SURFACE TO SURFACE, ASHES TO ASHES (REPORTING TO U)
SURFACE TO SURFACE, ASHES TO ASHES (REPORTING TO U)
Linda Marie Walker writes an involved meditation on the concept of the interface and its relation to place.
The Way of Stories
if worlds were stories, their inhabitants storytellers,
not just the living beings, but all, all things, all
telling their stories, all being told
there would be room for worlds
where contradictions could be true
where I could say “you live, you’re dead”
and with a laugh, you would reply.
(Roubaud, 1995: 29)
1. It’s A Far Cry To Morning
Gregory Ulmer once mentioned to me the (idea of the) “interface” between (this) here and (that) there; between my world/planet here, where I live, and his world/planet there, where he lives (across the seemingly same world/planet) - or between any “you” and “me” - and how “your” worlds might face, or interface with, each other - and what knife, or other method/instrument, could be found in some dangerous abandoned “shed” (or tower or story) to subtly slice open the place where “your” feet touch the ground, so that ‘I’ could step through - and be there, touch my feet to your ground, and you could follow me back through (if you wanted to) and touch your feet to my ground. (The text we wrote together years ago called The Wishing Way was a trembling attempt between “us” to write this “interface,” which was, in the end for me, as if my own place was [too] strange [to speak of]).
(Here, in my writing-world, I have used the letter “U” and the word “you” [“U can get under my skin”]; [“my take on you”]). The sound of each is the same of course, and yet in appearance and sense each is completely different; it is simply a compositional move to bring them face to face, to the edge of an interface: U/you. The letter “U” stands in for Ulmer (as an addressee); this writing imagines a direct-line to U(lmer); U though is imaginary; therefore it is an imagined direct-line - impossible and fictionalised (that is, it is thought nevertheless). The “you” is the anonymous “you” of writing; the one (person/many people) who is always unknown to the writer and who, with the writer and the writing, “completes” the interface (in as much as the surface of the address, its passage, appears: me/you). The “you” is always “there” - wherever “there” is - and never in a position to see/be “here” (with the presence of me-here). Writing makes-up these surfaces; the U/you sound allows slippage along the / of the interface; it is a small move that “hears” the voice of the interface (a musical note, almost); and, as well, it raises, ever so slightly, the question of who it is that one writes to (addresses); it’s never no-one-in-particular, as everyone is particular. The surface of this writing, within this paragraph, is close to the idea of the missive (an official letter to you) - the surface to surface missive/missile is all we have to speak with each other, and it can easily stray and end in ash. The “U” and the “you” come into play through the remainder of this writing, the “you” more than the “U”, and at each point the “interface” is at work.
The “interface” is a strange place - like a no-man’s-land (where hostilities are suspended, and the enemies lick each others’ wounds). What the interface is, or does, in and with writing - in writing from/about one place to another place in a desire for (or an obsession with) “letting you know” (something, someone, anything, eg., How I Am), or as an excuse/longing to find out “How You Are” - or even to discover if you are still alive - is show, in a banal and infinitely exquisite(ly) painful way how impossible this desiring-for, obsessing-with, the interface is, how “plain-as-day” it is that I cannot tell you what my “here” is (or how I came to be “here”) - how it is/I am moment to moment - the loud rhythmic scraping that is going on in a house across the street, the hot wind blowing in the window through the billowing cobweb, the large spotted dog (a voice: “are you dressed yet?”) sniffing along the front fence, the young couple painting their newly acquired house (yellow and brown) - in its specificity, in its shades and shadows, temperatures, foods, plants, news, rumours, dreams, hopes, sadnesses, joys, losses, births, deaths, laughters, stupidities, crimes, politics, decisions, and so on (and how now, as I type this up it is night and cool, and the Saturday traffic is light, and the weather mild for summer, etc). The stories are stones and leaves and words and sounds - and sights so fleeting and illusory and unsettling that one calls them ghosts and angels and thoughts; or, in a leap of faith, surfaces.
“Surface,” here, means (as a medium [diviner] by which to touch the word) the appearing of the world before (in the presence of) the world - an appearing in (the) face of the world - as if there could be a first instance, a coming upon the seemingness of what “is” (the world as it “is” out my window [as I sit inside and gaze outside], this, another, day, the very matter of it - including the drifting sounds of a child crying, birds calling, cars on distant roads, the odd deep thud - and the difficult oddness of taking-in the matter as it is, as not re-presenting anything at all [nothing]). The sur/face hides nothing. Instead it mutates before our eyes (beautiful, like I’ve seen the spectres portrayed in films as “filmy,” “smoky,” “cloudy” wafting shapes and colours - almost taking on form and then coming apart and re-arranging), weightless, and we encounter it continually in speeds, rhythms, flows, and densities.
The surface, each surface, touches the air, rubs, and is rubbed into, the invisible relentlessly moving changing condition of “atmosphere.” The surface offers itself up as inter-face, the very middle of “every”-thing, the between, the world of negotiation, of endless work, forever en route (“every” thing at the same time), the impossible impossible-always and impossible-already, vertical and horizontal becoming passings (thoughts, images, sounds) - the vertical density of the horizon when it cuts the sinking sun, or melts into the ocean (we could proceed like this): ‘The middle has nothing to do with an average, it is not a centrism or a form of moderation. On the contrary, it’s a matter of absolute speed. Whatever grows from the middle is endowed with such a speed’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987: 30). Absolute speed is the movement between the speed of one movement and the speed of another, as one is perceived by the other (an appearance of movement as it seems to appear). Absolute speed is the movement-between, a potential movement, a movement going nowhere fast, nomadic, geographic, involutional.
The skin is our interface (the living tension between “an” inside and “the” outside); it is not considered a “surface” but a state, an organ, an envelope, a plane, a volume, a filter, a casing, a carnality. The skin, our face (of orifices) to the world, our tactile, nerve-full, sense-full, receiver of the other’s face - animate and inanimate, our “between” (mobile, flaking, political, machined) state, keeping the insides in and the outsides out. My skin is my very very thin, aging, dead-give-away, weather proof/prone, intimately registering hereness, and this hereness more than any other is one that writing cannot touch - even though U can get under my skin (and infect my mood, my take on you and on me and on our trip to yet unknown places). (This naming of things [surface, interface] is like this day: one minute it’s warm, the next cool, the wind rises and falls, the sky is overcast then clear, the overcast is dark grey and cloudy or light grey and misty, and then the North is stormy and the South vivid blue, a few seconds of light rain and when the sun comes out it’s sharp and stinging. This day is named Sunday. It’s a noisy Sunday and then it’s silent; there are shadows and then there are none. (This named day makes my skin tingle/crawl with anticipation and anxiety - it’s moving, and memory is stirred to tears.)Antonin Artaud wrote: ‘A thing named is a dead thing, and it is dead because it is separated’ (Thévenin, 1998: 43).
Involution is, for Deleuze, ‘…neither regression nor progression…,’ and ‘…the opposite of evolution, but …also the opposite of regression, returning to a childhood or a primitive world’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987: 29). Instead it seems a form of restraint, a paring back, an abandoning (a minimalism of sorts), and an inventing of ‘…new elements and new relations …Experimentation is involutive, the opposite of the overdose. It is also true of writing; to reach this sobriety, this simplicity which is neither the end nor the beginning of something. To involute is to be “between,” in the middle, adjacent. Beckett’s characters are in perpetual involution, always in the middle of a path, already en route’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987: 29-30). Involuting is an act of “involving” - of being in the mix of the complex. This makes what “is” then volatile (fleeting, transient: evaporating rapidly, vaporising; moisture: liquid into mist/steam; a damp air, a watery air). (It’s not uncommon to feel chilled and sneeze).Samuel Beckett’s set of texts, Texts For Nothing, are involuting, volatile, epic, “film-clip,” writings which, being moments or life-times, begin where beginning is already well and truly finished, and yet begin anyway, to finish where it can only be that to-begin is all that can, and will, be done - writings for one’s life. Text 3 has “here” and “there” as its impossible “life.” It begins: “Leave, I was going to say leave all that. What matter who’s speaking, someone said what matter who’s speaking. There’s going to be a departure, I’ll be there, I won’t miss it, it won’t be me, I’ll be here, I’ll say I’m far from here, it won’t be me. I won’t say anything, there’s going to be a story, someone’s going to try and tell a story. Yes, no more denials, all is false, there is no one, it’s understood, there is nothing, no more phrases, let us be dupes, dupes of every time and tense, until it’s done, all past and done, and the voices cease, it’s only voices, only lies. Here, depart from here and go elsewhere, or stay here, but coming and going. Start by stirring, there must be a body, as of old, I don’t deny it, no more denials, I’ll say I’m a body, stirring back and forth, up and down, as required. With a cluther of limbs and organs, all that is needed to live again, to hold out a little time, I’ll call that living. I’ll say it’s me, I’ll get standing, I’ll stop thinking, I’ll be too busy, getting standing, staying standing, stirring about, holding out, getting to tomorrow, tomorrow week, that will be ample, a week will be ample, a week in spring, that puts the jizz in you. It’s enough to will it, I’ll will it, will me a body, will me a head, a little strength, a little courage, I’m starting now, a week is soon served, then back here, this inextricable place, far from the days, the far days, it’s not going to be easy. And why, come to think, no no, leave it, no more of that, don’t listen to it all, don’t say it all, it’s all old, all one, once and for all. There you are now on your feet, I give you my word, I swear they’re yours, I swear it’s mine, get to work with your hands, palp your skull, seat of the understanding, without which nix, then the rest, the lower regions, you’ll be needing them, and say what you’re like, have a guess, what kind of man, there has to be a man, or a woman, feel between your legs, no need of beauty, nor of vigour, a week’s a short stretch, no one’s going to love you, don’t be alarmed. No, not like that, too sudden, I gave myself a start. And to start with stop palpitating, no one’s going to kill you, no one’s gong to love you and no one’s going to kill you, perhaps you’ll emerge in the high depression of Gobi, you’ll feel at home there. I’ll wait for you here, no, I am alone, I alone am, this time it’s I must go.” (Beckett, 1967: 85-86)
“Is” turns into an event - writing is an event, a play upon the process of “is,” a working that cannot (at any given moment) trace, catch, relay, or dwell upon the physicality and temporality of an “is” as “is” is worked on by so many things seen/unseen, solid/phantastic, past/present (the event, this writing event, has no decided purpose, no pre-set outcome, no lesson or demand - although, as a loving of what happens as one goes along, it might bring a fragile calm): ‘Making an event - however small - is the most delicate thing in the world: the opposite of making a drama or making a story’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987: 66).
This report comes to you from “here.” And it is “here” that I’ll be guilty of abandoning/leaving/betraying. This report is a surface abandonment - a report of make-believe.
The interface is ‘a surface regarded as the common boundary to two bodies or spaces’ and ‘the point or area at which any two systems interact’ (to exchange ideas or plans, etc); in chemistry it’s ‘the surface which separates two phases;’ in computing ‘it’s the point at which an interconnection is made between a computer and a peripheral device …or person’ (Delbridge et al., 1999: 1111).
In sewing there is interfacing: it is fabric laid between the outer material and the inner material to give body to the garment. The body, the interfacial fabric, given to the garment tenses it - makes it a little more taut or rigid: gives it tension (it doesn’t collapse quite so easily, it stands up for itself a little). And if the fabric is, in a manner of speaking, liquid/fluid it could be called the ‘interfacial surface tension’ (‘the surface tension at the interface between two immiscible liquids’) (Delbridge et al., 1999: np).
2. Among The Grass
All (the) stories are “liquid” (in some form or another - mist, fog, snow, dew, cloud, steam, rain, river, vapour, ocean, lake, frost, and each subtle quality of these) or fluidal (soluble, molten, fusible, humid, mushy) at the interface. The interface is the venue of stories, the site of tenses where “here” is given some (semblance of) body, where “here” becomes a body (a composition of bits and pieces; [molecules] ‘which move freely among themselves but do not tend to separate like those of gases; neither gaseous or solid”) for “there” ’ (Delbridge et al., 1999: 1252).
“Here” is abandoned for “whatever” comes to constitute the momentary surface at the interface, which is everything (which is my “lot,” the lay of the land, how it goes) I can tell you in the time or space provided (in the scheme of things). Each tiny watery story is a passage (a trickle), a way of getting through the limbo-land (the realm of hauntings) of neither here nor there, a way of appeasing the terrorising “Harpy” who makes the unholy screaming row when the story is “a lie” (against oneself and the “here,” and therefore against the “there”).
Lyra (the girl in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials) and Will, her companion, are trying to get into the underworld, to the ghosts of the dead, and they have to get past the Harpy called “No-Name.” Lyra offers to tell her a story in return for getting through the door. Lyra is an expert at making-up stories about her life, ‘shaping and cutting and improving and adding: parents dead; family treasure; shipwreck; escape …(Pullman, 2000: 309). The Harpy ‘launch[ed] herself at Lyra, claws outstretched …one of her claws caught her scalp and tore out a clump of hair.’ She was screaming ‘Liar! Liar!’ Eventually they get through into the endless plain of ghost-people (‘a place of nothing,’ a young ghost-martyr calls it) by using another ‘gift’/instrument altogether, Will’s ‘Subtle Knife;’ but the Harpy and her cohorts follow (‘thick as blowflies’) (Pullman, 2000: 336).
The ghosts beg Lyra to tell them about the world, the sun and wind and sky - stories - and so she does. She tells them her story, as true as she can. And the Harpies grow silent and listen too. They feed on the news of the world. So a treaty is made with the Harpies. In exchange for ghost stories (of the future dead) - if they tell the truth of their life, if they don’t hold anything back - they will guide them through the land of the dead out into the world again so that they dissipate (dissolve, melt) in the air and become ‘part of everything alive again’ (Pullman, 2000: 335). The Harpies are given an honourable task.
3. Choleric Atmosphere
The Harpies are irritable, choleric (their bile rises, and they spit out foul words ‘jeering, mocking, cackling, deriding’ (Pullman, 2000: 313): ‘They know all the worst things about you. They know how to make you feel horrible, just thinking of all the stupid things and bad things you ever did. And all the greedy and unkind thoughts you ever had, they know ‘em all, and they sum you up and they make you feel sick with yourself …But you can’t get away from ‘em.” (Pullman, 2000: 323); they rile against the “made-up” because this is what they “believe:” ‘If they [the ghosts] live in the world, they should see and touch and hear and love and learn things…’ (Pullman, 2000: 334). That is, the world is enough, the world as it appears and “is” is exceedingly strange, grotesque, fascinating, and “liquid” ‘…if they come down here bringing nothing, we shall not guide them out.’ (Pullman, 2000: 335) That’s some threat! I’ll tell (U) (I’ll tell (U) (no comma) this then, just in case, to cover my hot skin (and given that this is about “love”)…
4. …but first things first…
…Jacques Derrida writes: ‘I will have to be satisfied, an obvious procedure of failure, to tell - like a story, ‘One day, once upon a time…’ …the story of a text that for a long time, I have dreamed of writing …(a muddied, baroque, and overcharged text which resembles what has always been my relation to such incredible words as ‘soul,’ ‘spirit,’ and so forth)…’ (Derrida, 1993:123).
(And I pause, waiting, and nothing happens, I am still here, and you are still there; my writing gets me nowhere fast, and Psyche, the life breath, breathing, souling, dispersing/dissipating her body in the air like a story - tells her body in the world amongst “everything.”)
The goddess Psyche is spread so fine and intricate and spidery that she’s in-touch without you/me. (I call you on the phone, but you’re not home; I write you a letter, and will not see you open it, or watch your eyes drift over the page, and you may never reply; a white cat jumps over the side fence and my heart shoots into my mouth - will I remember to tell the Harpy of the trembling at my nerve ends).
‘Psyche is outstretched in the shade of a walnut tree, as evening falls. She is resting; the slight movements of sleep have partly uncovered her chest. Eros contemplates her, with both emotion and malice. Psyche knows nothing of this. Her sleep is so deep that it has taken from her even the abandon of her pose’ (Nancy, 1993: 393).
She is there despite us and our longing for her touch - and when her touch comes we call it/her names (divine names like whore vamp siren vampire witch tramp wolf demon - all of them sacred crowds). We worry she will swallow us with her kiss - the scent of frangipani floats on the warm air, despite us too - and she must, how else will we stop to know her pressingness (her mouth, her juice):
‘Yes I loved them, those gatherings late at night -
the small table, glasses with frosted sides,
fragrant vapor rising from black coffee,
the fireplace, red with powerful winter heat,
the biting gaiety of a literary joke,
and the first helpless and frightening glance of my love’
(Akhmatova, 1985: 25).
The interface looks both ways (like Akhmatova’s poem: ‘Yes I loved them…’), but what of the interface, it (it-she) itself. There is no speaking for here or there …or the interface, even. There is speaking only for oneself instead, the grass (and then it’s only moment to moment - in the sun or the shade, wind, rain, on the shore or path, in the kitchen, bedroom, lounge, before the friend, student, lover, tv, painting, surrounded by music, weeping, laughter, perfume, bells, mist, though…) -
- I feel(1) like making(2) “cont(r)act”(3) with everyone who ever really loved me(4); this might mean some force, some strategy of intent; a kind of practical love, and it might mean abandonment, or the collecting of stones.
((1)Feel: what is “feel” here, is it a reaching out into the wild-blue-yonder; is it a sensation [“The immediately proximate topo-ontological surface of sensation comprises distance and depth. Distance and depth are creatures of the surface. They unfold from it, in furtherance of the encounter. They are processual continuations of the surface. They are in the twist of it,”] (Massumi, website).
((2)Making: can making be a movement like walking or singing or dreaming, or is it a work with materials like string or ink or paint, or is it speech - a longing to say something or hear something, and to have an unimaginable thought as a result).
((3)Cont(r)act: if I send a letter, will a reply come back; a phone call might be tactless; a notice in a newspaper might be desperate; an email could alarm you - “like a shot out of hell;” and, is cont(r)act literal touch, a pressing, impressing, of hands together, or bodies).
((4)This whole sentence [above, beginning with “I feel” and ending with “the collecting of stones”] is a litany, an eulogy, a requium, a memorial: one archive/here craves another/there).
The interface is a writing way (via), a way (a getting there: a trudge, a glide, a slip, a climb) to writing (not a direction or a style though, no, rather a relation to the matter at hand), a very close proximity, a “liquid” process (a whey/weight: a weighing of outer and inner - the face to the world, the face to the other flesh); via: swinging from side to side, touching the appearance of the world (wherever one is) and the appearance of the flesh (whatever its condition), moving relentlessly with a waggish demeanour - being waylaid along the road, ambushed (and ambushing), being worn down/out, and carried away/off (falling in love, being besotted, hot-headed, and invective).
The interface can be an ugly place, tacked on, invisible, cheap, and practical. Still, it’s a place, tough and plain. The interface though can be an exquisite silk, a fine cotton, or delicate wool; it can be cut with precision and stitched in the candlelight by hand. Beautifully plain.
5. …’first things first’ is done…now… ‘I’ll tell you/U this then, just in case, to cover my hot skin (and given that this is about “love”)…’: The Ear Of Never (a story for U)
You asked me, very quietly, as if not wanting me to answer, or, as if not wanting me to think you were asking a question, something I was expected to answer, so I almost didn’t hear a question, just your voice speaking to me, and your voice is the voice of a lover, so I didn’t mind, even as I knew I would fail with my answer, and so you asked me: what did you write about Marguerite. You asked as if you had known her. And I know you didn’t, that before I spoke of her, you had never thought of her. Even though you’d heard of her, as everyone has.
Perhaps you were being kind, as you mostly are, by showing interest in my interest. In trying to show your kindness. And so I tried to tell you, kindly, about the space between the firing of the guns and the moment of her death; the space between one moment and the next, between the sound of living and the silence of death; the space of the last wound.
I said, that’s what I tried to fill in …with writing. That’s what I tried to write - that instant, that last long wait, eternity.
Was it enough, what I said? Did you believe me? You sat still. You said nothing. So, I’ll write it all down, “say” it, again.
We were together just a few hours; in our long lives, all we’ll ever have is a few hours. It’s not enough, or it’s too much (in making evident that it was “not enough”). Never should have been, those hours. Not sure who decided what, who chose to be nowhere else.
I’m writing now to stay with you, to be in the absent company of you - sitting on the couch while you smoke a last cigarette before bed.
I recall a touch with terrible longing - it was brief, light; you will not remember giving it; we were watching the sea and a woman began telling us about the old rooms under the sand, and you put your hand on my back. I did not expect it; the woman kept talking, we kept looking at her, and looking back at the sea, and the touch came and went. I was still alive, and so were you.
I dedicate these words to that touch; only to that touch; not to you; I’m sorry; words, though, will never ‘touch’ the delicacy of that touch - or my shock.
Days and days have passed, there’s no word from you; today, your voice on the phone.
Where to begin then, with this woman, Marguerite Gertrude Zelle (who was known as Mata Hari); I close my eyes and think of you asking: what did you write about Marguerite? And it seems now that that was not a question at all; you used those words as an endearment; perhaps they stood for something that you couldn’t say, or give -affection; you were giving me “sensation” - like paint on a canvas.
She was executed on October 15, 1917. I wrote her as fiction, it’s all I could do. I touched her like you touched me, on her back, so as not to press or push her (backwards, into the dark), or bruise or break her; so as not to change the course of her destiny. I write slowly, slower than ever. Outside the wind blows in the palm tree, and the bamboo beats against the iron fence. I wrote Marguerite-music, moving by phrases, tones, and repetitions.
I find old notes written to myself about her, directing myself: ‘essays on dying’, I wrote, and, ‘a new waved-and-bobbed hairstyle emphasizes the ovularity of her features.’
(I need a table to work on. Soon I will light a fire each evening. Perhaps I’ll turn into a fish or a bird, something’s bound to happen, perhaps I’ll turn into a blue glass bowl.)
The war began this damp morning. I write about a woman to a man; to you about her. I write also to the woman I write about, Marguerite - as if I truly could. I write to her, to her burial especially, to the moment she crumpled to the ground.
I wait in someone’s house while they speak on the phone in another room. The back door’s open to the very slight breeze (could be anywhere; in the tropics even). There are mosquitoes, and loud music on the stereo. This is the life one leads; it goes on; I’ve told you little about Marguerite. She was my excuse (she is still my excuse, here, to write). I would have preferred to write you a letter, but you are out-of-reach. “Here” though is always available, ready; I make a space, lose it, find it, lose it, find it, and so on. Now, as I remember the remembering of Marguerite, I am (ever so) slightly (almost indiscernibly) different - and that too makes me write: she is no excuse now (I’ve abandoned her); who was she once, in her aliveness, that I’ve written about. Perhaps that’s why I hesitated to answer your question - then and now; she was once-alive, and nothing can touch that.
Tonight someone called her “notorious.” I’d never thought of that word for her. A “notorious” woman. It doesn’t seem to matter - and I can’t say a thing about “you” either. Can’t liken you to something I’ve known. Can’t say I miss you, or long for you. I mean, I can’t say it, out-loud, to someone else, can’t name you, can’t tell the tale. This silence, of not saying, of holding my tongue, is under my skin. I whisper, to myself, the crisp cut word “never.” There is not even a request by you for this silence (you are the ear of never). I knew it instantly, as a “discreet affair,” and knew too to keep it unsaid (to hold it in abeyance, to save it from escaping, to keep you safe), as if having agreed to do so.
A plane passes low, across the damp garden. The war started this morning, that’s a fact. It’s been a fact all day. Someone walks down the corridor. I am not alone, for a moment; the same sense anyway, of song, of an insistent beat (I call that beat “your eyes”), compelling, hand-to-hand, and murmuring - but surely murmuring. Of course there are her, Marguerite’s, facts too. Where she was born, for instance, and when, and to whom. Are you interested, was your interest true. For me, it began when she was arrested. It’s from there, that room, that something out-of-the-world began. Although, every single moment up until that “knock knock” lead to her death, a death that hung over her like no-death-at-all (she did not see it coming). Fate is compelling; it could be named, that, fate, as an object, like plastic, vinyl, wax, or plaster (plaster-fate). Does a woman come into the world plastered with her path/fate. Is everything one says already ready to be said (is she “plastered,” drunk to her core). It might be true, as here I write you what I have already written, elsewhere …and what would you be doing this mid-Friday-afternoon. Would you be drinking coffee. Perhaps, perhaps not. I’m alive too, aliveness continues. What I remember is bare(ly) memory; I can’t even recall in detail how it was to be with you, but I was touched (madly). It’s something though, material even, and a matter of urgency - fungal, fugitive, finite; a disposition which is simple, a mere phrase: listening like a leaf.
6. ‘Whatever its complex elements, the pleasure felt by most of us in good ruins is great.’ (Macauley, 1984: np)
I live in the older part of Adelaide, next door to the Port. The Port has gone to wrack-and-ruin; it’s rundown, neglected, deserted, desolate. It’s in the throws though of rejuvenation. Its ruinous state is being erased - like the pub around the corner; the Ethelton Hotel, built in 1879, was demolished a couple of weeks ago despite much opposition from local residents; there was nothing they could do as it was not ‘heritage listed’ (the hotel had been renovated in recent years and “was in good nick”). The local paper reported that: ‘The spokesman [for the hotel owners] said the Carlisle Tavern [which will replace the hotel] would contain a plaque and a photo dedicated to the history of the Ethelton…’See Portside Messenger, Adelaide, Messenger Newspapers, 21.01.04, p. 7; see also here and here.
(In the middle of the Port (Port Adelaide) is a worker’s cottage saved from demolition by a local historian. In the backyard an archaeological dig was undertaken by a doctoral student from Flinders University.See here. Urban archaeology is relatively rare here. I’ll return to The Little House later.)
Rose Macauley, in her book Pleasure Of Ruins, writes of the host of minor ruin-pleasures:
…looting, carrying away fragments (a treat enjoyed by great looters and small, from Lord Elgin and the Renaissance nobles and popes to the tourist pocketing stone eggs from fallen Corinthian capitals). There is the pleasure of constructing among the ruins a dwelling or a hermitage …of being portrayed against a ruinous background …of writing or cutting one’s name, as all good tourists have done in all times, of self-projection into the past, of composing poetry and prose, of observing the screech owl, the bat, and the melancholy ghost, and the vegetation that pushes among the crevices and will one day engulf. (Macauley, 1984: np)
The land (beneath our feet) - its very matter and material - is the “ground” of narrative (of durational inheritance, in the scheme of infinite things - and yet somehow invisible, as if we walk on air); and the built structures are easily parted with, their ordinary efficacious designs deemed (judged, nominated, rated, appraised) “eye-sores.”This is a complex web of stories - political, personal, historical, scientific - which I have unfairly (and tactlessly) touched upon (and as if it is possible to write too). However, what this has in its sight is two (and these have within them countless variations) ways of knowing-seeing - a way which is occupation/visitation, and a way which is occupation/inhabitation; in other words, the world appears different (and it is, and that “it-is” means that “it is” of an entirely other “frequency” or tonality - another world all together [another plan/ce of existence]).
The interface is in the middle, the ruin is in the middle of the world, letting us think of other things, of secrets, as if the ruin sets the secret off, identifies itself sooner or later as the generator of assemblages, of speculative collectives - the ruin is “with” us, ruin with ruin; middle (interfacial) all the way. The secret though is right out in the open (in the face of the interface)- the Port with all its roads, streets, alleys, bridges, shops, warehouses, museums, wharfs, factories, people, houses, offices, animals, hotels, tunnels, equipment, ships, boats, barges, and so on.
7. The Little House
The Little House is “here,” so is the woman who wants to live in it. The house is cracked and broken. Parts of the ceiling have collapsed. There are bolts in the walls (windows were sealed up for growing marijuana). One room is painted dark red - we call this the Gerhard Richter room.“We” are Sean Pickersgill and myself. For more information on the house and images of the house, see here. (The historian is Sandra Morton. She is the woman who will live in The Little House.)
During the excavation in the backyard, old footings were uncovered, and all the rubbish that had been buried for a hundred years was dug up, sifted, bagged, and labelled - glass, metal, pottery, plastic (a music cassette), cloth, leather, bones (a dog).
We’ve brought many artists to bear upon the house - upon its photogenic ruinous state, its surfaces and ambience; as if to nourish the ghosts, and to haunt it with our own ghosts - an outside wall of various materials looks like a Rosalie Gascoigne mixed media work);For example, see here. a particular patch of paint looks like a Mark Rothko painting;For example, see here. an arrangement of the excavated fragments on a table top reminded us of Joseph Cornell’s boxes;For example, see here. the fine lines in a piece of wood look like an Agnes Martin drawing;For example, see here. all this to help (us) bring the house into the world again, to take other living/dead beings (and their work) to its heart.The house is already in the world. It is a wrong-headed state of affairs to deny this by using the expression “into the world again.” It’s more that the house in the world will house a human again. It will be an inside for the inside (for the meeting of two heats: the vital surround and the vital flesh). The house itself has been “homeless” - the making of its “hereness” once more is a small gesture toward “saying” - toward making the house, again, an uttered thing. ‘The human finds its place here, in the “time for the utterable,” which is the time of transience as such. The historical unfolding of what passes away comes to rest in the earth, its humus. The utterable gives the “lived things” of our human worlds a domestic interior in which to make themselves at home. ‘Here is the time for the utterable, here, its home’ (Harrison, 2003: 49). And yet to do this, to attend to its ruin, to attach ourselves to its specific and multiple surfaces, we have touched our own reflections - we have invaded it like a swarm of ants, eating its absolute dis-interest in our marginal obsessions.
What we (think we) are doing is creating an inter/face - a story - composed of fragments of other stories (lifetimes of art making, talking, criticism, despair, acclaim, neglect, misunderstanding).Still, there will be, at some future time, and momentarily, three (condensed) parallel, inter-acting, infecting “houses,” residing together - not enveloping each other, not superimposed, not montaged; but, with tense, invisible, independent presence (ghosts-in-arms). I imagine the three ghosts/angels as: the house we “took;” our obsessions (the interface); and the house we “give” (or, come to be with). The interface will be our own instability and sadness and pleasure (an inter-lace/a lashing); in fact three seams, three (condensed) interfaces.In Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, the different worlds exist simultaneously and discretely. Lyra passes into the other world, she leaves behind one world to enter another; the worlds are there, all at once, but their presences are singular and physically/visibly sealed off. Extraordinary (a possible murder) and ordinary (following a cat) circumstances bring the presences, plural, to consciousness.
The Little House will have a ladder in the one new room. We call this room The Tower. It is slightly irregular in shape, and taller than the other rooms. (We planned that it extend downward too - as if recalling the excavation and the burying of matter before that event, and as if honouring the ground beneath our feet and its capacity to hold the past (literally and metaphorically); this downward move would be modest - perhaps one or two steps; and then a step or two back up into the garden (this may still come to pass).) The ladder will lean against the wall facing into the house. At the top of the ladder will be a low door (about half the usual size). The door opens onto a small flat rooftop space that lays above a transitional inner space - almost kitchen, almost laundry, almost bathroom. It’s a ladder to (see) the sky (and to watch for shooting stars). The Tower is the house’s “stranger;” a place where the occupant - the human stranger - has only herself to bring (a place for new ruinous beginnings; although it rests of course upon the earth where others have stood and reckoned with themselves). In The Tower there are no standard openings - there is a high window, a low window, and a thin window, and the double glazed doors to the garden will be a little narrower and taller than usual.
From the front The Little House will look, more or less, as it does now.
The thinking toward the ruin of The Little House has little to do with heritage or conservation in terms of restoration or authenticity (with a return to what was imagined, as if a lesson). It does have something to do with both though in terms of forgetting and wondering. ‘How can we build the future from ruins, or make the present evolve by using the knowledge of past ages? Re-write, re-inscribe the memory of strata that have disappeared, like a palimpsest or a magic slate. To transform history into life demands forgetfulness and the irrational. And instinct too. Selective choice is based on subjectivity and individual will, and refers to the senses and not reason. The re-use of older strata does not amount to a servile imitation but a transposition. As Nietzsche said, we must “be able to transform and incorporate the things of the past, to heal wounds and scars, replace what is lost, re-make broken forms” ’ (Hladik, 2000: 56).
There is nothing to prove this project “a good project,” or a particularly rigorous or instructive way to pay-attention. It’s written about here as an a-methodical, a-historical practice; a practice that, in the spirit of ruin, is intermediary (interfacial) - not a this or a that, or a here or a there, but a making of face (or of facing/turning) that faces two (or more) non-opposing imperfect ways (not north south, back front, up down, east west, and so on).‘Beyond a certain state, the ruin no longer refers back to its original state but focuses interest on its own imperfection. The amputated work gains in power of evocation what it loses in formal integrity. The ruin sacrifices to the desire for broken and rough surfaces, the aesthetics of the picturesque. Infiltrating water causes buckling and cracking, renders flake, walls go to pieces. Amidst this random state and in the micro-fissures of ruined walls, painters saw landscapes. Accidents and ruptures are never clean breaks, they are jagged and fragmented. Walls swell, surfaces become complex. Time’s destruction - the de-construction of the beautiful whole - breaks down classical notions of order and symmetry. The unfinished is at the other end of the chain with regard to the ruined fragment, a chain which links the “not yet” and the “already there.” While the unfinished manifests an insufficiently revealed form potentially present, the struggle of soul against matter, the fragment once belonged to a more complete whole, which was broken and altered. As such it enables a theoretical re-composition. A sign of memory, the paradox is that it takes on the value of the monad, the ultimate unit’ (Hladik, 2000: 55).
8. ‘She resumed / The Mind of God, by Paul Davies, who assumed / Laws of nature were coherent and binding, / bestowing a deep, universal unity - / and so, in that limited sense, might be divine. / She looked around at their corner of chaos, / and sighed’ (Jenkins, 2003: 70).
What do I see when I see my world, and “see” that it’s a continuum of your world, and is (too) a world amidst worlds (definite and indefinite, and accessed via a nod, a wink, a call, an invitation, a loss, a subtle knife); and is what we “is”/are, in our difference, because of you/I in your/my difference; as if born inside a world (our very own), and as if knowing it (its itness all wrapped up inside me like a time bomb) by “feel,” by its coming to “us” - as if in a dream; our place as “divine,” as infinite appearing, before which writing (to you/U) appears too (as yet more - ever more, forever-appearance), writing, that is, with its own seeing (writing in the dark). This divine is (the gentle art of no-thing) a constant making in the presence of the world’s making of itself moment to moment, unexpected and sensational - the thing before you (divine manifestation): ‘…the bare thing, which you see before you, that and nothing else is the god. (The ‘thing’ can be an animal, a person, a stone, a word, a thought.) God is never anything other than a singular, bare presence’ (Nancy, 1990: 127). It’s weird, odd, confounding, to think of the “life-of-appearance,” to think that appearance has a life-of-its-own; that it’s a kind of flickering (an interface of glimmer and sparkle and dimness) between “us” appearing and “it” appearing; and our facing it (this life) in every-which-way - in our restless movement and contemplations - makes us unreliable witnesses and mythmakers. Yet there ‘it is’: what you cannot know, here; and ‘here’ is everywhere in all directions - radiant (painful, death-giving, ruinous) appearingness.Misreading Nancy, but trying not to: ‘Nancy writes “all art is sacred” - yet art and the divine are not totally distinct things. Which is to say that when the divine manifests itself, art itself is reduced to nothing’ (Nancy, 1990: 129).
(A break, an arrival, a departure, tears, a deep hollow breath, a tap dripping: ruined places are not abandoned to an utter barrenness, to a vanishing point, instead they are occupied by themselves, by an obvious insecure, indetermined mood; there should be no certain reverence, no more so than elsewhere - here, “hereness” is anyway, despite a thinking of hereness past - glory over [sadness]. To write of ruins, abandonment, and appearance [dis]appearing as “here” - reporting to “there” - calls for a wanderlust writing …writing held up (interrupted, stalled, slowed, delayed, broken) by the sheer ‘…brilliance of the sun on the sea: millions of scattered places…’)
“Here” is local, “there” is local - everywhere is “here” and “there;” the “and” of the interface, of the endless multiplying conversation of time-on-earth: in a sense “here” dis/appears in the telling of it to U; the report is more like a sound - a dog barking, a train passing, a siren, a footstep, music, an explosion - that cuts the air, hangs all around for a stunning moment, then ebbs, like a tide, to a knowing, ready and willing, in memory, of what the report has not yet reported. Yet it’s of its place, not a part of the place it reports on - that’s all, in telling of the place, it be-comes place itself, and in another report might be mentioned only in passing. The interface collects “ands:” ‘What defines [the multiplicity] is the AND, as something which has its place between the elements or between the sets. AND, AND, AND - stammering. And even if there are only two terms, there is an AND between the two, which is neither the one nor the other, nor the one which becomes the other, but which constitutes the multiplicity’ (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987: 34).
AND one hears the news from elsewhere, spun like a top - rumours, essays, treatises, dossiers, interviews, poems, songs, films - on radio and tv, in newspapers and journals and books, by phone and email and letter, and in meetings, conferences, classrooms; and the news is fragile, provisional, partial, heart-breaking, funny, unbelievable, and touching.
Today is Saturday, it’s a hot summer day. I will watch a wedding ceremony this afternoon, and see a favourite trio in concert this evening. In the meantime, “here” joins all other places. Its liquid (gluey) concreteness, its strange quivering appearance through the window - like yesterday and last week: hot light, sounds of kids, cars, dogs, birds, planes, trains - presses (upon) the eye and thought, and surfaces/returns as rhythms on the tips of the tongue and the fingers. It beckons you to see what I see (“I wish you were here”) and to then say-in-reply what you, U, see (so I can see what I have never seen).‘The “topo-ontological” surface…is an abstract surface of encounter, or impingement. Impression. Sensation. The softness of being. Otherwise known as the imagination: the vague perception of the world and I emerging together in sensation, differentially unfolding from a contraction in it. The surface of sensation is ‘abstract’ because if things and I emerge from it, in itself it cannot be any thing, any more than it can be in me. It is all and only in the encounter. What in itself is in nothing. For it is the in-which, contraction (the actual immanence of process). The impingement is given. Cognition follows. It is tweaked into being by the encounter. This thing! This beautifully impossibly tasteless thing. This pain in the eye. Where did it come from? How can it be? What do I do now? Laugh? Critique? Buy iridescent paint?’ (Massumi, 1997: 782). The Images:
1. And all the while - while I write - I “picture” another landscape “down south” that I know like the-back-of-my-hand. It’s where I come from. I’m not in physical contact with that ground (only the continuation of it as it passes under me here), it’s five hours drive away. Still, it’s this landscape, this “southness” (there), that accompanies this text (here) - which is a kind of southerly breeze, straight off the Southern Ocean. There are four images of the Southern Ocean “here.”
2. The two images of a small white cup were taken after drinking hot Greek-coffee and turning the empty cup upside down to drain out the remaining liquid so as to “divine” my future (reading the remains).
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