The body, de Beauvoir, observes, is an instrument for holding onto the world. Same for a body of work. In this light, it’s truly an odd (modern, western) impulse that insists on classifying literary works into camps of fiction and nonfiction. We are supposed to be used to this by now but try asking a painter or sculptor to make the same distinction. Anything we make––or are, for that matter, is always an alchemy of observation, response, and dream.
How not to lose the life of life.
It is autumn, she said. And we are going to die. And we have all this choosing to do, with great stakes. And yet, simultaneously: this beloved, ill; this new child, this sudden bird, this love. How often we keep our thinking separate from what we know. For a simple reason: simultaneous submersion within all sensibilities is unbearable.
So, how to know anything? How to keep the life of life in life? Try not knowing. Try reading below the threshold of interpretation. Try burying the head, leaving only the ear. It is possible to transcend personality and arrive. At a shared physical understanding. These songs were always here to pull us into them and we.
The italicized phrase comes from Jorie Graham, whose work inspires this piece.
Why the singing.
Now a manifesto, now jazz, now a love lyric; through these voiceprints of language now the witness takes a stand. Another stirs the mischief of the multitudes within each vibrating body of this vast and trembling We.
The point? Only this. Create a landscape wide enough to hold the simultaneous becoming dance of each and all, from the last beginning to the next. Any tent will tear against the strain.
But what do you need? Only to feel tended to and left well enough alone. You might try taking scissors to these pages, and then make a world to hold.
To hold us? That too.
What are you doing? This art is simply a protest. Against the dying off.
“Voiceprints of language” is a phrase June Jordan once used to describe poetry.
For the wild uglies.
What crawls and flies far from clean in its joy is often the subject of revulsion, but some forms of rage are raw enough to keep a crawling body painted with mud, and ripe enough with love to offer flight. One held nothing back of substance and much of detail and familiar story lines, to keep each mouthful tasting fully of itself. Eat, she said, there is enough for everyone, but cautioned that some would find at first bite, something raw enough to break the heart. It broke mine, she said, but then came a challenging joy. This angered some, but creatures of the earth are often hated for not making themselves more pleasing, more beautiful, for living just as they are.
A conversation on creating.
She explained that none of this will offer any useful defenses against death, health, or inclement weather. That it has nothing to do with a feeling of faith, that the time to stay often happened when faith was shaken. On the task at hand, she said hold. She said, create.
By way of encouragement, she said no, you will not get over it and no, you will not decide that you can go on.
Why, then? one of us asked. She laughed. I invite you and now you need a reason?
Shaking her head, she turned and walked out, leaving the door open.
After the sorting.
The mirror world seems dangerous, you observed. You went in anyway. Some creatures are carried by feeling. Later you made decisions. Such as, breathe when needed. Later, you thought, something needs to be done. About these masks and their attendant griefs. You began to sort through them. It became clear in the sorting, which of these you could leave behind.
Someone asked what you were doing. You said, making room. To see something new, you would need more space. To dance fully inside it, you would need to put down what you carried. Of the dance, you said, it feels a lot like falling.
Inspired by the art of Pace Taylor. Italicized phrases are adapted from titles of the artist’s work.
A meeting with the art.
There is the event, what occurs after, and what will be remembered; what is in the frame and what beyond it, who stands beholding, and what presents itself, as composition. The artist tries presenting Time as concrete. For example, here’s a calendar and it can repeat endlessly without naming the century. Following these questions out, and out, and out, she creates a dizzying array of images, depicting a history. The effect is a sense of overwhelm, a sense of being tiny by comparison, crushed by the scope and depth of it all. Some will retreat immediately. For those that remain, there are other effects to come, and one of these is a certain euphoria of spirit, suddenly released from certain presumptions about its individual weight.
Inspired by the work of Hanne Darboven.
But the effect it provides.
You can see them in Goya: the cannibal Time eating his children, the hooded sisters pointing to the door, bodies swallowed by the earth. In the end, he was exploring the color black, not as an abstract idea, but in earnest, to know its texture. In its light, he found the spirit to move his brush.
Rothko called them performers, the dark shapes standing by, alternately actors and choral elements in a tragedy. Out of the quarrel, we seek some calling into flight. Lorca would wait for the ghost and when it came, let it harness him by his own words.
Oh death. How she insinuates, with her senseless black strokes, some corkscrew in the guts of our continuance. She’ll have your eyes first. Here is the danger in being willing to follow. You become a walking sepulcher across sacred grounds as the somber eagles look on, poised to carve wild chasms through what moves.
What to say on these occasions? It may be this or that, but preferably both. Let only the delirious and lucid speak here. The written page is no mirror, but a way through the hall of mirrors, to these shapes that linger just beyond.
The title alludes to something Stephen Mallarmé once wrote, attempting to explain his “new conception” of poetry. I came across this in reference to the work of Robert Motherwell.
With Hanne Darboven.
You could start by listing major events, key figures, compare best-of lists across the decades. But this has been done enough. What would happen if you omitted accepted distinctions between important and trivial, if you omitted the idea of progress itself?
You could try writing without an alphabet, using only numbers. These are democratic, unfettered by the weight of the ideologies of domination. With numbers, you can celebrate a belief in permutations.
Try it like this: fill room after room floor to ceiling with tiny panels: postcards, city views, tourist sites, greeting cards, illustrations from children’s books, photographs of artworks, of artists, of unnamed people. Present constellations of images instead of a neat line.
There will be no way to summarize what it is. What will matter about it will have to do with what happens between the images you present.
Something breathes. It isn’t progress.
Inspired by Hanne Darboven’s “Kulturegeschichte 1880–1983” (“Cultural History 1880–1983”).
The art of looking.
Each body has its signature, each a mystery. I know only awe for these, and nothing else of faith. Expect no unveilings here, no grand revelations. Only the presence of someone with nothing of importance to say, breathing between bouts of getting lost. Are you looking for something? Me too. I am trying to remember what.
In answer to your question. About art. No, I don’t think it’s necessary, but it is a means of survival. I hear there are other ways. Maybe if I spent less time in the folds of this fog and more among the purveyors of proven practices and ten-step solutions, I would be able to tell you what these are.
Instead, here I am, without even an explanation for this body’s central sacrament, which is listening to a cloud. All I can offer is this ritual: wait, wander, listen, repeat––and this open hand.
Notes while reading the opening to Carl Phillips’ My Trade is Mystery. What a beautiful gift.