You are saying something to me. But I can’t hear you over the roar of the river.
We are in fact at a place where rivers meet: a river of ink, where we have met before, now in flood, and threatening to overcome its banks, as it has done for millennia; a river that ought to be brown, the brown of something cooked, for all the colours of the human community flowing into it, but in fact is grey and smells of baking, like sweet biscuit crumbs; a river of pure desire, made of mercury, reflecting the fake heavens, with glow-worms for stars, the faint sigh, as it conquers another vacuum the only sign it gives that it’s there, running through caverns underground; and a river of fire, exploding where the rivers meet, which is at their source, Memory.
You are saying something to me. I can’t make out what.
I gesture for us to go downstream, where there is a bridge, one of many, crossing the river made of ink.
Above, a white square. No. It isn’t Malevich.
Below, a black circle. Almost indiscernible.
You see, he was wrong! Hermes, sometimes called Thrice-Greatest. (That is, ‘three times the greatest‘.)
Where are we? Apart from on the bridge, part of this paysage moralisĂ©?
No. It’s not my aim to disorient.
The times we are living in are disorienting enough, with their multiplication of places, sites. With the result that we find no place to be where we are not in a sense exiles.
Aristotle was wrong as well: nothing to fear from the multiplication of characters; fear their loyalties and be afraid that each comes with his and her own brand of fiction declared from the raised board of a demountable and prefabricated stage, which need not be anything more today than technology, a tiny camera, a small screen.
Of course I want to hear you. Don’t tell me I’m being difficult!
Then. Why are we here?
Stop this pretense right now!
Four rivers. Yes. Is this paradise?
Since you are asking, at the instant at which you read this it could be. But let me make this point, having your attention for this instant: we Utopians are also Ectopians. Such are the times.
Should I be assaying the consistent image? It is after all what made our last meeting so memorable.
I knelt. A whiff of Venetian intrigue. You lifted me. Just when I thought you were going to drop me in the canal, you left. Then I imagined you stopping to turn for a last glance back, and pressing the button, before making your exit.
The time before that I wrote you an 0pen Letter. But it was for you.
You knew, because of this: 0pen …
You remember how excited I was, asking you to become my patron, hence a Citizen of the World, a Medici, in midwifery to a Great Health … on a slick flagstone pier.
It is an effort I have aborted. Runs underground, reflecting on its fictional qualities.
AndrĂ© Gregory recalls Grotowski: What use is theatre when everybody is so good at acting in their everyday lives?
The implication being, what use is it to me? Its everyday use in general being mere necessity.
A theatre about the necessity for theatre?
I liked you better when you were asking about paradise. So I could say, No, we are not there, yet. Yet could have been.
Which I suspect is for both cases, for both theatre and paradise, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Because I would not now answer with Grotowski that the problem with theatre lies in the generalisable aspect of performance but that it lies with the generalisable aspect of emplacement. And right here these words could be a kind of theatre; consistent/inconsistent – theatre; squarewhiteworld.com – theatre; and no drama.
Such are the times, we are born and die into the air. Not necessarily born outside the womb but born outside the reach of a death which lies down in the ground.
Life has new limits. Born between what is above and what is below, into a theatrical medium or manifold, comprising the media, we are larval stars, you and I, contracting images to be the ground. The transportative function of technology, the river rolls on, taking our reflections with it, this is its poetic capacity. According to the famous Commutative Law the ground commutes, from here to here to here, from every place relative to every other. Across the manifold.
But still, I cannot hear you. Because don’t think for a second the Law provides for communication as it does for contraction and commutation, as if all things were of a piece, unless you will also accept that you were for that second in paradise.
No. But something is communicated because in the most general way I know you are here. It is logical in so far as it is by mutual theatrical necessity that you are here because I am and I am here because you are. Both implicated in representation and not entirely indifferent to what that represents.
Is it compromise? In the spirit of sharism we become friends? With wider acceptance would such an affirmation promote positive social and cultural outcomes? Does the idea have legs? Does the spirit have legs? Moving forward.
You see, I have lapsed into politics, by way of satire, because I can tell you I shall not be a grey man, washing myself down in a grey river.
We are making progress, moving on, going forward. The present participle attests to the fact. Also to not interrupting the movement of the present even when it is locked in immobility. It possesses the integrity not to make movement imperative to progress. Insists on its absence. Inertia.
No. Moving forward. It is not an order. You will slip off the balustrade. I would miss you. If I tried to catch you.
We have this is the literal truth no time for orders. Time not out of joint. But and this again is literal jointed. By these butchers.
Every articulation has been removed, cut out. The very order excised. Pulled, from the smooth circulation. So that we can have our meat space. Not be spitting bones.
Command time doesn’t need orders. Leap and the air will open up before you, in the first place. In the second, the utter darkness of the river below will ensure your swift retreat from vision. In a series of stills. Each action commanding each instant, as you might just as well raise your arm and the air will open up for it or kick a can and the darkness of the river will swallow it. Either way, a non-event, since it is of no consequence to the summoned instant of what it is the instance, what it holds: an arm, a jump, a kick, a can, a body, a vanishing.
A universal accommodation neutralises every single event in a flow, as each action commands the set of universal coordinates which it presupposes, being governable rather than determinable, tractable. A universal compromise. A flow of events. Free, fatal, but above all containable. News.
The freedom of the market presents the same fiction of causes and effects as your freedom to jump: the action precipitating the flow of events is presupposed in not only time’s linearity but its circularity. An economy in which the command although never credited has forever a vested interest. Say the metaphorical word and you, my friend, in an instant enter paradise.
Step down from there and the ground rises up to meet the foot, going forward. ‘They could do anything, and often did,’ writes Dave Eggers. Without the wrist joint it is difficult to throw the brick. And there is substantial doubt and suspicion about efficiency of action, let alone adequacy, given that not everybody has the time to command.
This is its most radical dependency, explaining how capital can ‘act.’ Existing where it does not abide at a bidding which remains unspoken.
I didn’t mean or want to unground you. Take my hand. It is as cool and limp as a piece of raw steak.
You might think I would want to name the butchers. What would come out of my mouth would hurt my throat, but not for having splinters. For having not a single one. The syllables would issue in so precipitant a projectile blast and be of such uniform character as both to strip skin and appear absolutely indistinguishable, as if their proper names didn’t belong to and could not be uttered by actual people, as if their proper names could only belong to and were only utterable by a species not ours, a species to which we have only vainly attached names, as we tend to, in anthropomorphosis. It would be like bringing up water, laced with bile.
But while we are on the subject, what about feelings? I read what Olivier Zahm is moved to write by his break-up with Natacha Ramsay. He thanks you so so much for all the messages of love you send him during this dark period. It has helped him tremendously to start to slowly kill the pain. She finally accepted to stop her love escape in Maine for one day and go and see him in New York. This symbolic gesture will help him to peacefully let her go in her new life. Olivier will do his best to start again with the Purple Diary.
These are the purely immanent affects, the dramas that are truths of proper names, under every Logos, which we contract from the media. Then, if tiring, we should head to bed, each to our own beds, if you like, these are the feelings, the undercurrents that even while sleeping move us and by moving sustain us in our ectopic amniosis. Forward.
I am not suggesting a vampiric existence fed on vicarious sources of emotion. I am not offering myself as a source for an emotionally vicarious existence to feed on vampirically. I am suggesting the existence of a darkly precursive swarm. One in the skin, the other summoned out of the air. Precursive then of certain appetencies distributed in the two series: one suckling from the breast the Milk of Human Kindness. The other, flies, whitely floating in Black Milk.
Flies. Flies now in the butcher’s shop! Yes? Io Ă¨ uno paparazzo. I is a paparazzo. Not so much bottom-feeding on the human experience, as experiencing its condition on the plane of the commutation of affects, grounded in a contraction of distance – getting up close and personal to be intimate with, to become an operational part of the subject’s affective world – on the command time of an ethical accommodation, which being sheer surface affect, is thin as light. As persuasion. The technological persuasion of the nerves. Thrown up against a white square. RGB.
Come back! You think I am in flight away, when I am coming to you with shopping bags flapping from my arms, at the only bizarre and halting speed I can manage. No. This is not flight.
See? I shed them and stand before you candidly in the honest glare of your tacit interest as if relieved of wax wings by hot lights.
What action is adequate to help clean up this mess?
Do we not know now no event will come?
Now a pink mist rises from the river. You might think you know what this is.
The Society of the Spectacle. In atomised form.
It condenses and from the outer reaches of the stratosphere, where it achieves the height of its sublation, it drifts – it is in our lungs – down. It settles above the sink-holes of desire in fungiform billows, the very clouds of dreams, follows the body of the brown river, turned grey and tepid from the crowd bathing in it, and sinks lowest, grazing a pink belly of haze on its surface, over the inky blackness here, where the individual dots comprising it, which as you see are red, become visible and spot your skin.
Stop coughing and rubbing yourself. When I say it’s in your lungs and on your skin I mean you can’t do anything about that. It is somapsychotic. Luckily for you you have not brought your entire body with you, in which the persistence of the symptoms for the most part – at ‘home’ – at that remoteness – pass unseen, for being genopsychic, and for that are largely harmless, or at least consistent with general well-being. You have brought only your… what shall we call it?
If we were with W.S. Burroughs – your Body of Light? Which all things that are are. But no. Because this places it directly at the scene, at the apex of the explosion, in the Heart of Terror.
You mustn’t take it too seriously. Or think too deeply about it. For us the pink mist means a certain ambience, the occasional inconvenience of having the stage fill with dry ice. Except that it is not dry ice.
You may also notice the effect it has on sound, which although less sharp seems to carry further. Apparently as if the density of the medium aided its transmission. But it only appears so, as if each red dot in the fog communicated with the next more or less faithfully according to its proximity, for we know this not to be the case.
Is a signal’s fidelity governed by the laws of propinquity? A function of nearness. Ours, for example, to one another: does it determine whether what you are saying to me is effectively transmitted? (You seem in the meantime to have given up on your efforts to say something to me, committing them instead to trying to wipe the spots from your bare limbs and face, succeeding only in smearing them, until it seems you have received a light brushing with blood.) Or does in fact a signal have to traverse the whole of a system of signs – to its most distant outpost – in order that it arrive in the last place in sufficiently good shape that it could be recognised in the first?
A word would therefore enter the language bearing its message, as into the neighbourhood where it grew up. Who would listen? Its story being hardly any different from that of its etymological aunts, cousins, even at the furthest remove. ‘So. You got uttered. … Let me tell you about the time I found myself bearing the weight of a proposition. During the war.’ A small hubbub in familiar surroundings, in overheated rooms with patterned wallpaper, a family gathering. But the drunken word! Direct from the war! Pressed to the point of revealing a hitherto unknown designation. Returning a hero. And disappearing into the suburbs.
A word, therefore, knowing what’s what, crosses language’s outer borders into a dangerous area. Where it is not known. And at risk of losing its reference. Before you know it, backyard, backdoor gossips have spread it, the word, on the back channel. Report of a stranger. And the wave of lowdown heads-up propagates throughout the zone, which it has rendered quite as neutral as we imagine a faithful medium to be. It extends, that is, until it reaches the borders of the local territory; like a wave hitting a wall, the report is lost in backwash. Yes. Perhaps on top of the wall a guard hears and follows his own orders in relaying the message that they won’t be bothered by the enemy nextdoor for a while because of a local irritant, an irritant that appears to be localised. The sergeant of the watch may inquire into the nature of the irritant. Is likely to. And equally likely to pass on the message brought by the strange word into the neighbouring area to his own superiors. In whose offices the report will be filed and disappear into the filing system. Officially recognised and effectively neutralised.
But what if in the word was invested the very possibility of language? Of anything at all making sense?
You could be saying – could be, if you weren’t coughing again – that I am substituting metaphysical, linguistic or even semiotic speculation for physical explanation. The physical world does not comprise a system of signs but of objects. The sign-hood of signs does not correspond with the object-hood of objects. I would agree. Except for the question of intelligibility.
Responsibility for the fact that the world in any degree at all makes sense cannot rest solely with the efficient word or the indolent object, with the twain. In your current state you might contest the fact. But look at the neat apportionment of your limbs, your fine complement of hair, the nice proportions of the animal and the clever soul you are, even in your readiness to take your body of light and run away: you like what you know.
The world of what actively makes sense might shrink moment by moment but the potential for sense remains, expands with what you don’t know, and you congratulate yourself on your potential for sensation, so that the small circle of what you like reserves the right to grow.
Sense comes into your world comes into mine, crossing the borders of bodies at night, smuggled, while reason sleeps, in packages promising liminal excitations; or it comes in daytime minutia, by television, where resolution provides the function of resolution, synthesis, into sense: and in the excessive illumination of the diurnal world, casting an extravagance of rays into tiny corners, sense is in such surfeit as to virtually dissolve into potentials, at its edges. Too much, actually; from which ‘too much’ it seeks the relief of what is virtually.
In the flood of information the mutual determinations of sense and media cycle off into inconsequential eddies: sense and media enter a state of mutual catalysis mutually assuring their disappearance, one into the other.
Which is why when summoned one is mistaken for the other: the message may be science but the medium is still fiction; and the messenger is shot. And the faithful guide.
The idea of a proximate mediate limit to transmissibility, to a neighbourhood, or territory, inverts the actual relation: the message of things of the object world has already been transmitted to an extent infinitely greater than you or I can dream of. We are picked as our portion to contract, and philosophize in the suburbs, of which we’re made. And in general we believe that the given itself is what is given to us in common for the good of the community and is the faithful transmission.
But it is the consensual selection of a selective consensus, being exactly a matter of faith. Yours and mine, because we can but believe what is given here exists for the good of the theatrical community. However, even together, in so intimate a place as togetherness, we do not constitute an institution.
Or, to redouble the problem, one of the transmission in historic time of Belief, which is its own carrier, as in the Message. Take the progress of Scientific Humanism.
One day in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries the Church ceased to be the sole arbiter of sense for the Latin-speaking world. Because of an empirical territory into which its judgements, handed down by fiat, did not seem to pass: the natural world, of natural man.
The Natural Philosophers, self-designated for obvious reasons, may all have been believers and close to a church. Their protestancy and their recusancy clearly contributing. Albeit that Latin was still the first language of science. But they entered a world, the natural world, within the world where the signal of faith was not faithfully represented, and despite their proximity to its source, of which they were not faithful emissaries, or missionaries.
To a degree, they patrolled the borders of the natural world to protect it from doxa, dogma and received wisdom. To a degree, it was also self-patrolling. Resistant to both theistic interpretation and the pretensions of its self-designated representatives. Which is perhaps a hallmark of empiricism. Whence the System of the World only a hundred or so years later, with the invention and synchronization of the banking system.
It is this natural world, that it might then be claimed is the object, real and only world, in which we now place our faith, having inherited it. We might mistake the message for the medium, the former being empiricism, but it is for no empirical reason that we believe in it, apart from it being the gift of the ancestors and imbued with their guardian spirits.
It is also this natural-philosophic and modern-scientific world that it might be claimed was ushered in by signal failure, the transmission of the Message from one world into the next. However, this world still remains instinct with the feelings of and for that world in which its creation took place. And the affective medium for the transmission of the truths of this world of experiment and discovery remains as active as ever. Indicating how quickly visibility falls away, from the ground taken.
Not because we arrive on new shores with preconceptions, reforming Science with Faith, as we would on any island; the cover-up is completely impersonal for being affective. There are purely affective antipathies worn as close to the naked skin we share with the Natives and yet going to the heart of our sense of self in one swift movement as our dress.
Indicating also how we ought to proceed, how, with all the technological means of the times, we chase after a vanishing point, which is more like the edges of this mist than a point: the speed of our emplacements matching the rapidity of its displacements, as if by speed alone we could claim conquest of distance.
In one movement you are here. From the given to a world not yet taken for given by its explorers, its exploratory teams. Because it is also the case that the Natural Philosophers were a society of friends before one under royal patronage. Similarly – although under Federal patronage from the first – the friends at Los Alamos, so close to the former as to be like negative images, yet at the other extremity of the world, potentially its literal End. In the beginning, the real world would have been a secret world, where the voices of your parents couldn’t reach you, a Fantasy World, with its own principles of organisation, first among which would be trust, even though trust belonged to the world in which the fictional one was created.
The real world is bigger than the one it is inside. The world of discovery is always bigger than the one of accomplished fact, and would be no less real for failing to come into existence, vibrating inside a word, a line, a pin figure, in which its entire possibility is invested. Wavering on the edge of vision.
The mighty plinth on which we’ve set the world will not suffice to make accommodation of this failure.
In the absurd frailty of its proposition, its possibility of failure as of creation, lies, like a twin – word and object – its destruction. Every death bringing the death of a world.
You still want to say, If what we accept as the real world began with friends playing a game, it is no game now.
You are saying it with your eyes. They are expressive.
But if it is, you continue, A game, your eyes continue: It is one with an evolutionary purpose, hardwired into the brain. Advances in cognitive biology…
You glare at me for cutting you off. But I would agree. Except to to add that evolution gives us no purpose. And that advances in cognitive biology attest to the survival of the child player, and players; a species who may come hereafter.
Unless by ‘advances’ you mean the extending of the platform of current understanding, where nothing but the measurements of the instruments is discovered, buried in the carcase of a world. A technique, like certain invasive medical procedures, where we are warned an escalation of operations is a possible outcome, given the statistically significant one in one thousand risk of perforation. Criminels sont ceux qui arrĂŞtent le temps dans l’homme, pour l’hypnotiser et perforer son Ă˘me, writes Rene Char.
Or unless by ‘advances’ you mean those performances, no other, extending a literal platform out over the mouth of an active volcano; producing a seemingly air-borne comedy, with a similarly statistically significant possibility of it turning to tragedy and there being a death into the air – high stakes, high risk; where the technical proficiency, nay, virtuosity of the spectacle distracts us from its function: which is simply to match the practice to the theory. To suspend proof and fill out the theory with exemplary practical instances. Or self-hypnosis.
But isn’t the latter situation a different state of play? Failure has become unconscionable and impossible. Success at all costs. And trust now has certain ends, strings attached; the complicity of the grown-ups; the loaded die and the game is rigged. Cynics will declare the predictable loss of innocence from their clubrooms. Realists speculate on the gain from loss if loss it is that there will be no difference that doesn’t make a difference and only the difference the difference makes. While pragmatists manage loss. From their respective boardrooms. And idealists return to boardgames. Win.
So if I ask what has happened to the empirical world when even those who have the most to gain from their belief do not believe in it you might be inclined to answer, We live inside its after-image, among the vestigial traces of an empiricism, like a decor, with the motifs of inevitable solidity drab now, deflated balloons, the tattered curtains of primary observation still covering the windows. And this is the room we open up for the kids to play in, hoping that their participation will renew our confidence, and watching them anyway so destroying theirs.
Play with them. Go ahead. The worst that can happen is you will be found out, in your brokenness, or your betrayal, that you’ve known all along this is only ever a microcosm of vitality. One out of touch with what really happens in the rest of the household to keep it going.
You spit. The last thing you want to do right now is play with children.
You spit to get the taste of this dreadful mist out of your mouth. Into the river below. You turn and leaning over the balustrade you try to get it out. It leaves a thread of drivel dangling and swinging from your lip, in parabolas, the updraft curving it now outwards now inwards towards you, with its terminal droplet hanging on, refusing to fall into the ink. Until you brush it away with your forearm, inadvertently adding more to the red and liquid pall already covering half your face. You watch both thread and drop spin off into the void below the bridge. The back of the river, tattoo-black, churns and rolls, folding coagulated braids of red and pink into its dark body, like a bull drunk in the mess of its blood.
The back of the river of ink is streaked with variegated skin-tones like glossy pornographic spreads cut and pasted on streaming in montage past.
You spit as if to say, Is this some kind of joke to you? An excuse only half thought through to deliver a few choice sentences? On nothing in particular? Of no particular import?
You were saying something to me.
The furniture of the room where we’ve kept some kind of idea of empirical reality going, like children in confinement, and our purposes noble, feeding them, occasionally drugging them, educating them – up to a point – and bringing them up with limited expectations, while telling them the sky’s the limit, the furniture in this room, it’s not real is it? Or: it is uncertain; uncertainty may claim a degree, which is total, of immanence here.
The sky is made of a compound of gases combined in measurable proportions. If the sky’s the limit, it’s a limit comprising a limited set of limits. Which in other words does not bring the horizon crashing down like the side of a slapstick barn around us; it places it rather right in the middle of the world: an invisible banana-skin.
I wish the banana-skin to present neither the model of the lack and loss of traction we get with the prat-fall, which un-grounding is best figured where it is least literal, in a sense of place, a site, where, in turn, a flow is simulated, and time arises on command; nor the uncertainty about what happens next, as if the unseen peel invited fate; nor is the banana-skin meant as a plant, to show that what happens happens because you are on candid camera. The camera can anyway be seen because one is there taking one’s fall time after time. What I want to suggest by it is that the first and last frontier of intelligibility lies directly in the middle of experience.
And that we have anyway been set up but not in or by the necessity of causation to take the fall, rather by the medium of the banana-skin itself, regardless of its visibility or invisibility, as the expression of the horizon or limits internal to the slapstick world-view. The medium is traversed from end to end, horizon to horizon, in the time it takes for the prat-fall to occur, the foot to slip, which is no sooner thought, no sooner ‘thinkable’ than done; this is the meaning of the set-up: to generate the thinkability of an event, which when it occurs, in the pay-off, becomes no more nor less than an action, a performative, able to be taken up in an economy of the Studio. But the outside limits of the possibility of the set-up having a meaning and the pay-off having a value in exchange are internal to the medium. They haunt it, like the banana its peel.
So that without a banana, its after-image or ectoplasm, the vestigial pulp on the skin, if you will, mediates slippage while granting its immediate end. At the first and last. It neither becomes something else in the transfer of meaning across it, nor is providing for the transmission of a meaningful skid its function. But then neither does the set-up, the classic comedy routine, confer meaning on the humble banana-skin, nor does the pay-off from the prat-fall get the last word as the end to which the latter was merely the means, the over-riding justification or under-lying reason for there being in the last instance a first place, where there was a banana-peel, which one could see and one could not.
We notice the same error we saw previously when considering our inheritance of the royally appointed palace called the real world: there empiricism gave its proofs to superstition and to keeping faith with history – which I suspect might be termed ideology – so that the message tended to be confused with the medium of transmission; here the banana-less skin and the pay-off, which is the point of the whole schtick’s connection with the economy of the Studio – to the ‘rest of the household’ in other words – tend to be confused. Meaning the role of the banana-skin itself suffers elision.
It is neglected. Lonely banana-skin. No longer necessary since we can get the same pay-off with a gesture to the classic routine, from the pointed absence of the peel, with a gesture towards what is missing, an appeal. And so the prat-fall needs only an indication that it could happen. So walking and falling at the same time become identified with an absence to which they not enter only into relation but by which they are carried across the slapstick sea. On an invisible banana-skin.
Do we put this down to the actions at a distance of the unencodable on the code? those syntheses of distance? Or do we at this late stage invoke the laughter of the audience?
The former I am suggesting are within the reach of the medium, where it is always a matter of seeking a more remote distance, and the message is as if drawn across the surface in its entirety.
The latter, the laughter, isn’t it the accommodation where we cosy up with the Studio and its household code, brand or name? slapping it on the back? congratulating it on successfully transmitting the message? and laughing announce that we ‘get it’? And then don’t we split the winnings two ways, by way of a pay-off to the Studio, by way of a pay-off for the routine?
Laughter adds nothing except the acknowledgement of exchange, like a form of receipt or voucher. Worse than this, by laughing we accommodate ourselves to ourselves: we ‘crack up’ allowing something to pass through us, in depth, where it is always a matter of seeking a deeper depth. A barranca.
You are not laughing, compagnero.
I have kept you late into evening in this place where I hope you are enjoying in that other elsewhere the first light of the morning, a golden not a pink haze, or the small hours of the night, solitary, by the flicker of the screen, time to reflect, to indulge in introspection, lucubrate. Not this tendrilling company of liquid bodies swirling around us and getting behind our defenses, penetrating our inmost recesses, and that pounding! Incessant.
Now only your eyes. Of course, I can see the rest of you. But your eyes from deep in their chasms reach out their arms to me.
One arm up. Then the other. Waving in the red red raindrops.
I am here. I am listening.
But you are gesturing past me, to what you can see of the night encroaching, like a clumsy and lugubrious person, in a black smock, which only makes his or her bulk seem larger, more obvious, backing in like that, as if just shy, or holding something away from us so it can’t be seen, a fetish, a doll, or a sex-toy, how revolting, no, before the night, because don’t we still have and aren’t we enjoying the magical roseate glow through the liquefaction? Not. Before, while she or he waits back there, attendant on other more intimate interests, swaying, or weaving, in some kind of self-induced trance, the damaged night, in the background, singing to herself or himself the song our parents sang us in infancy, no, not even singing, mouthing the words, not even the words, their shapes, big moon mouth, little squeak, lullaby, lullaby-loo, before the night so deliberate and clumsy about his or her secrets, but looking anyway for our attention, with a rapid glance cast over his or her shoulder away from his or her primary activity, the picking of seed eyes off a harvest fetish, a desultory flicking, surly, sucking air over fat lips, wibbling, biting the lip, pouting, precariously balanced on the edge of an outburst or after a beating, sullen, recollecting the fall from grace, a favourite child, without warning hit and beaten down, woe-begone, self-pitying, twisty and weird, shifting enormous weight from foot to foot, on the outside of the circle of light, swishing, the light full of mist, the mist glowing pink and red on the skin, excluded, possibly nasty, if only because misunderstood for an adolescence reaching back over millennia, before night, with devices, the products of unknown expanses of time brooding in the lightlessness, desert of love, bereft of affection, turned bad, before its intentions, allied to and hampered by excessive girth, pathological over-eating, the cultivation of nocturnal animals and evil spirits, behind its back, below the giant curtain where its shapeless sack dress brushes to and fro across the ground, sweeping through the hair of the old people, the white hair, in their narrow beds, limbs like matches, sleep out of reach and only the close night for company, in whose first childhood they have their second, the senile and demented, the tortured and insane, who kiss the hem when it sails past close enough to touch, like a thousand-wing bat, of night’s open cassock, its libidinous, sweaty underside and unwholesome fecundity exposed from below, night’s foetid tears in the eyes of the dying, the tragedy of being young, the waste of youth, underneath, before the beds set in rows like a million teeth or the teeth of millions, where the dreams of the sick, infirm and deranged become night’s own, seeping, reticulated via threads or in smoke, where the rest is smoke, caetera fumus, in cork-screw whorls, rings, hallucinations, where it rises, on hot breath, before he or she turns to us and holds us in her or his bosomy embrace, against a darkness intense and engorged, her or his breasts, swollen, the skin stretched tight as drums, before we are taken in to the fold, the folds, the greedy hollow and limitless hungers of her or him, behind the mass of night, wallowing, incredibly still upright, like a balloon the size of the universe standing on its basket, or a vast spinning-top, behind its bursting back and the tent of its pyjamas, between the night and me, you are watching the explosions.
Past me and before the night, faintly glowing through the mist, their fires. Moments after the flash, at irregular intervals, the detonations boom, reverberate, plangent. Like thunder. Then chained like thunder, rumbling in a series.
Place your hands on the rail and you will feel the vibrations amplified through the superstructure of the bridge. Count the seconds and you will know how far away it is.
War? Coming closer?
You look at me. Questioning. Your gaze quickly averted.
You turn completely away from me now and stepping carefully on the slick pavement walk to the end of the bridge. Your instinct is to hide.
Has the fear only just now caught up with you? because the noise of the blasts is nothing new. One would have thought you’d be inured to it, it having seeped into your bones. Has the real danger only just now dawned on you?
No. It’s been there all along, punctuating our conversation, running through it. A rhythmic thread, a Great and Sustained Bass, pounding in ominous and incendiary syncopations: reinforcing our meanings as if the earth itself were shaking in agreement with every word, and the man-made events on it a chorus, winking in collusion, with spurts of red flickering up, from white-hot flashpoints and yellow flares, out, through the intervening fog, against the jet background of the night, an unseen but real presence, strung like a star-cloth in front of the cyc, hanging vaguely in the smoke, swaying ludicrously and vainly wanting to enter the scene, unable, because fixed in position, because of a fixation, for secrecy. On our darker intentions. Under the fog. Sub rosa.
Yes, I can tell from the way you’re creeping around that you are perfectly calm; you are calmly scoping the options, the natural shelter offered by the landscape, the possibility of crawling under the bridge itself. Which I wouldn’t advise. The river is in flood. You would be swept away. Your desperate fingers finding no purchase on the oily patches of red coagulating on top of it, flailing at the featureless banks, and the current too strong to resist, and your fingers numb from the cold of an environment which can sustain no life.
Even at this distance, I see you wipe your eyes. Fortunately I know what it is condensing on your face, running into your eyes, the salty sting irritating and causing them to water, making you weep, and making you rub them, you wiping your sleeve across your face, right arm, left arm, left arm, right. It’s not anything I might have said.
I ought to ask them to be quiet, to keep it down back there. I am entertaining. Even if I’m not entertaining you.
You slip from sight. It doesn’t surprise me. The surfaces are treacherous.
But I know you’re still there as surely as I would if you were standing directly behind me, breathing down my neck, your stare drilling into the back of my skull.
As if it is a matter of belief, you ask if I believe we are making progress? How could I not, when the evidence is all around us? When progress is what contains us? How could I ignore the evidence of my own senses?
But… I begin, returning to Reality, the one we saw before, that by arts ocular and experimental, and hugely interventionist – and sometimes for that reason rejected – Science discovered it was discovering…
There you are! Closer than I expected.
You stop me as surely as if you pulled me back onto the curb to save me from being struck by a truck loaded with munitions and headed for the front.
I hear you so clearly. This mist clearly has some unusual properties. Obfuscation not being the least of them.
The linearization of time, I continue anyway, commands the circulation of place, allowing there to be built on its illusory foundation a world to which progress, and Science by its advances, has brought us. The illusion is in the negative disavowal of there being no illusion. While the world and our belief in it are real. Like a vast archive of statistical proofs for its own existence. This new memory.
While the contemporary branch of the 300-or-so year-old project of science struggles, in its theory and its practice, with the impossibility of reconciling the world closest to us with the world furthest from us, and while many scientists find refuge in traditional religion, or the religiosity of a practice which is merely conventional, work-a-day, and only technically experimental, our nostalgia is exactly for the Universal Science belonging to a world that Natural Philosophy thought of itself as ushering in, one which is in fact out of reach except for by faith and for this reason remains for many the true aim of all science. All-Science’s Truth, or TOE.
And therefore at the greatest degree of our intimacy with it, what we know of the material universe, feeling the atomic warmth, of the quanta of matter, inside, must accord with this truth and sensibly conform with what we know about it at its most remote, infinitely remote, outside, at the coldest of distances, at the astrophysical limits of the conceivable universe – not, however, the Universe of universes – bump – one of – conceivably – a renewable resource – and there must be no contesting the mathematics, the mathematics being uncontested by both the quantum-physical and the astro-physical.
The empirical world, however, seems resistant to the rule of the commutation of affects and dismissive of our advances and ignorant of our nostalgia. But the distant world is also closer than you think. Just as you and I have feelings too, they need not be for each other.
What we know is not only that the truths of these places are staged locally, but also that there is neither an ultimate limit beyond which we are truly outside nor an initial limit within which we are truly inside, just places not-beyond at or on and never-ever over – the limit. While local also transcendent; while transcendent simply bridge-work: or, the outside and inside limits cross the middle of immediately connecting series – effecting intermediacies of media.
That is, the ends we so recently put in the middle, sense front and back – sometimes put back to front -, mark the intersections of other media. Hence, intermediacies, where connections occur in the middle of journeys: red dot to lung, liquefaction to skin. But I am naming only those connections which already possess sense. Have already become intelligible. The path, for example, we presently take through the mist, the mist also takes through us. Since it stands for the limits of that by which we are contained.
The pink mist, hiding the banks on either side of the river, allowing the bridge to seem endless: we feel it, see it, hear it rumbling at its source in the distance. When we want to. And when we don’t, sometimes. Attesting to the evidence of sense alone, to the existence of an independent and involuntary imagery. Of which the important thing is its impersonality, pre-existent, co-existent and total but only totalised with the further intervention of a sign-signal system. Here impersonal feelings coincide with what is firstly felt and secondarily thought, the personal coming finally, rather like a message from sponsors. But more like a toe-tag hung on a foot at the morgue for identification. Not that sense is dead when it becomes personal. Not at all.
There comes however a break, for ads or enantiomorphosis, displacing sense, and giving the sense that however good the programme it was only screened for advertising revenue, a brokenness which can be treated as broken or through which the morning light may strike us and the horrible truth dawn. Il Duce – an Engineer, or Artist, using human souls.
They are separated by nothing more than the infra-mince, the whiff of another dimension, from the cage where it sang, and over the page, where the singing bird was free, back and front. In this way, continuity along the line of intelligibility comprises elements not based in ‘normal’ contiguities or ‘sensible’ series, territorial proximities or familial propinquities, but those split over dimensions, crossings, light card, manipulated by pieces of string. Mixed media. Or like a comb, the gaps between the teeth holding circular cards, you on one side, me on the other, the cards set spinning, against the physical laws of the illustration: so we find ourselves here, are you able to get up?
Of course the urge is to totalise through the break. Finding a supra-segmental sense. Or otherwise adjusting to the particle field. Since the system provides its own updraft, its own hot breath, what you might call sublation, giving rise through a circulation over the discontinuous contiguities of the intensive rotors to a pattern, a torsion, still not continuity: a circle that gaining no leverage against itself, leverages its own value in exchange.
It would not then be in the hope that a territory would emerge that the first and last tines of our comb were brought together, disobeying once more the image’s physical laws. It would not then be in the hope that the territory described, circumscribed, could come to be occupied that the two ends of the comb were brought together. Between all the teeth, the spinning discs of contiguous connection.
To occupy it, invade it or otherwise penetrate its defenses – an action not lightly undertaken, given the continuously spinning discs of death, which, remember, are only thick enough to ensure rigidity, giving them a dimension of sharpness – would be to identify yourself with it, introducing a code, a code of conduct, even to justifying your invasion by an exemplary absence: that of the possibility, having made the identification and taken the territory, you could ever leave. Setting the example to be a vision of wheels within wheels continuous with all subsequent such actions.
You would succeed in something, becoming yourself the hazardous counter-image to the comb and its combinatory of spatial phases. After all, a circular comb is like a cage and you the bird singing freedom; where but for their rapid oscillation, occluding the dimension bringing them into a relationship of contiguity, would you be?
Such are the times we presume once a place is there it must be assumed. Sooner taken than thought. Even as you took the step, your feet skating out from underneath you, that sent you sprawling. Perhaps you have found something worth looking at down there on the ground? Possibly whatever it was you slipped on, or in.
The comb, its spine doubled over, bent all the way, so that its ends meet in the middle, useless now for hair. Between the first and last tines, which in combs are thicker anyway and taper, a break. No matter how hard you pushed and pulled, they would not join, never quite bond – with no glue. And in this ultimately ineradicable gap – no spinning disc of light card, no final image, last word, or song summing the whole thing up.
It would also not be in the hope that the gap with its missing image would be decisive, or ought to come as the defining moment, that you struggled and strained to bring the two ends together, because from the intensive rotation of the discs on strings, through the gap, between the end tines of the comb, there would naturally issue a draught. It would not be decisive. It would be critical. For the point of view. Which from continuity the break or leap of the infinitessimal is hidden and from the point of view of contiguity opens the former to the infinite.
I would cross to you if I could, except for the line of trucks separating us, their massive tyres churning up the mud they themselves have brought onto the bridge, out of the swirling pink mist. It’s horrible: they are passing without a sound.
You mustn’t try to enter in between them. They can’t see you. Their visibility limited by dirt flicked up onto the windscreens, so thick it cakes the windscreen-wipers, which while working overtime open little more than wedges of glass to see through and each truck’s headlights barely touch the tailgate of the next in line, the mist dense and purple in their yellow beams. Their mighty engines churning and cranking through the grease of their own innards, turning cam-shafts, drive-shafts, manifolds, not making a sound.
Are they children sitting on the front fenders? Children being taken with them? Children’s hands trying to clear the glass so the drivers can see out of the cabs? Children in fact all over the bodies of the trucks, indistinguishable from them, having been changed like changelings the same colour by the mud? With their little collars turned up, with scarves and their hands hidden in mittens?
The association stops where we don’t hear wind whistling between the teeth. The point being not only one of interzone but also on another order of perilousness – intractable. And truly inside the circle of teeth you would not see edges, ends, only trailings-off, runnings-away, endless bifurcations, from a middle where a meeting occurs, into other forms of association into which it might be unwise to enquire, and from which you would come back wishing you hadn’t, saying: I didn’t need that. But kept watching anyway.
Were you sorry you would not be able to explain what you were sorry for. That you identified yourself with the victim? the perp? Like the fine upstanding figure who witnesses a crime, then slouches away as if he or she had committed it.
Such is our complicity in the rule of exchange, the escalation of dramatic value that keeps the circulation going, that we raise the stakes, inflating our affective investment, in proportion to the wish to know no other thing than that we are, our organism is, in fact going forward, oblivious to any evidence to the contrary, that one step will follow another, be made to, and that time will advance – on the interest first and on the trust last we have placed in it. I heart making ground up.
It is a strange sort of horror vacui we have as minotaurs thrown a thread.
Small children are helping you to your feet, ones who look to be too small to be of any assistance whatsoever, the colour of mud. And you are rubbing your palms down your thighs, either to get the dirt off or because they are stinging. The instinct being to put your hands out and catch yourself from falling.
How can you be so patient with them? Having just got up, descending to their level, letting them grab hold of your thumbs and touch your face. They don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s obvious they belong to the trucks.
The continuous is also intermediate to media. Look at metaphor, not the allegorical landscape you have spread before you, the noisy kids, the silent trucks in ghostly convoy, the endless bridges and liquefied bodies, but the signal the transmission of which is really a translation, passing over all the points, extending like grace over the absurdity.
I could never be so patient. But you are the personification of patience to put up with this. Now this, the children covering your bloody face now with mud.
Metaphor, the continuity intermediate to language, from which contiguities arise, becoming intelligible. And then metonymy can fall, descending over language in general, and the whole of language make its substitutions for sense, word by word. Softly.
The whole of this river. In flood.
Because in metaphor the word has been both reached out and pulled across language in its entirety in order to say anything. Both – in one movement. Because what unholy alliance presides over its genesis?
A genetic conjunction buried as generation buries its dead.
Scott Walker says, I wanted to sound like any man singing. Which was neither a simple matter of stripping his personality from his voice, nor sounding like all men, an ordinary bloke, or Everyman, but a journey, every step of which could only be made by that man. This man. Across the whole of Man, throwing his voice – as if waiting for the echo from the far side of a grey river, which was the sound of only that voice and no other, an original echo which only that voice could produce. In echo singular. The singularity universal.
So the accommodation to the word may be that of a Mother Tongue. Or only invoked as such when lost in exile, because the tongue of one poet and no other tongue. The tongue belonging as much to the body of that one poet as to the word on it. Flesh and signal. One, one and one.
Like the exile of history, whom historic events have dispossessed of his patrimony, the platitude would have it that we return to the place where we started. We return to the place where we started our odyssey. We return at last to the place where we first started. Our odyssey.
Is that what life is?
The silent convoy passes. The pink mist opening up and swallowing it like a throat lined with amethyst.
You are left alone again. Free of the harassment of the kids.
Did you have to pluck them off and place them back onto the fender of some obliging truck that had slowed? Is that what you had to do in the end? Deliver them back through the canvas flaps over the tailgate into the hairy arms of some guard with his shirt sleeves rolled up?
I’m letting you collect yourself after the onslaught. You’ve been so patient. I can’t see your face, but I imagine you’re listening to the crack of high explosive deadened in the rich fog. You rest your elbows on the opposite balustrade, its fake turned pillars and broad rail, your back to me, looking upriver; you watch how the endless evening is enlivened with dull flashes, like a distant party letting off fireworks. Wistful, and you look down to see the way the scum of atomised Society of Spectacle collects and spreads and weaves across the surface of the river of ink.
I am taking my time calling you back, temporizing. Because if space-time is here the absolute, the absolute here, it is traversed all at once by what traverses it, which although it is light, decisively, still takes a long time. But in doing so, light localises itself at a series of points where it is always at. But, again, decisively, which it carries rather than limits.
Although, you will say, once I have regained your attention, I am in error, because light-speed is that of which no greater can be thought, giving away in your objection the simplest cause for counter-argument: the speed of light of speeds is the divinity and not of any other dominion. But the idea of absolute speed, speed itself, is it really a starter?
Since, as you would’ve heard, if you’d been listening and not wandering off and feeling sorry for yourself or the poor children, the universe has already been crossed, many times, from end to end, is crossed as soon as the thought occurs, faster than the speed of thought, before the problem of light even enters, before it is taken up in a medium in which it can be solved, in a form in which it can be represented, by a medium it can traverse: light represents the paradox of space that is time; but thought, that is unconstrained to a medium and resting on affect in its genesis, provides a place, a time for the presentation of that paradox in which light for being affect, and not effect, is no more than a memory.
A light that was. A space-time that was. A universe that was. Here forgotten.
Welcome back, stranger.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but on the air this evening there’s another sound. A sort of gulping. It’s harder to pick, given the dominant note of the bombardment on the front – I call it the front but it could just as well be the back, or both.
Like a sigh from below, but also a hiccup. It could be frogs, the other noise. Like you hear in the country, calling for mates. If that’s what they’re doing. They might be a rowdy studio pond audience, in some lurid game show, cheering on a local contestant asked to perform who knows what kind of offensive act. One having the singular distinction of never reaching its climax. Thus insuring a constant and unvarying level of excitement in the viewers who keep up a ceaseless throbbing croak of support. Because it is, the other sound, similarly consistent. A stammering of glottal stops: glugluglugluglug, huhuhuhuhuhuhuhuuuh. With, the occasional overreaching gulp, as at the end of a breath or long phrase of glugs. Hiccup.
However it sounds, it is simply explained by those sink-holes we noted earlier – points of subsidence in the surface – sucking great mouthfuls of condensing mist down into the system of caves formed by the river of flowing mercury. Drinking the fog, without it altering the substance of desire at all, drawing it into the larger volumes of cooler lighter gas trapped below: convecting, conducting the heat exchange. The river of desire, glow-worms in constellations luminous from the ceilings of caverns pendulous, pulling itself sluggishly along, never getting its fill of the human in whatever form it is offered, never satiated, but pure avidity.
Will you be hearing a great deal more of this in the vicinity? Possibly. Does that lead you to ask yourself what you are doing here, given the inconvenience?
You turn towards me as if to put the question. But you are saying something to me.
The mist condenses and runs down furrows on your face, stopping the mud from hardening and forming a crust over it. You hold your hands strangely as if they are still sore. Have you overdone it, playing with the kids?
I know, I know, it was the last thing. I shouldn’t have encouraged you to.
You are the expression of something other than patience as well. A performance in your own right.
I’m sure you know by now or have guessed what is going on back there and where this intolerable mist is coming from and from what it’s made.
I think you know how it works here. You should do, I’ve kept you here long enough. Yes. It’s this close to paradise. Separated only by an instant and that instant recurring. Remember?
Four rivers running but what is being fed into Memory, into the river of fire, exploding where the rivers meet, which is at their source?
You ask and what choice have I but to tell you?
I will tell you, It is people, deboned of time. An endless flow of meat, still heavy, their flesh almost warm for having been handled, pressed, it is people. It is people who blow themselves up, it’s from this that the mist billows out, rising to the cooler air high up, dropping gently in a tissue of cloud. Their liquid bodies hanging in the intermediate layer, shrouding the bridge, spotting the skin, sinking into the fabric of the lung.
No longer is it people as if it really never was. And no wonder the sounds we heard resonating through it brought us to a discussion of the role of the media in contemporary society. The pink mist of atomised bodies constitutes the internal limit to the spectacle of those media, that role and society. One, one and one. What is being fed into memory but the very illusion of its contemporaneity?
The line of intelligibility in the form of pink mist. Because the Society of the Spectacle is now atomised like the bodies and this is critical displaced, itself in a dĂ©tournement constant for being continuous, continuous for being disarticulated, moment by moment, jointed, nothing spectacular. Grey, in fact. A river that ought to have been brown but for the numbers of people who come here to wash in its flow. Over the theatrical manifold and into a chemical sump.
No. No theatrical necessity. It was a matter of critical necessity to deal with the theatrical manifold in its very multiplication of places, their technological manufacture in electronic goods, out of sheer infinite space. And into the village of rubbish.
You were saying something to me. Can I not encompass a range of opinion? Not when that opinion is contracted from the medium with which it should be struggling.
See. You glow. The pink mist here – Royal Jelly for the Body of Light.
No. You glow – spectral, elsewhere where perhaps it is quiet now, in the mere light from the screen. But hear the faint hum of it? What is it? It is a long way away. But crosses the intervening distance before it is registered. A spectacle become a vibration of persistent intensity. Against a ground of utter black, waiting to encroach. A pressure, nothing much, on the auditory nerve, on the whole approximation of nerves to a biblical genealogy. Close.
Here is the pressure in taking your leave of things to commit to memory what you were and what you did, what you felt, to whom you thought you might have passed it on, but feared and doubted you had at the same time. And moving around the house as if in a dream, have you touched all your belongings, knowing that tomorrow, if not before tomorrow you will be leaving it all? Knowing you were going to leave it all behind you have you put it in front of you, to commit to memory every bit of what is there that will be left behind when you go? In a bubble of retrospection, trailing your fingers over the keyboard, the coat, the cat, have you dipped your fingertips into the table, as it were suddenly water, and caressed your sleeping lover’s face, your child’s, your mother’s, the faces of your mother’s cousins and other ancestors?
Have you said to yourself, ‘Tomorrow, if not before, I will be leaving everything that I know,’ and then had to touch all the things you were leaving, that would still be there even in your absence, that would, as it were, outlive you?
Tatsumi Hijikata, asked who Ankoku Butoh was for, answered his audience was the dead.
Possibly you never thought of it, but you were also instilling your memory into those things. You were blessing them. You were giving them leave to carry on without you. And you were including them in your bubble, in your memory, where they would forever have a place, without there really being any sensible threshold between you and them, any limit whatsoever. Outside, they would be left inside. When far away, they would be near. Or they would cross the distances of time and space in the medium of a memory projected from you, that they embodied. The things that only you were leaving – personal last.
Their communication would then consist in the fact that there they were, out in the world, whether useful or valuable or not. Whether or not they could be picked up and suddenly thrown.