Posts tagged ‘memory’

8 April 2014

Toward Beyond the Object

Saturday 12 April: Beyond the Object, the third in Offering Rites, a series by David Toop at Central St. Martins.

Here is the column of books with objects in them, which I’ve been building while reading, thinking and writing toward Saturday. Objects: absurd, imagined, unreal, absent, unnameable, personified, rhymed and destroyed – however, written.
On top of the column is the usual, now decaying book, the incomplete Italian edition of Melville’s Pierre, the object which I’ve been using for a year to host my words, the absent object in my previous book. In parallel with the column of books, I’ve been writing a column of words toward beyond the object. All of this will be there on Saturday, many words that won’t find any space or time but will drive the reading, such as the object-soul in Arthur Machen’s The Inmost Light or those poems that are beyond the object but are too long to be read.
‘What are the boundaries of an object?’


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photo 5

15 March 2014

Dark, the Dim Hear

On Thursday 20 March I will read at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, near the Magic and Ritual displays, as part of Resonant Voices.

The way I’ve been working with my readings for some time: led by each given theme/prompt/question/title, I collect clusters of thoughts, I write fragments, gather words from books, and I use time.
I use the time of my thinking and reading toward ‘the event’, I bring everything I’ve collected toward it up to that point, then I respond to whatever circumstances arise in the given place and time of my reading, and more or less improvise a new construction.

Here is a chart of texts, notes and prompts gathered so far – some as yet unwritten, some hidden, some to be completed in the next few days.


Votive Offerings

I give you an ear because you saved my ear.
I give you an eye because you saved my eye.
I give you a leg because you saved my leg.
And my foot.
And my torso.
And my heart.
My heart.

But what would I give you if you saved my voice?

1923.47.27_Brass amulet against evil eye

Magic and trial by ordeal
A hand. Cast brass amulet, against the evil eye. From Naples.
[written to be read aloud, to become breathless in reading]
The dim here always struck me. It’s dark, the dim hear as I tentatively tune in voices and whispers from the past. The dim light in the museum, the amulets against the evil eye, the empty drawers under the glass cabinets prompt me to linger in the voids and in the gaps, to imagine and recollect gestures and rituals around them: they set up a scenario and make me step into a past, in the Seventies in Southern Italy, when in dimness of memory I hear, out of the hazy layers of my recollections I hear a grainy persistent breath, a fatigued whistlebreath emitted not as a sign of life, but as the last aural sign of a life about to expire, it is my great-grandmother in her bed, not because she is ill but because she is very old, slow, at the border of life yet clings to life, poisonous and persistent like ivy my grandmother would say, lying, breathing in a dark grey room at the end of a long Sunday afternoon, when dusk comes in, in my recollections I hear the dim, recall a persistent broken sigh in the shape of a breath and then a stop, a convulsive breath and a stop, as if a rusty hook had caught that breath to prevent it from expiring, and she lies in a tall bed, maybe tall because I was little, although I later learned that bed at the time were in fact taller (to prevent mice from climbing up, or so my grandmother would say) I hear that convulsive breath as coming from an underworld of hidden whispering galleries, it is my great-grandmother’s but to my hearing it sounds as if it is the whole room breathing, and I’m left there, I can barely see her but I hear my larvae-great-grandmother disappear into her broken sigh, sighing herself into the room. Other voices are plotting next door. For some days I have been weighed down with a persistent headache and sickness. They bring her a small bowl full of water and a bottle of olive oil. She pours some drops of olive oil in the water and begins to hum, hums, a circling incantatory spell begins to coil around my hearing, then out of that bundle a tiny hand appears, withered and wiry, shadowed by wrinkles and by time, as she repeats small circular motions on my forehead with the tip of her thumb mumbles mumbles, I’m unsure if she really means anything or if she is just repeating a gesture passed on to her, soiled and half-broken, across who knows how many generations, I’m unsure whether to laugh at all this or be very serious and solemn, I am here little I listen but I don’t know what’s going on and maybe I’m not supposed to. Why is everyone suddenly so serious and solemn. Many years later I learned, in a car at night, speeding past the streetlamps at the edge of town where rubbish heaps, half-built tower blocks, concrete walls taken over by ivy and nettle bushes hide another past and another layer underground, past one of the few surviving mythraeums that nobody ever stops to visit, the light and speed and summer air taking my breath and absorbing me in that uneven mix of ritual and disillusion, of life expiring and ritual dying, of spells persisting yet changing, it all came back to me in a flash, ferocious like the heads of pigs hanging in the windows of a butcher shop to point at its deathly sales, a glimpse of something recalled in a splinter of a moment in transit, ferocious because it was her last spell before her death, later I learned I’d been subjected to a spell against the evil eye.

Three Women. A tale of magic, deterioration, listening and transmission

A skull carved on lava. Southern Italy, 1917. / 
The Count of Sansevero, Raimondo di Sangro. Magic underground in Naples. Gesualdo da Venosa.

On 23 September 1889 in a wing of Palazzo Sansevero in Naples, a small bridge connecting the palazzo with the family chapel collapses. The accident reawakens interest in one of the palazzo’s accursed inhabitants, Raimondo di Sangro, prince of Sansevero (1710-1771). The cause of the collapse is a water leak, but soon the rumour spreads that the night before the accident, strange noises rising from the underground vaults of the palace and sinister omens had announced the imminent ruin. The palazzo had once belonged to magus, prince and scientist, alchemist and scholar Raimondo de Sangro. A legend swarming with ghosts and a building full of voices.

A magic cord, Malta 1907 black and white tapes. Found in a mattress. / Chord or cord. Listening, reading, writing, spinning.



The empty drawers.

‘To communicate something in order to let it circulate, so that once it has been cast out to others it will come back to him/her a little more magical, like the shields of the Northwest American Indians, which are endowed with greater and greater value the more often they have been the object of ceremonial exchanges.’
Michel Leiris, Scratches.

Of objects removed.

objects removed

30 January 2014

new chapter: caves

An old photocopy with notes from last year.
It has become the diagram for my next chapter.
I like the way the very last part of the scan at the bottom, folded back from the photocopied page because it was not meant to be there, actually belongs very much to the whole project.


29 November 2013


I’m reading an excerpt from my book in progress tomorrow at Arnolfini, Bristol, as part of their Salon: Fictions and Ethomusicology. 


13 October 2013




a version of the previous post from the minor angle, the less outspoken, to be whispered, by the whisperer

or, a quick view into my writing processes and how sometimes i build a text,

from notes written on scraps of paper and on notes on an iphone then lost and recalled in a lopsided way

longing for, attempting at a writing lost at sea

like bas jan ader in search of the miraculous lost toward the horizon of an ocean

and again i encounter borders of my self

and again I think of the horizon in melville’s late short story daniel orme, daniel the sailor landlocked and looking at the horizon

daniel orme

daniel, or me?

daniel a  letter lost

and always a letter gained, in this country people often spell my name as daniella, i gain one L, a letter lost a letter gained, an A and an L
which amuses me, first because it makes my name sound a bit like a joke, where ella in the name rhymes comically with ella in the surname, the double L in italian drastically accelerates the way you pronounce a word, whereas the pace in ela is much slower and opens all up backwards toward the e
and secondly it amuses me because it makes me think, ah, L is listening, there you go, the gift you get from this added L to your name really wants you to find some meaning in it, a bit like that famous bullet with one’s name written on it, L is the bullet with the surplus of my name written on it and is bound to strike me.

so let’s go back to that book from the 24 july post, and the letters in it and here I have found my beginning and my L:


(This is to be read aloud)
. . .

A lead-coloured blanket crept up toward the edges of the sky and darkened it with restless flickers of anthracite shading. It then gradually thinned down and shaped itself into a word, I could read each letter one by one, emblazoned in capital letters the word was 
 L I S T E N 
and the letter type was exactly the same one that appears in the poster of Max Neuhaus’ renowned performance from 1976. In my sound-art nightmare, one by one the letters began to peel off the sky and to fall on the ground, some of them denting the soil, others caught in tree branches, or cracking roofs, others splashing in the river, others shot off like silver bullets ready to peel off my ears. Some of them looked like they were ducking off edges to disappear. Others were big and still darkening even in their decay. I followed them one by one:

L , I , S , T , E , N .

L sounds the Italian word lontano, away, far away, L is away, listen and listening, lontanando, L landslides loops loiters laps lingers . . . . . and at last L leaks through the window of a library and lands, alphabetically observant, on an open book by Leopardi, Giacomo Leopardi the Italian Romantic poet who once wrote a poem looking at a hedge on a solitary hill and listening to the wind rustling through leaves and meditating on the passing of time, and infinite silence. L the letter lands on the page and sticks onto the first letter of another poem there, L as in La, in Italian it’s the musical note A, the note you use to tune an instrument, a beginning, and La is an article as in the, La, La sera del dì di festa, The Evening of the Holiday. 
I look at some verses from the poem: E fieramente mi si stringe il core, a pensar come tutto al mondo passa, e quasi orma non lascia. And it grips my heart fiercely, to think how all in the world passes, and nearly leaves no trace.
I want to linger on that quasi, nearly: All in the world passes, and nearly leaves no trace. Nearly. And yet, a trace it leaves in its passing, this everything. The same heartache the poet got at the thought of things passing in the world, arises as he recalls hearing the echo of a song, lontanando, as it dies little by little, crushing his heart. Un canto lontanando morire a poco a poco / già similmente mi stringeva il core.
Like Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s fictional Edison in his late nineteenth-century fiction Tomorrow’s Eve, who wondered what happened to the sounds he could not record before he invented the phonograph, Leopardi wonders about the cries of his ancestors, remote lost sounds of conflict and war. In the night of the holiday all is peace and silence, the world is resting, and so are sounds except for those of memory. The L in listening is away, lontano, it prompts memories from afar. How far back, in time?


13 July 2013

another abîme


1 May 2013

caves, sybil, recordings

On the 16th of June 2007 I walked with artist and friend Paolo Inverni, for an hour, inside an underground cave at Rio Martino in Piemonte, North-West of Italy. The cave stretches into the core of a mountain in the Alps, along two levels of underground tunnels, for about two miles, in total darkness. The local council lists the following characteristics of the cave, to be considered by anybody who might want to walk in it: humidity 100%, temperature 5.5°C, an underground river, walkways without handrails on both sides, relatively low ceilings in some places, jagged outcrops at head level on the sides of the walls.

The underground river can be a route to follow or a hindrance. In the points where the water level is low, the riverbed is a guiding path. When the water does not allow you to walk in the riverbed, you are forced to clamber along slippery edges on the sides.

Inside the cave, darkness looms and one false step could be fatal. The sense of danger is not only physical. Only once did I stop walking and felt overwhelmed, although I’m unsure as to why: was it the darkness that the lights on our helmets barely disrupted, the awareness of being so out of reach, the lack of living organisms around, the uncanny reverberations of our voices, the oppression that engulfed me as soon as I entered? To quote Jules Verne in Journey to the Centre of the Earth: I felt lost. ‘As long as you stay close to the walls you’re safe’, my friend said. But the walls are slippery. We could only walk and keep walking. Long stretches of silence were only interrupted by brief communications, episodes of strange play and remoteness.

At the end of the cave, after walking for an hour between the river and the walls of rock, a sudden change: a sudden blast of cold air, countless drops of chilled water against my face, and a roar amplified out of proportion. This is what we came here for: an underground waterfall, one of the highest in Europe, cascading from a height of fifty-five meters. In the darkness of the cave, I could not see the waterfall: I could feel it, and hear it.

We could barely talk. And there was no way to do an audio recording of the experience of encountering the waterfall after the hour-long walk underground, we’d have come up with shapeless noise anyway. Better to listen. And think of another type of recording, in the words that would follow the waterfall.

Then we had to get out of the cave. Another hour-long walk through a tunnel of black and silence faintly measured by tiny water drops. In the walk back did the afterlife of the waterfall, and perhaps its sense for us, begin to form: not just because we had been there but because we had walked away from it, with no actual recordings to bring back, and yet still hearing it reverberating in the tunnels of our recollections. We didn’t have an audio file with us, but that didn’t mean the experience would vanish.

The first thing I noticed once I walked out, after adjusting to the blinding light of the mid-afternoon, was a patch of lichens. I thought of Camillo Sbarbaro, an Italian poet who wrote broken verses of small utterances at the beginning of the 20th century. He also collected lichens. Often he would write of his words becoming mineral, and himself too. At the end of the thirties, after a visit to a cave, he wrote, in a collection called Wood Shavings: ‘What remained inside me of what I’d felt, was what is left of a whispering; something incredible, which I seemed to “hear through”; the wonder it gave me dwells on. And if that place is vague to the memory, as the place pointed at by the Sybil’s reply, then the fear of not capturing the place sharpened my yearning.’ I want to dwell in this state of sharpened yearning and ‘hearing through’, and write of caves and voice Sybil’s words; to dwell in these transitions between being in a place and the premonition of its absence, when it has not reached me, yet I can feel its chill.

Sbarbaro speaks of the Sybil. Only a few months ago, while choosing the cover of my book En abime, I opted for a picture of the Sybil’s cave in Cuma near where I was born, in Southern Italy. A cave, an abyss, a Sybil, a poet. A poet, a Sybil, an abyss, a cave, also animate a poem which I always enjoy reading aloud, it’s entitled Spelt from Sybil’s Leaves and it is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It’s got cavernous spaces, black, lost words and broken utterance, and I have nothing more to say to you about this poem which is so close to what I want to say. I’d rather let these words break into mine. So:


15 April 2013

listen (Sardinia)

As I keep writing about songs, sounds, chants from religious rituals in Italy, as I keep writing of the experience of listening to them and recalling them away from home, I cannot avoid these (loud volume, please):


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10 April 2013

Cabiria, loneliness, ritual

I watch Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria and I’m transfixed. Before, I’d watched this film and La strada on TV when I was about four years old, and never again since. To date, these two films are my earliest memories of sadness, from an age when I could not have possibly ever experienced that type of sadness. Except through those films. I was always afraid of going back to them. So here we are, that sadness and I, thirty-odd years later. I find: a film of unstable balance between a profound sense of drift and emptiness (the bleak suburban Roman landscape, caves, open spaces, the main character truly lonely in every sense, no respite ever) and a lightness of touch, graceful interferences of unexpected gestures that place what is implausible in what is stark real. Rituals and representations exceed a self that is void, but not meaningless. At one point, Cabiria joins a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Divine Love and asks for grace. One of the women in the crowd shouts at the top of her voice, speaking to the Virgin Mary: ‘I am REALLY asking you. I am REALLY asking you’. As if screaming was the space where belief is validated. Cabiria cannot quite scream and barely sings, she is hushed and overwhelmed by the chanting and the demonstrations, the gestures, yet she is the only one who believes (maybe because she’s speaking to herself, not to any divine presence). In the next scene they all sit on a lawn having a picnic, life goes on untouched by the empty yet repeated ritual, except for Cabiria, who is deeply affected by the fact that, after the pilgrimage, ‘nun semo cambiate’ (in Roman dialect, ‘we haven’t changed’). At the end, the space of utter truth is revealed to be the space of utter deception; unlike later films by Fellini, here truth and deception exist osmotically, they do not outnumber each other by means of cartoonish exaggerations. The edge is softer and I am more easily driven in the film, not as a spectator but enmeshed, affected.

(Then I thought of another harrowing scene of loneliness, staged faith, make-believe and loss of belief, in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, when Bess goes to church for the last time and can no longer sustain the double-voiced dialogue with God that she’s been staging up to that moment, deceiving or asserting her own self by speaking in two voices.)

30 March 2013

writing the inner voice / casting my archive

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with a new writing technique. In response to an invite by Rie Nakajima and David Toop to take part in an event at Café Oto called Sculpture, I thought about the process of casting – about the interchange between mould and material, the empty and the full. How could I translate it into my own writing, where the cast would be my archive, and the material would be my words generated by it?

As a prompt, I decided to collect some thoughts around a certain sculpture and the words around it. Aptly, the sculpture I chose to begin with is entitled The Inner Voice and it induced a chain of thoughts not dissimilar to those that gave shape to my book, En abîme. I chose it not only because of its title, but because it exists in repetition and change, and because it echoed the title of another work I’ve been writing about, Inner Voices, a comedy written in 1948 by Italian playwright Eduardo de Filippo, featuring an enigmatic character who, disillusioned with life, refuses to speak (‘because the world doesn’t listen to him anymore’) and only communicates with the outside world by exploding bangers and crackers (and who only speaks again soon before he dies, saying: ‘Some silence, please…’)
I’m digressing.

The Inner Voice
is a sculpture from 1885 by Auguste Rodin: a body in torsion with no arms, its legs scratched off edgeless, in-between the stillness of matter and centripetal motion. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of it: Again and again Rodin returned to this bending inward, to this intense listening to one’s own depth. Never was human body assembled to such an extent about its inner self, so bent by its own soul. Rodin himself said: My figure represents Meditation. That is why it has neither arms to act, nor legs to walk. Haven’t you noticed that reflection, when persisted in, suggests so many plausible arguments for opposite directions, that it ends in inertia? He later used the sculpture to illustrate a poem by Charles Baudelaire, Beauty: As lovely as a dream in stone, as clay eternal and as taciturn.
The arms might have been mutilated, or maybe they never were. Cast over the years in different materials, The Inner Voice is a muted reiteration. Rodin took the title from a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, who had said: The Inner Voice is the echo, certainly confused and feeble, but faithful, of that song that responds in us to the song we hear beside ourselves. I cannot quite hear the song of The Inner Voice but in half-guessed disturbances, never too far from its core, that is, never too far from the outer shell that casts one form into various materials.

For five days I have taken the inner voice as a mould, and I have cast it in a dismembered group of words, in proximity with my reading, as I learned by heart a paragraph from a new book every day, re-wrote it from memory the next day, and interpolated the missing parts with my own words – an experiment in enforced memory as it corrodes and actualises my archive, while I elicit more voices: an echo cast into shape, to fold my enchantment with words round, and back dissolving, and again.

The resulting texts raised many considerations about authenticity, the resonances built within the fabric of language, how we read and how we hear, a writing embroiled.
Plenty for the next chapter.



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