A bad joke


31 October 2009, 16.13 CET

Noticed today, while sorting books for the jettison stack.

He knocked himself out to be life everybody else—he liked, he loved, he cared, but he was aware that there was something peculiarly comical in all this. And at last it must have seemed that he had used up all his resources. Faith against despair, love versus nihilism had been the themes of his struggles and his poems. What he needed for his art had been supplied by his own person, by his mind, his wit. He drew it out of his vital organs, out of his very skin. At last there was no more. Reinforcements failed to arrive. Forces were not joined. The cycle of resolution, reform and relapse had become a bad joke which could not continue.
Towards the last he wrote

I certainly don’t think I’ll last much longer.

—Saul Bellow, in the introduction to John Berryman’s Recovery.

N.B. One of my favourite Berryman quotes is “Write as short as you can, in order, of what matters.”