Reading Isak Dinesen’s The Blank Page


I spent the end of last summer, and the rest of the year, reading everything by Isak Dinesen I could get hold of. As ever, this compelling proximity in reading leads me to attempt to write, or to think of writing, and the closer the proximity, the harder writing becomes, and urgent, and necessary — and how charged, and meaningful, those states of speechlessness are — when you think writing is impossible and when you perceive writing has to happen somehow nonetheless: it will have to take some form, it will — and how much material is worked through in those states of apparent stillness.
I started to put myself deliberately in this type of situations since last year’s texts on Marlene van Niekerk’s The Swan Whisperer and on Clarice Lispector. Drawn to the state of speechlessness generated by sustained closeness to certain artworks (the condition of aesthetic perception James Hillman writes so eloquently about in The Thought of the Heart and The Soul of the World, more on which in my next book), and wondering how to rebegin to articulate words in such states — by means of small variance, interference and noise.

I’d been trying to write around Isak Dinesen’s The Blank Page for months, failing and failing, until my eyes rested on a photocopy of the story I’d made to take with me while travelling, and on a picture I’d made of the same photocopy, as seen though the cracked screen of my iPad. To actually work with the page, in writing around a story about a page, and to work with different levels of concealment, distortion and deception in a story all formulated around ambiguity and deception, seemed to be the only way I could articulate my thoughts while avoiding clichés on silence and trite references to the High Priests of Silence.

The text is published on this month’s issue of Numéro Cinq.

P.S. It might be worth wondering whether all the annotations on the photocopy came before or after or during the actual writing of the piece — as some of you might know from reading En Abime and F.M.R.L., I am more attracted to what certain unexpected formal devices allow me to say and to layer in writing, rather than sticking to any presentation of a document/record as keeper of unmovable truths. Nothing to explain, much to experience.


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