Catalyst

A body in motion.

There is a large megaphone. The artist has a question. Is it possible to turn every cell in a chosen direction and if so, what if? What if we all––did?

If the forest is an archive of breath, who keeps things in order? The trees are silent, but not the wind and not what flies and calls between the limbs. 

Here is a study in the movement of these bodies answering a call. What does it mean to be here now, together? Meanwhile, trees listen.

***

Inspired by Sioban Burke’s article in the arts section of yesterday’s New York Times (“A Choreographer Who Merges Art, Activism, and the Natural World”) on the work of Emily Johnson. Italicized phrase appears in a recent performance.

Between Worlds

With Graham Greene.

You wanted only something hard and certain to hold against the flux when the dark sky of your childhood pressed its wet lips against the windowpane. The heart of the matter, you suspected, was conflict: between this world and the next, sanctity and goodness, but the connection between these defied reasoning. Wanting nothing of the graceless chromium world, only sainthood or damnation interested you, with their questions about unknown and unobtainable Heavens on the other side of death. Yours was a world in slant, angled like the posture of  a desperate man with courage to frighten the flock, in clumsy prayer. 

***

Today is the birthday of English writer Graham Greene (1904-1991), best known for his novels, which often feature characters in states of existential and moral crisis. In honor of this day, I spent time this morning with these two articles: Graham Greene’s Dark Heart (by Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, March 2021) and The Two Worlds of Graham Greene (by Herbert R. Haber in Modern Fiction Studies, Autumn 1957).

Against Silencing

On the question of how to respond.

A common complaint of today’s sighted: I can no longer bear to look. Someone proposes the role of the artist as scribe, as ear for the abused, writing backward into the dream, imagining that if one speaks the horror aloud, another might be released. From what is uncertain, but any horror is magnified when suffered alone. 

The sounds a body makes in distress are the sounds it holds before language. Where pain shatters language, perhaps it is still possible to pick up the pieces, assemble some makeshift wordhouse again. To the challenge of yes but is it true, the only answer is a reminder back to an earlier truth about the basic needs of a body. One is shelter.

***

Inspired by Philip Metres’ description of the work of artist Daniel Heyman and others in response to torture.

Orphic Journeys

With Jan Carew.

In the dreaming month when sea drums echo, here come the opposing spirits of ancestral dead, and here is the body in-between. Also here, a motley collection of other spirits of various purposes and temperaments, each with their own will to interfere. Balancing between limbo and nothingness, the dreamer leaves, searching for an end to exile.

The first sign of trouble was the ignorance of proper names, and then came erasure in the land of wind. Now throbs the ache of missing limbs and thirst beside these drained reservoirs of memory. Dispossessed of a place in the sun, the dreamer enters the tombs, to gnaw at the bones of collected griefs in shattered time.

And then, trespassing through prehistory to recover a lost Eden, the dreamer returns to the hills, and then to the river and finally, to the same sea that was the beginning of looking out and beyond.

***

Today is the birthday of Jan Carew (1920-2017), Afro-Caribbean poet, playwright, scholar, and novelist of far-reaching influence. In honor of this day, I spent the morning with his essay, The Caribbean Writer and Exile, published in Journal of Black Studies (Jun. 1978). This post is assembled using images and phrases found in Carew’s essay. 

Intimate Immensity

Once upon a forest.

Behind the dying wind and softening rain, silence compels the listener. Since the immense is not an object, it relies on imagination, and so it becomes possible to open the world by seeing more than what appears to be. In the immediate immensity of the shattered forest, piling infinities far from all history of men; a curdling quiet trembles. You’d need a map the size of a given world to make it truly accurate, so the dreamers continue. 

***

Notes while reading Gaston Bachelard’s “Intimate Immensity” in The Poetics of Space.

Possibilities for Becoming

With Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

If much of sight is the weight of understanding––the weight of the world, as the saying goes–– why not a vision to pull us forward and up, binding us to one another and this earth? What happens when one person and then many––live in devotion to the process of discovering this renewal: its anatomy and breath, its sublimated wants, and how its needs at their core might include us? In an age of crisis, we face over and again the possibility of a coming end, on a road increasingly populated by our dead and dying. What does it take to remember love––even here, and hold it long enough to see a way to its next beginning? You noticed sacredness in imperfection, even pain––because it is, because we are, because we are becoming. Of this age of loss, you suggested, now we are getting somewhere.

***

Inspired by the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Altitude

And the ones who come down.

In another world, everyone lives in the mountains where time falls more slowly. To boast in this world is to speak of the heights you knew, have known, will soon attain. The elites put their houses on stilts. 

Only the careless leave the peaks for the valleys, to feel the soft grasses and the waters of the streams and lakes. The people of the heights watch them and scoff at the waste, but sound is denser in the lowlands, so the swimmers cannot hear them––not with the all of the birds and the crickets and the lowland creatures in the grasses and not with the water in their ears. It took them by surprise at first, the noises spilling out of these lowlands.

What’s that? They wondered at first. Later, they knew it was time. The creatures released it. The visitors caught what they could and threw it back. They began to make their own and it was music.

***

Inspired by one of the worlds described in Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams, (“26 April 1905”).

Inspired Interference

The urgency of destabilizing symphonies.

Here is a signal and here is noise, interfering. But what happens when the noise is the signal, calling us back to the fire? When everything is permitted, nothing is necessary. Now the artist becomes the cacophonous jester to unmask and unmake the quiet throb of lies from the seat of power.

What is unpredictable is not random. Consider the rhizome, its growth an explosion of connections. What’s real is not the direction but the becoming. In a world of free-floating signifiers removed from context, an artist makes noise to negate the negation of life.

To navigate the soundscape, a listener will learn away from selection and discrimination of important from unimportant sounds and learn to maintain a continuous span of listening. The art in this is how such surrender makes it possible to read meaning where it seems to be gone, when all known categories collapse into an unknown being, distant and familiar.

***

Notes while reading the opening section of Joseph Nechvatal’s Immersion into Noise.

Turn

The sound of planets in orbit.

Every poetic center has its gravitational pull, multiplying repercussions between these miniatures and their attendant skies. Here we go again, pivoting around the lamp sun at the center of an ariel table, and she keeps us moving by the music of her pen. Without this, we would be permanent invalids, plunging ever away from some distant possession, our placid faces dumb with belfry daydreams pretending to be lessons in solitude. In this concert hall, these skies, we hear the saplings grow green and the crawling trellises; the bitter rain on the long road until the high wind yelping names of the dead finally expires into the silence, the axis on which she turns us with the next opening notes. Wait.

***

Inspired by and with borrowed images from the section on miniature in Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.

Badlands

With Mary Hunter Austin.

In the country of lost borders, where hills squeezed from chaos and sculpted by wind rise over the blue haze of narrow valleys, it is not hard to forget that everything looks closer than it is.

In the land of lost rivers, where dust devils dance, there is so little to love, but try to resist the urge to return. Given enough distance, a body will dream the unimagined help, nearby, within reach of the mesquite roots, heralded by the vivid green of creosote.

It’s easy to wonder who lives here but stick around. You’ll soon learn how it can trick your sense of time, so that you always mean to go, but never do. This is what it’s like in the land of lost travelers, waiting with the legends of treasures long buried in these sands.

***

In honor of the birthday of American writer Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934), today’s post is composed of images and phrases from the opening pages of her classic, The Land of Little Rain.