nor ceded to the knout. That there was once a chance, that there always was a chance…I can’t tell you what will happen, but I can at least say this; no matter how one signals one’s imperils and abductions—how fervently one grapples in the capture of the next redoubt—there will always be a way to sally forth into abandon, a passage to the next retreat, the slink across…


ϕ


The imperative is to recognize there’s going to be nothing, that every new emergence from the merit of the void condemns its source to insufficiency…begins, that is, the retrogress to that dissembled exigence, the faltering return to all that’s forfeit of the forfeit, all that’s missing of the lost. It’s not what makes us happy, but what fashions us persistent—what substitutes the infinite recurrence of the same for a determined thrust…


ϕ


A diet of corrosion, scourged and shriven from its terminus. So many loose ends, so much grown familiar. So many souls, so many vassals bound and plunged beneath the current. The guilty free their hands and swim. The innocent fend with their mouths—and drown…


ϕ


Those who are proscribed within the stasis of catastrophe—who are properly made subject to the onslaught it surveils—can no longer be interrupted; their interruption is unending, is determined as a predicate, as a rupture set within each rift, a thresh of only tares. One who does not meet the gaze of those who would give refuge—who refuses to be solaced in the pity of an eager stare—is thereby made invisible to all who would glean meaning from the tillage of this ravaged vale…

Contributor

Steven Seidenberg

Steven Seidenberg’s most recent works are plain sight (Roof, 2020) and Situ (Black Sun Lit, 2018). His collections of photographs include Pipevalve: Berlin (Lodima, 2017) and Imaging Failure: Abandoned Lives of the Italian South (due from Contrasto in 2020). He lives in San Francisco.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues