Four Stories: First Sorrow

The true way leads along a tight-rope, which is not stretched aloft but just above the ground.  It seems designed more to trip than to be walked along.                                                    Kafka

When the trapeze artist makes his demand to his manager for two bars facing each other, he is almost grinding his teeth.  His face is wrought and strained.  He cannot believe he has had to make this request, that it should have been plain to see that one bar should not be enough.  His manager is quick to agree.  Not that the artist needs the approval of the manager.  His work is not for him.  His work could have no meaning if he wrote according to the tastes of another.  “We would search the ‘public’ in vain for the first reader, i.e. the first author of a work.”  He is alone in his absolute singularity – it’s between him and G_d.  The value of the sign is no longer guaranteed by a transcendental signified but a pure difference in relations.  The tragedy of lost origins: birth as the initial trauma.

The railway travel was getting on his nerves.  Time away from the trapeze was time wasted for a lack of practice.  His art was a highly dangerous one, perilous, and he was irreplaceable.  The trapeze artist possessed a Gift.  There was no substitute for the artist and he was treated with much respect, even when his mere presence in the lofty heights of the circus tent, transcending the other acts, drew the occasional stray glance of a punter in the audience below.

He had little social interaction.  For the most part, he enjoyed his existence alone.  Even in the theatre a stagehand would see him sometimes but the artist would remain unconscious of his gaze.  He sat upon his single trapeze, far above the ground, amidst the heights of the circus tent. 

Not that he was the picture of a fragile artist, not in the least.  Occasionally a light from heaven would shine in as a window was opened in the circus tent and he would chat to the workmen, or gossip with a fellow trapeze-artist, but largely, he remained aloof and still.  Except when he was forced to travel.

Riding the train upon the tracks, he had reached a decision within himself long ago.  The writer had only to enunciate it: the single bar would not do.  “’God is dead,’ the madman cried running through the streets at night, ‘and we have killed him.’”  The slide of the signifiers, going head over heels through the heavens, turning and tumbling in the air, demanded two bars (at least).  The artist as writer is emerging.  Modern railway travel had brought this on in him.  Making tracks for another town, another wellspring of punters to tap, was necessary.  But this single bar?  And how should it not be recognised to be inadequate to the task of artistic expression?  Always a double hermeneutics, a double science.  With amazement, Zarathustra shook his head and watched the old hermit walk away, astounded: “has he not heard?  God is dead…”  A few pages later, Zarathustra will bury the tight-rope artist who fell to earth from a great height.

Modern living was taking its toll on the trapeze artist’s nerves.  He, as ascetic as he should be, was not a demanding individual.  That he should remain aloft the whole time even when other acts were wheeled out (the clowns, the lion tamer, the human cannonball, the tight-rope artist), was a part of his training, a habit which had, to a large extent, overtaken him. 

The single bar was no longer suitable for his art – it had occurred to the trapeze artist in the luggage compartment long ago, when he was dreaming.  What can a body (of writing) do with a single bar?  A model of energetics, the trapeze artist – the slide of signifiers demands (at least) two bars.  The written word tumbling off the pages, through the open air. 

That the gifted trapeze artist should be made to speak and make known his demands, to enter into an exchange, the general economy of signs – the “public sphere of language” as Heidegger called it – it was the trapeze artist’s first sorrow. 

One bar.  The simple division between signifier and signified, Form and Content, in the structure of the sign, is at an end.  The end of the Book (the Word of God), the beginning of writing.  The manager was nervous: “with deep anxiety he kept stealing glances over the top of his book.”  Where will his demands stop?  For the artist’s demands were absolute. 

Were they not a threat to his livelihood?  And indeed, as the manager observed him in the apparently peaceful sleep into which he had sobbed himself, he thought he could see the first lines beginning to furrow the infant smoothness of the trapeze artist’s brow.


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