The Making of History

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.

What happens?

Something breathes. It isn’t progress.

***

Inspired by Hanne Darboven’s “Kulturegeschichte 1880–1983” (“Cultural History 1880–1983”).

Lessons in Looking

The shape of a vessel.

There are worse things than realizing your inward destitution, she said. Such as not knowing it. Take a good look at your own insignificance, she said. In the center you’ll see a tiny seed. And what is that, but the beginning of joy? 

It’s too bad you are utterly useless, she said. But if you sit a minute with the horror of this, you might just find a rich kind of peace. I mean, at least now you know it, and can move onto the real stuff.

Nobody expects the soul’s poverty to be its only fortune, she told us, but there it is anyway, and only by understanding this utter emptiness can anybody begin to hold anything worthwhile.

Inside Out

Placing ourselves in space.

These solemn geographies our limits, and yet. We persist in aiming to be where we are not. If the first myth was of some beyond outside, the next was that it was assembled of infinities––in defiance of the limits that confront us at each breath.

What creatures are we, to be embedded with impulses to defy our own natures and nature itself?  The first way we did this was to presume to give her a proper name, capital-N, and place her outside. 

After that, we would not recognize what breathed against the window, fogging the glass through which we meant to keep an eye on her wild beyonds, out there.

Little Dream Bird

Questions of memory.

Now, where is the little dream we had before the fire? Thoughts like this always precede those of flight. There was a little bird among us before the fire, jumping from shoulders to heads and one arm to the next, like we were branches. Which of course we were, although we never noticed the tree. Do branches, usually? There are none to ask.

Anyway, you would think the tiny bird would have been the first to vanish, but it wasn’t. I can see it now as it was near the end, bright body against the dark. As if waiting, with a question. We left and the bird did not follow and then came a long road. It is the same as this one. I think I hear it, sometimes.

Elsewhere’s Space

A meditation on making.

There is an elsewhere here. It breathes in the margins of activity and swims among the vessels of the plans we forever work over––arranging the sails of this one and that one, checking our courses and whether the knots will hold. Elsewhere is indifferent to all of this, or else amused.

Elsewhere can’t hold the music she holds if she keeps the door open for every cacophony that presumes to invade. She thrives in forgotten spaces and in dreams that dissipate before we can fasten them to words. Her only allegiance is to the country of lost countries. There are no flags.

Without Elsewhere, there is no one here. How may anyone name this central element of a life after the moment of recognition that it is not yours at all, but something possessed entirely by some other out there, in that nowhereland between continents, beneath these vessels, behind these words and all things seen and named; arranged and rearranged?  

But even this final recognition of futility offers no freedom from the impulse toward making the worlds we keep creating as offerings, tempting her unmaking, her not-naming music, her long-shadowed disappearance of all that seems. 

Holding the Beat

Anchoring breath to breath.

If time is the rhythm of a group, breathing, consider the befores an inhalation. When tomorrow comes, we will exhale; and again, and again. 

How different this is than the model of the pointed arrow, to pierce the next flesh of its landing.

If time is the rhythm, it is now, an anchor point that moves nowhere, holding the beat of our breath. 

Between Here and Now

Turning a page.

There were resemblances, but none of us could say what they were, not even when we consulted the book of questions. It didn’t help that the answer key was on fire in a wastebasket.

Oh well, we said. There would be no imitations because there were no tricks to hold. The form was liquid and something in it breathed. Turning each page raised a question: what remains of the one before it?

There was no way to open the book without breaking, and there were none among us that were of a single piece, which was probably why we had so many songs for endings. We went to the desert to wait between the sky and sand with everything and nothing between us.

Imagine

When despair is beside the point.

What is needed now is a bravery reason can’t summon, a hope that persists beyond all rights to it; a solemn acknowledgement that our despair is none of our business.

The greater the possible effect of our actions; the less we are able to see it. When senses become myopic, only imagination will do. It seems our capacity for fear is too small, outstripped by the magnitude of the moment. How strange, to need the courage to be frightened; to frighten thy neighbor as thyself with fearless, stirring fear. To understand how fear for is distinct from fear of.

Camouflage, once needed to hide from an enemy, now prevents the actor from knowing what is being done. Strip meaning from language and the lie no longer needs a disguise. 

Let us remember, repeated frustration does not refute the need to repeat the effort. Every new failure bears fruit. Instead of deferring to experts, may we collectively interfere with established pretenses of expertise.

What would happen, one among us asks, if you dared to make yourself as big as you actually are? And what could happen, echoes another, if we do not?

***

Inspired by (and with borrowed phrases from) the philosophy of Günther Anders.

Ordinary Noise

The role of contrasting elements.

In art, dreams are realized––and the worst, not to be measured or weighted, but lived. Counting may follow, anguished measurements in the unflinching face of midday, when anyone with living ties to memory is susceptible to affliction by the pretense that all is well and as it seems, amid the noise of countless machines, distracting from a vast hum in the background.

This is why mornings and evenings are so much kinder, because the dominant noises are more obviously birds, revelers, and other wild sounds, none of which pretend any allegiance to standardized notions of good sense, which routinely kill without making any noise beyond those that have become so ordinary and expected, they may easily go unheard.