On January 22nd, at the Galway Arts Centre, my collaboration with Jennie Guy was performed as part of DAS SPLINTER, an evening of art and performance, curated by Economic Thought Projects. Jennie asked me to provide some texts for the performance, which was part of her READING ENSEMBLE project.
When we first discussed the project, Jennie gave me the image of a filing cabinet from which she would remove texts, handing them to the audience at the Galway Arts Centre to read. In response to this image I put together the following script. Jennie then worked on the details of the performance itself, such as what instructions (if any) to give the readers.
More info on the performance will be posted here soon. Below is the email in which I outlined my thoughts about the project, and the script itself.
I decided to make something out of all the things I had been reading over Christmas and the New Year. I was interested in the filing cabinet as some sort of archive of reading, that each drawer contained a different set/ category of texts. I’ve also been thinking of the Reading as Publishing idea: that this is an archive of reading moments, that this performance/ reading will publish. In the filing cabinet they are sort of inbetween, in limbo, awaiting activation, uncertain…
I’ve been thinking about your role as performer/ enacter/ instigator. How do you see this? I’ve been imagining it almost as conductor – giving out texts and taking them away, listening to people, making taking sheets back, tearing off small bits of text and giving them back to people, collaging texts, highlighting, taking sheets away from one person and giving them to another, either invitingly or tactlessly or or or – I’ve been thinking about what would be a real/ genuine/ active relationship to this filing cabinet and these texts… what you yourself might say/ read as part of the composition…
All of these texts are translations, that will be further translated by the difficulties of reading them aloud. If there are phrases which are stumbled over that, too, could be a source to work from.
At the moment I imagine three sets of texts. Three folders. One in each of the drawers of the filing cabinet. Each section of the texts printed here – separated by * – is on a separate sheet of paper. The texts are distributed to the audience in order to make the composition. Prior to opening each drawer, there is text that you read as a kind of prelude. Perhaps these texts are on a clipboard that you bring with you when you come onto the stage.
I imagine each folder being the basis of a distinct choral/ musical/ vocal composition, before the next drawer/ file is opened and the new composition begin (whether each section ends with sheets gathered back in, or is allowed to continue but hushed or not, I think depends on the moment). In the moment of performance, you might want to hand out just one or two of the quotations, or all of them, or none!
Text sources and notes are listed at the end of the script.
Before opening the filing cabinets you read the following text aloud.
JENNIE: This afternoon, I heard a lecture on “The Function of Art and the Artist” by Anais Nin: she is very startling – pixie-like, other-wordly – small, finely built, dark hair, and much make-up which made her look very pale – large, questioning eyes – a marked accent which I could not label – her speech is over-precise – she shines and polishes each syllable with the very tip of her tongue and teeth – one feels that if one were to touch her, she would crumble into silver dust.
Will you please read what’s written above the score?” the lady asked.
“Moderato cantabile.” said the child.
The lady punctured his reply by striking the keyboard with a pencil. The child remained motionless, his head turned towards his score.
“And what does moderato cantabile mean?”
“I don’t know.”
A woman, seated ten feet away, gave a sigh.
“Are you quite sure you don’t know what moderato cantabile means?” the lady repeated.
The child did not reply. The lady stifled an exasperated groan, and again struck the keyboard with her pencil. The child remained unblinking. The lady turned.
“Madame Desbaresdes, you have a very stubborn little boy.”
Anne Desbaresdes sighed again.
“You don’t have to tell me,” she said.
The child motionless, his eyes lowered, was the only one to remember that dusk had just broken out. It made him shiver.
“I told you the last time, I told you the time before that, I’ve told you a hundred times. Are you sure you don’t know what it means?”
The child decided not to answer. The lady looked again the object before her, her rage mounting.
“Here we go again,” said Anne Desbaresdes under her breath.
“The touble is,” the lady went on, “the trouble is you don’t want to say it.”
Anne Desbaresdes looked again at this child from head to toe, but in a different way from the lady.
“You’re going to say it this minute,” the lady shouted.
The child showed no surprise. He still didn’t reply. Then the lady struck the keyboard a third time, so hard that the pencil broke right next to the child’s hand. His hands were round and milky, still scarcely formed. They were clenched and unmoving.
“He’s a difficult child,” Anne Desbaresdes offered timidly.
The child turned his head towards the voice, quickly towards his mother, to make sure of her existence, then resumed his pose as an object, facing the score. His hands remained clenched.
JENNIE: He chatted with eminent grace between takes, then went over to stretch out again (upon a tarpaulin laid down out of camera range) on the floor of the quarried-out cavern in rock, lit up eerily by the floodlights, to be the transpierced poet—a spear through his breast (actually built around his breast on an iron hoop under his jacket). The hands gripped the spear; the talc-white face from the age of Diderot became anguished. Lunch was preceded by a cocktail, mixed by the famous hands, which he had learned to make from a novel by Peter Cheyney: “white rum, curaçao, and some other things.”
TEXTS IN FILE:
The gaunt, fine hands on the thorax; evacuation of the chest; a great breathing out from himself
two beautiful, thin, coupled wrists
shrugs a few moments later
He stood—rather tiredly—he was very slight, quite small…
… and he went with slow steps to an end table. And he took up a tube of silver cardboard or foil, which made a cylinder mirror upon its outside. And he placed it down carefully in the exact center of an indecipherable photograph which was spread flat on this table, that I would learn was Rubens’s “Crucifixion” taken with a camera that shot in round. Masses of fog blurred out in the photo; elongations without sense. Upon the tube, which corresponded in some unseen fashion with the camera, the maker, the photograph was restored —swirls became men. Nevertheless, the objective photograph remained insane.
his voice loses its vibrant timbre—it “bleeds out.” His voice was exceptionally young; here it becomes faded.
One feels sure he recognizes the imputations for the art of writing in the decision not to correct;
JENNIE: These things happened to me in 1938. I feel the greatest uneasiness in speaking of them. I have already tried to put them into writing many times. If I have written books, it has been in the hope that they would put an end to it all. If I have written novels, they have come into being just as the words began to shrink back from the truth. I am not frightened of the truth. I am not afraid to tell a secret. But until now, words have been frailer and more cunning than I would have liked. I know this guile is a warning: it would be nobler to leave the truth in peace. It would be in the best interests of the truth to keep it hidden. But now I hope to be done with it soon. To be done with it is also noble and important.
TEXTS IN FILE:
the tiny imperceptible interactions between people—the little games of aggression and retreat, the miniscule battles that constitute the present state of the psyche.
the interior movements that precede and prepare our words and actions, at the limits of our consciousness. They happen in an instant, and apprehending them in the rush of human interactions demands painstaking attention.
I knew it seemed impossible to me to write in the traditional forms. They seemed to have no access to what we experienced. If we en- closed that in characters, personalities, a plot, we were overlooking everything that our senses were perceiving, which is what interested me. One had to take hold of the instant, by enlarging it, developing it.
I felt that a path was opening before me, a path that excited me. As if I’d found my own terrain, upon which I could move forward, where no one had gone prior to me. Where I was in charge.
Because it’s difficult. Because I plunge in directly, without giving any reference points. One doesn’t know where one is, or who is who. I speak right away of the essential things, and that’s very difficult. In addition, people have the habit of looking for the framework of the traditional novel—characters, plots—and they don’t find it; they’re lost.
No, what is difficult is being on the surface. One gets bored there. There are a lot of great and admirable models who block your way. And once I rise to the surface, to do something on the surface, it’s easy, but it’s very tedious and disappointing.
There are always instants. It takes place in the present finally. I’m concerned with these interior movements; I’m not concerned with time.
I’m immersed right inside, and I try to execute the interior movements that are produced in that consciousness.
Each time it didn’t interest me to continue doing the same thing. So, I would try to extend my domain to areas that were always at the same level of these interior movements, to go into regions where I hadn’t yet gone.
“This afternoon I heard a lecture…”: Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963 (FSG, New York, 2008), 17.
Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile (trs. Richard Seaver, OneWorld Classics, 2008 ), 3-5. The extract here is the opening of the novel.
“He chatted with eminent grace…”: Jean Cocteau: The Art of Fiction No.34. Interviewed by William Fifield. Appeared in Paqris Review Summer-Fall 1964 no.32. Online here. I have extracted interpolations by Fifield, mostly descriptions of Cocteau’s physical deportment.
“These things happened to me…”: Maurice Blanchot., Death Sentance, in George Quasha ed. The Station Hill Blanchot Reader: Fiction & Literary Essays (Station Hill, 1998, trans. Lydia Davis), 131.
Alain Robbe-Grillet The Art of Fiction No.91 interviewed by Shusha Guppy. Spring 1986 No.99. Online here.
Nathalie Sarraute, The Art of Fiction, No.115. interviewed by Shusha Guppy and Jason Weiss. Spring 1990, No. 114. Online here. I have extracted texts unfolding Sarraute’s notion of “tropisms”, but excluded reference to the word itself.