Posts tagged ‘where am I?’

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

13 July 2013

another abîme


12 July 2013

my summer writing project

My summer writing project.

To move from this:



To this:

photo 1

photo 2

Via this:

photo 3



photo 4

29 May 2013

…but the string that ties them

Next week I will read from the first draft of a new chapter in my book, at the Sounding Space Symposium in London.
I wrote this chapter as I was immersed in Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book, that immense work of criticism and autobiography, that feast of literary pleasure, layered work of abandon and dedication which voices a writer’s proximity to, and need for, a silent conversation with other writers.

At one point Duncan reports how in 1891, a month before her death, Madame Blavatsky closed her last essay with a quotation from Montaigne:

‘I have here made only a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the string that ties them.’

Duncan writes of this string as ‘the thread of her argument, a wish that she, and mankind with her, might be released from the contradictions of dream and fact, creative idea and actuality, that tortured her spirit.’

I like to think of my next book as a nosegay. The culled flowers: you’ve seen and read many of them in this blog. The string is in my reading. The title of my chapter is but the string that ties them. Here, I write about three verses of a certain poem, and about a half-remembered lullaby which I may or may not have heard.



10 May 2013

quite unreal and like a dream

I’m writing a part of my book about being other, in another place.
Writing, thinking, feeling the sensory overload encountered while reading Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea:

There were trailing pink flowers on the table and the name echoed pleasantly in my head. Coralita Coralita. The food, though, too highly seasoned, was lighter and more appetizing than anything I had tasted in Jamaica. We drank champagne. A great many moths and beetles found their way into the room, flew into the candles and fell dead on the tablecloth. Amélie swept them up with a crumb brush. Uselessly. More moths and beetles came.

‘Is it true,’ she said, ‘that England is like a dream? Because one of my friends who married an Englishman wrote and told me so. She said this place London is like a cold dark dream sometimes. I want to wake up.’
‘Well’, I answered annoyed, ‘that is precisely how your beautiful island seems to me, quite unreal and like a dream.’
‘But how can rivers and mountains and the sea be unreal?’
‘And how can millions of people, their houses and their streets be unreal?’
‘More easily,’ she said, ‘much more easily. Yes a big city must be like a dream.’
‘No, this is unreal and like a dream,’ I thought.

The long veranda was furnished with canvas chairs, two hammocks, and a wooden table on which stood a tripod telescope. Amélie brought out candles with glass shades but the night swallowed up the feeble light. There was a very strong scent of flowers – the flowers by the river that open at night she told me – and the noise, subdued in the inner room, was deafening. ‘Crac-cracs,’ she explained, ‘they make a sound like their name, and crickets and frogs.’

14 March 2013

fragments / an experiment in echoing

on hearing and seeing Sharon Gal:

[there] The resulting sound was a muddy epos, all groans and fractures, guttural at its outset, it would then end up being channelled into a broken rhythm, monosyllabic, bone-tone bone-tonal. I saw a woman’s face Fellinian, I heard a face feline. An uneven matrix of high-pitched interjections urged the drama, with wailings, murky assortments of celtic vowels and gargarized cachinnations. Trying to supply for the disappearance of linguistic substance.        [inside] Out of suspended intervals beyond any clause, a handful of notes came out of the silences, nearly abstracted out of space, sustained and profound, like the knowledge of grief: immanent to earth. And out of the depths of a lost country, my hidden sighs were released, hidden sighs once erased. Then she grinned. Sh.

another voice, the morning after, elsewhere:

With you I have searched for the immense and perfect disharmony, but these bass sounds resound even if you don’t excite them, even if you don’t rearrange the avalanches, the screams, the tiny creases in that safe shawl of comfort. It is you who move mountains inside, not faith.         Between you and I a translucent glimmer flows, it moulds every past experience and shapes it into a mobile unspoken phrasing. Dispel if you wish, the mountains of a dispelled life. Dispel if you wish, but every other yesterday I could never quite encounter you, and now I dare not dispel myself. Dispel if you wish, this feeble life embroiled, dispel my embroiling. Let ardour become conversation, let spring sweep away withdrawal, let summer burn fierce and incautious, be with my keyboarded hands, key-locked hands, hands locked. Outside let the hurricane sweep. Leave the safe shawl of comfort against this morning’s iced sun, leave it, loosen, and let me hear the encounter in a flurry of excited strings.

6 February 2013

1. Kiss Me Deadly

The opening sequence in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
The sighs, the song, the voice, the titles and the road.
The reference to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White.
By that master of deception and inversions, Robert Aldrich:

12 December 2012

home recording 1 / cave, sibyl, lullaby, lament

Cave, Sibyl, Lullaby, Lament.
Take 1, no edits, morning voice.


10 November 2012

It seemed I’d stepped…

It seemed I’d stepped from the rainy morning walk into a room of frozen thought. The room was full of people between their twenties and their seventies and yet it seemed most of them had agreed to set their understanding on an average age of middle. Middle thinking, I mean. The safety of the shared, mental age of middle. Wrapped in self-aggrandising frameworks, the curators sheltered their thoughts behind the flat screens of presenting (as in: ‘I’m not making any statements here, I have nothing to question, I’m just presenting these slides to you’). Artists tiringly repeated conformed formulas to forcefully comb their pedigreed works into more flatness. ‘I am … a sound artist’, sound thundering in the vast chambers of ego. Theorists theorised. In the frenzy of tidying up ideas, they forgot to listen. ‘Sound art’ had a German accent, stuck in the vexing rhyming refrains of problematisation extrapolation presentation documentation. Images of silenced monuments of sound kept parading in the slideshow, more remindful of tombstones than of any presumed ‘activation of the public space’. Activating what and whose space remained unclear. Been there, mourned. Still tombstones of what is safe and comforts, words kept being emitted but added up to nothing. [in a whisper]: Today it is Thursday, tomorrow we die. Today you’re dressed up with sound art and a lie. The wind rattling the window panes and the rain hammering down the night before echoed in my mind and in my body that could not sleep. How I wished someone had brought those sounds into that room and into their words. I want to tell you what I could not write. Can a voice connect fragmented records. You have strong voices, for another route. You have strong voices uprooted.

And nobody in that group of middles would acknowledge confusion – unless in a quote legitimised by someone else. Then they could lock it in a safe and wear it occasionally as an embellishment. And nobody among those middles would pay attention to the sounds and voices of elsewhere, pointing elsewhere. Alright love, you’re sweet. Let’s move on to the serious stuff now. To the practical bits, that is. Ooo the good practical ones. Prone to the mantra of wherethereispublicfundingtherewillbesoundart. With speakers. Lots of them, so we can then take nice pictures of these emblems and produce a catalogue.

In the room, most artists speak the same language. My problem is not with their works: it’s in how they speak of them, the words they use, the trite and worn-out expressions that say no more. They show slides, play snippets of sounds almost apologetically. They say: ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Their language becomes transparent. It’s the opposite of sound. Sound fleets, ever unfathomable: while language becomes too familiar, to the point when certain expressions are taken for granted. ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Why then are you, and we, here in this room, discussing your work, if you say we should have been there? Is this space then a deterioration? A denial of the fact that we’re here? Are we sorry to be here? Or is it a nod to the fact that few people have been there and by consequence they are the sole retainers of that experience, and can control it? I want to be there when I can but I also want to be here, and this here is not derived, weak, or less significant. To celebrate the permanence of The Archive of ‘having been there’ means control: to imply that only a small number of chosen few can access that there is dangerously tied to power. Meanwhile the living records of sounds move around, with mess and contradictions: in the people who were there and heard them, and in those who weren’t but still can experience them, and re-make them in their thoughts. Remember Edison via Villiers? ‘It is helpless to represent the voice of conscience. Can I record the voice of the blood?’ I can hear those impossible sounds, in his (their) words: not having been there. Sonic palimpsests are written and muted and they infiltrate perceptions and dissolve in them, they move.

Two days later, early one morning I left, heading back to my inward time, feeling the cold rush of wind on my face and the clear nordic air sweeping my thoughts. For a long time the previous evening I’d thought about the middle thinking I’d witnessed and its vain belief that documents can inscribe the middle thinkers in history. I wanted to listen to another thinking, to the silenced. As I stepped on the bus to the airport, I could hear the turmoil of more voices. It was time to go and write them. Like Kathy Acker said or maybe it was Chris Kraus, as a writer I don’t make things up: I perceive and record. And, let me add, I voice.

29 October 2012

Joseph Conrad / writing

Writing in a foreign language, when references fail, no echoes reply.

Joseph Conrad:

29 August 1908, letter to Arthur Symons:
“I have been quarrying my English out of a black night, working like a coal miner in his pit. For fourteen years now I have been living as if in a cave without echoes.”

Good Friday 1899, letter to Edward Garnett:
“I am alone … in a chasm with perpendicular sides of black basalt. Never were sides so perpendicular and smooth, and high. Above, your anxious head against a bit of sky peers down – in vain – in vain. There’s no rope long enough for that rescue.”

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