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Thursday, May 31st, 2012

[continued  from A Diptych (1)]

2. The Next Day

An aural experience past, tangled with the forming and the informing of a memory: what is retained of it in writing? What does writing do to the aural memory?

Today I read a sentence by Paul Klee from 1928: ‘There are some problems to be posed, such as: the construction of the secret’. At the time he was most concerned with the interplay of painting and the feelings that move its making; with forming a visible surface while keeping hidden the fleeting element of sensation – a portion of experience which cannot be treated as a concluded whole but only in metamorphosis. The construction of each new work – what appears, what is given – is closely tied to the consideration of the hidden, ephemeral substance that prompts it.

I think of how I constructed the sound of that chainsaw in words. I told you of a sky slate grey and uniform, and of a verse from a poem attached to that sound. I didn’t tell you of the dust specks flying against the rays of a
polluted white light, and of the smell of freshly cut wood mixed with the nasty stench of sugar beet, that marked a visit to my grandparents in a suburban town in Southern Italy in the late seventies, when I first heard the sound of a chainsaw ever. I didn’t tell you of an early morning when I walked in a city along its old crumbling walls, watching faded halos and half-lit wall paintings in churches: that day I read for the first time the verse by Gerard Manley Hopkins; I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day, which was to be tied forever to a certain morning light and to the sound of a chainsaw from a street nearby. And yet my words around the chainsaw sound are informed by both moments: the light and sky I described are the same as those in the former memory, and from the latter I took black silhouettes of trees, clouds like gags, a slit of deep orange dawn light first opened on the cardboard surface of the sky, then splattered all around till its edges are soaked with red and there is no time to brush it away, to dilute it with the tears of a past.

The sound of a chainsaw cut into the fabric of my past and opened a slit into a near-audible growth of mutable material, that suddenly appeared alive and sounding out of the still and dumb reassurance of ‘what used to be’. How is such mutable material fixed into words?

In forming a memory of a certain sound through writing, the conventional need might arise for a ‘behind the scenes’ and a ‘before the sound’. A lot of ‘behind’ and ‘before’ in fact, canonically. I could not capture the behind and before of the chainsaw sound as such: I can tell what stayed with me as an impression, I can give space to the experiential texture of words, lights, movement attached to my words as they gradually shape that sound. Maybe I did not even want to capture that sound as such. Better to let it fade through time, then to begin and construct its secret as a palimpsest of memories and experiences scarred with other words, stories, descriptions of places and people; to let it emerge from layers and layers of varied matter, until it feels so close because it’s closer to my understanding of it now, not to the dead reassurance of its past.

As I stitch together my broken utterances and let the resulting off-centred construction clash with any concluded ideas of perfection and permanence, I realise that a distinctive pace holds each memory of a sound together: I can’t mask or disguise it as it takes shape. Is it an involvement with a secluded presence, a trick of the mind, a search for a sense belonging to a past that cannot be entirely manifested, affected? If shaping a sound in writing is arbitrary, nonetheless it demands to construct the arbitrariness with rigour: a rigour true to one’s own life. If it has to do with understanding, it does so literally by standing under the layered substance of experience – which is not authority, but attention. It carries the responsibility of making a shape. It is the scrupulous questioning and forming of a where – the space where I choose to be every other day in writing after listening: a space that veils and reveals its internal cohesion in the making.

I hear the sound of the chainsaw in my mind: in my recollections. Its shrill monotonous hum slits a sharp line over the timeline of a time past; it opens time up against the four walls around. The afterlife of a sound ties in modes of listening, of being and having been, of addressing and affecting change. To write after listening is to create a space by hints and to summon other voices. To write after listening is to caress aural experiences first, only to grasp them firmly later: to hold a soft cloth in one hand, the hatchet in the other. To wrap up sounds in stories, in tales of walks and wonders, in facts and bits from the past – layers of memories of other words – and then to slit those memories open, to shred and re-collect them today.
I want to look at all this closer. I want to write of the slow absorption of absence and the sudden cuts in it. Of certain recurring cadenzas and twists of phrase, that rise from what is not there but resonates. I want to write of being removed, of being in that void and then filling it – of memories that seem aural at first but that in fact enwrap the whole being: not the ‘very’ experiences of sounds but their afterimages through stories, other books and tales of walks and wonders, bits shredded from the past.

Each sound-memory moves on. I write it: I embrace it, I slit my understanding. Two movements appear in writing sound: the embracing and the slitting. Understanding what is made to believe as real, is only possible after a cut, as Pier Paolo Pasolini showed in his illuminating essay Observations on the Long Take. Only when the ‘chaos of possibilities, a search for relations among discontinuous meanings’ is given shape and is organised, does it generate meaning. Until then, it is an untranslatable chaos of possibilities.

The history of each aural memory is a rolling tape of possibilities that you hammer down with the singular bolts and studs of your own making, molded and carved through the years. A glimpse of thoughts profound and far away covers words with a veil of remoteness, yet you cannot halt the urgency and rhythm of today: quick, it touches the border of real.

It has to end here: between the fading of words out of a silenced aural memory and the withdrawal into another silence, between the emergence and the withdrawing, the embrace and the slit. Words can trigger a shock of recognition through the prism of a reported experience of sound, reflected on today: not searching for any conclusive sense, but thinking of how each where shapes aural memories. Think of the slit and the construction of the secret, question the edges of each where.

– –

Reading list:

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day…’, in Poems and Prose, London: Penguin Books, 1953p. 62

– Paul Klee, ‘Recherches exactes dans le domaine de l’art’, in Bauhaus, 1928

– Pier Paolo Pasolini, ‘Observations on the Long Take’ (1967), trans. Norman MacAfee and Craig Owens, in October, vol. 13, (Summer, 1980), pp. 3-6


Friday, May 4th, 2012

1. Woman with Chainsaw and Time

Over, she thinks. The sky, slate gray and uniform. Outside, at 7.30am, the man with the chainsaw cutting a tree bears an annoying promise: noise through the day will creep inside the room. The sound of the chainsaw cutting a tree annoys, yet the space cut away from that stubborn, uneven knot of sound is absorbing. On waking up inside the room she’d heard herself repeating, prompted by the dull rhythm of the chainsaw, I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day: remnants of far away readings emerged and roped to the refrain of today. In the room slate gray and uniform, this morning she sets off on the traces of the memory of that chainsaw sound. She thinks of the dead reassurance of its having been, a trembling outline now masked by a shroud of words: wake, feel, fell, dark, day. Not day. A reminder? What prompted and informs her memory was the chainsaw sound. So she begins to move: in the coils of that shrill sound when it hits the four walls, she begins to think: of the coils of that monotonous sound relayed by constrained waves of remembrance; she falls. Sidetracked into a meander of subordinates, she looks at the wooden table in the middle of the room, chanting to herself silly along the dull rhythm of the chainsaw sound: On ‘wake’ I cut a leg, on ‘feel’ I burn one, too. On ‘fell’ I’m feeling better, on ‘dark’ I’ll smile at you.

On ‘day’ I’ll stare, at who?

One day I’ll stare at who. Stare at the fall. Hear the chainsaw, its shrill monotonous hum as it slits a sharp line over the timeline of her time past. It opens time up against the four walls around.

She hears a bundle of words that stays and hovers, peeled off the four walls around: wake, feel, fell, dark, not day. What is this language few will understand? Feel the fell, fail the fall, of words unorchestrated disentangled. This chainsaw sound seems familiar but she can’t attach it to anything: it slides away, like herself skirting the perennial resurgence of the question: Where am I? What radiates on me? What a chance, to hear the chainsaw opening up a hole in her innermost memory – wake, feel, fell, dark, not day: empty, but deep. The buzz and the cotton-wool quiet around, the edges of this old table, the chainsaw sound and the softness of the quietude around. Chainsawed out of a silence she is beckoned to speak. Chainsawed out of a past, she sits. Even if she’d chosen to stay locked in here for days, even if she had not leaned out of the window, she couldn’t have erased that chainsaw sound and the string of words emerged with it: wake, feel, fell, dark, not day. This morning she woke, only to make the stillness of those words last. Over, she said, but she needs to make it last: the compression of this now against the weight of then. To hear for the first time happens at least on second hearing. ‘Is it because we apprehend a memory’, she repeats to herself. ‘Because we feel in one world, but we think and find the names of things in another: we can establish between those two worlds a correspondence, but not fill that gap’. She immerses herself in this moment. It weighs on her and is fixed. She looks at the table. She’d been so fond of it for so many years; she’d called it Time.


A giant bumble bee buzzing to the edge of irritation flies and looms in. It circles and closes in. Circles about the window, and around the room and in these walls and then inside the mind. Now she thinks of a city and its crumbling walls. The city immense, growing, amoeboid. Black silhouettes of trees, clouds like gags, a slit of deep orange dawn light first opened on the cardboard surface of the sky, then splattered all around till its edges are soaked with red and there is no time to brush it away, to dilute it with the tears of a watered past.
Her tongue knows no language to express what the chainsaw sound and that refrain of words and images bore within. Dried, it can only mock, reflect at best. The buzz circles and closes in. Stops for a few seconds and then again, it closes in. It trims the uneven edges of her rambling thoughts, and of Time: the table. Persistent, the chainsaw sound does not say a thing: it insinuates. It is a material thing happening inside the room and taking it over.


Someone has just delivered her a chainsaw. In her mind she hears the roar again and thinks of the last hours spent killing time. Joint together and yet divided by the diaphragm of her recollections, into and out of that sound, she builds a counter-chant to that buzz, against the old and seemingly immutable sound and the immobility of another morning, slate gray and uniform – wake, feel, fell, dark, day. She turns on the chainsaw and begins cutting Time.

[continues with A Diptych (2)]