A training exercise in nihilism. The basic actions of picking up and putting down are stripped of meaning. They are detached from the material world. They resemble nothing other than themselves. They have no identity, no goal; they communicate nothing. They have nothing to say. Because they have no value, their value is infinite. Because they cannot speak, they say everything.
VOICE: Pierre Offredi
MUSIC (SAMPLED): Anton Webern, Matt Rogalsky, Sofia Gubaidulina
PRODUCTION ASSISTANCE: Ryan Randall
1. Things are picked up, and things are put down. Or so we say. These actions are taking place
randomly and continuously in all parts of the world, at all times. Reduced to its basic motions and
deprived of any essential purpose, picking up and putting down make no contribution to worldly life; in
the time that passes between the picking up and the putting down, nothing happens.
Having no intrinsic value, picking up and putting down lose any link to the realm of accomplishment
and worldly success.
2. One picks up in a vacuum, one puts down in the abyss. Existing only for itself, these acts are
detached from the purpose we think they could have, in order to believe in the accomplishment we
wish them to be. Or so we say. Desiring, possessing, letting go – it depends on the special care one
gives from the point of the initial grasping, to the point of the final release. The spectacle of the picking
up and the stylishness of the putting down only echo from afar what those actions try to accomplish,
just as the use of language only obscures the thing of which it speaks. Even the purest and most
faithful form of picking up, followed by the most authentic instance of putting down, is not always
enough to save us from the unhappy consciousness that can see only endless repetition or painful
3. For the revealed truth is that the picking up and the putting down destroys communication. It gives
us nothing to think about. It’s like a language spoken by no one. It’s true that sometimes picking
things up and putting things down are actions which satisfy a primary need. I pick up; I put down. (I
could say that sometimes it’s done in the reverse order, but that might not be true.) Occasionally these
actions occur in irregular series. The picking up and the putting down belongs to all that is abysmal —
to all that arouses dread. Yet we may expect that it reflects some other intrinsic quality, which prefers
to concern itself with what is beautiful and sublime, that is, with feelings of a positive nature.
Let me add that my investigations actually began by collecting a number of individual cases, and only
later received proper confirmation after I had examined what language could reveal to us.
4. The thesaurus offers us several substitutes to help us understand the wide range of probabilities
associated with the phrase “picking up.”
- He has never been arrested.
- But he has been captured.
- That did not cheer him up.
- No one could detect him in a crowd.
- He has a dog who can fetch sticks.
- He was sick earlier, but he did get better.
- Small substances are among the many things that he likes to procure.
- He will recuperate when he can.
- Because he is not properly trained, he does not know how to use radar.
- When he is ready, he will refresh himself.
- There are many unusual things which stimulate him…
5. Some people confess to feelings of unease associated with the picking up and the putting down.
They fear losing touch with their beliefs. And it’s true: the picking up and the putting down is a many
headed monster, with each head speaking a different language. Or so we say. Uncertainty and
indecision will accompany each occasion, from the nervous selection of the thing picked up, to the
final speculative placement of the thing put down – and none will give you the quality of feeling that you
6. This fantastic tale begins with the childhood recollections of a young student: in spite of his present
happiness, he cannot banish the memories associated with the mysterious and terrifying death of the
father he loved. It would be satisfying to learn why something so insignificant should have come to be
invested with such passion. Some have thought that he was tormented by the pointlessness of it.
Others have said: “No, no, it was always something else. It was dark. It might have been a woman, a
strange woman. And the student fell in love with her so violently that he now has finally come to
recognize his darkest childhood fantasy.”
a) Only, as it happened, it was just his neighbour, very familiar to him, he was only just
standing there, waiting for a streetcar to pick him up.
b) Only, it was just his teacher, who was very familiar to him. She was only just sitting in her
car, waiting for the traffic to move.
c) Only, it was just his mother, who was of course very familiar to him, she was only standing
there, waiting for the school bus to drop him off.
7. When the up/down sequence exhibits its own irreversible logic, I feel that I can be myself, that I
can really express myself. Because it’s not important what you pick up or what you put down. What is
important is the picking up, as such, and the putting down, as such. It nicely captures the vulnerability
of the human form. It has no metaphysical commitments. It is no longer part of the world of things and
their meanings. Or so we say. It detaches itself from the material world. It resembles nothing other
than itself. It has no identity, no goal; it communicates nothing. It has nothing to say. Because it has
no value, its value is infinite. Because it cannot speak, it says everything. Efforts to turn it into
language and image produce only gibberish.