There’s a terrific, and terrifying, passage in Gerhard Roth’s Will to Sickness that captures what I am attempting in serving as your guide from shame to excess. “As she walked, the girl pulled her skin over her head, a long bloody sheet, and stood in glittering splendor in the gutter.” What I want is nothing less than for excess to strip off your skin (not to mention my own), to leave you standing, bare and exposed, blood and flux and nerve and bone, in glittering splendor, a figure from a Francis Bacon painting.

But it is more complicated than this, for, to steal the words of another friend, You will never know to the very end if I was laughing at you. I have, you know now, asked you to lose yourself in excess, to abandon any notion of self, and yet to also remain painfully self-conscious, to never forget you might be the subject of a joke.

Such a paradoxical vacillation between self-dissolution and intensive self-consciousness is the crux of my tutelage. It is not unlike the way de Sade’s characters sometimes insist that God doesn’t exist and then in the next breath shove tiny copies of the Lord’s Prayer up each other’s anuses as a way of insulting God. They want it (and in fact get it) both ways: God doesn’t exist and yet we must insult him. Or for us: You don’t exist: don’t you forget it.

Where does this leave you? In a fix. Neither coming nor going, simultaneously in anguish and ecstacy—which is precisely where I want you. There’s real breathless power in this disjunctive synthesis, in the non-coincidence but simultaneity of anguish and ecstacy, of the certainty that God doesn’t exist and the erotism of profanation, of the self and non-self.

All of which is tenuously but intensely connected to another passage, one I find equally terrifying, this one from Yoel Hoffmann: “Sometimes the bell rang and a person we did not know stood in the doorway. I am so and so, he said, and have no hand. But he had a hand.”

What makes the passage so terrifying is the emphasis it places on that last had, a desperate insistence that reveals not the narrator’s logical certainty that a hand was there, but his uncertainty and the utter void of his fear.

Is not this void at the bottom of all that we attempt, be we mother and son, lover and lover, or writer and reader?