“Don’t try!”

In Uncategorized on 25 February 2014 at 5:05 PM

Juliana de AlbuquerqueIn a new book called La festa dell’insignificanza, Milan Kundera writes that “insignificance is the essence of life,” and after a few explanations he arrives at the following conclusion: “it is not enough to recognize it, we have to love it (…) we must learn to love it.”[1] I have not yet read the book whose words I have just mentioned but as I stumbled upon those lines, I could not help but wonder if I should love life’s insignificance.

Earlier today a friend of mine mentioned that insignificance represents a central crisis of our time that — “as human beings no longer believe they matter in the big scheme of things, they give themselves up to ever more trivial pursuits.” It is true that we lead insignificant lives but to what extent are we aware of our own insignificance? As we wake up at six o’clock and drink our morning coffee on our way to work; as we have to write yet another abstract for a conference; yet another grant proposal; do we really have time to think about the ridiculousness of our contemporary pursuits? And whenever we feel insignificant, do we ever try to completely embrace this feeling?

Thus, insignificance might as well be the essence of life; however, except for a handful of extraordinary men, most of us never tried to reach the bottom our own meaninglessness. Hence, as I stopped to think about my list of heroes of insignificance, the first name to cross my mind was Charles Bukowski and his famous motto: “Don’t try!” On a letter to William Packard, written on December 23, 1990, Charles Bukowski advises his friend to learn to wait; to let the words come naturally instead of simply forcing them against the piece of paper, he writes — “we work too hard. We try too hard. Don’t try. Don’t work. It’s there. It’s been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb. There’s been too much direction. It’s all free, we needn’t be told.”[2] There is truth and beauty and love in this world, but we will never experience them if we persist in prioritizing sheer performance against dwelling in the estrangement awakened by insignificance. Like someone who has seen it all and experienced his fair amount of misfortunes, Bukowski believed that truth laid on the waiting; that all we need is just kindness and patience with ourselves. Look closer at Charles Bukowski’s life and work! Although his poetry is commonly trivialized as the craft of the damned — the work of a misogynistic, gambling and alcoholic sex-crazed bum — there is enough kindness in his words to turn him into a saint. In fact, Bukowski’s advice to William Packard is as good as any line ever written by the righteous men. But while any other man could have written those lines carelessly, not only revealing indifference to life but also contempt to the sufferings of others, Charles Bukowski sat on his machine, on the last Sunday before Christmas and dared to speak the truth out of the entrails of life and into the insignificance of his circumstances. Writing from the margin of society and completely invisible to the buzz of corporate America, ‘Hank’ Bukowski chose to sacrifice the meaning of an utterly conventional life and dedicate his time to write about what actually matters; to write about life itself — unrestricted, untamed and lacking any a priori definition.

Somehow, Charles Bukowski’s advice echoes the words of T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope for hope would be the hope for the wrong thing.”[3] It has been said that when Eliot wrote those lines, he was going through a period of health crisis which made him think that he was no longer able to write poetry. Unsatisfied with each new draft of the East Coker, T.S. Eliot blamed himself for beginning the poem prematurely and for writing it too quickly. Coincidently, I have copied that full passage of the East Coker in my journal; side by side with another poem by Charles Bukowski which, I believe, represents an elegant variation of his advice to Packard — “as the spirit wanes the form appears.”[4] Perhaps the lesson I learnt from those examples, most of them drawn out of the pages of a poetry book, is that while poets try to perform their art and speak the truth about this world; as they perceive that all words and all forms could never encapsulate their sense of reality, they learn to be humble, to respect the waiting and to lose themselves in their own insignificance; to love their insignificance and craft their greatness. In plain English, I have learnt with poetry that — “I’m nothing. I’ll always be nothing. I can’t want to be something. But I have in me all the dreams of the world.”[5]

Acknowledgments: In a book called “Shyness and Dignity,” Dag Solstad explains the meaning of a real conversation; the act of having “a real talk, stretching oneself toward an understanding together, whether personal or social, if only for the sake of a brief flash of momentary insight” (p.120). Thank you for our real conversations, Marcus. They inspired me to write this text.


Bukowski, Charles. “Art.” In Charles Bukowski: Born to this:

Bukowski, Charles. 1990. Letter to William Packard.  In Letters of Note:

Eliot, T.S. “East Coker” from The Four Quartets. In:

Pessoa, Fernando. “The Tobacco Shop,” translated by Richard Zenith. In:

Solstad, Dag. “Shyness and Dignity.” Graywolf Press, Minnesota, 2006

Juliana de Albuquerque Katz

[1] I stumbled upon this quote on Yod’s website. Go check it!

[2] Charles Bukowski to William Packard, 1990. In Letters of Note:

[3] T.S. Eliot. “East Coker” from The Four Quartets. In:

[4] Charles Bukowski. “Art,” a short poem.

[5] Fernando Pessoa. “The Tobacco Shop” translated by Richard Zenith. In:


Juliana de Albuquerque Katz is a philosophy student at Tel Aviv University. She specializes in German Classic Philosophy and its contemporary developments. Particularly fond of literature and cinema, the author finds a source of inspiration in the works of Hölderlin, Charles Bukowski, Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman. Scribbler, photographer and academic, Juliana’s latest intellectual experiments can be read on Yod and accessed on Twitter (@the_stardust).

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