A Lover's Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes.
Barthes wrote about aspects of intimacy in each “fragment” or chapter. Each segment describes subjective awareness within relationships and conditions that arise because of connectivity or disconnection.
In one of the texts Barthes writes about Werther, refers to Goethes famous ‘Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers’, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”, where one of two lovers is absent, one suffers and misses the other while the other goes into the world to make new experiences. The drama ends with Werther, who is hopelessly in love with Lotte, taking his own life. Goethe wrote the book in the form of a letter of Werther to a friend. Plato, Nietzsche, Freud and other authors are referenced as complimentary, or imagined reciprocators, conversant on the subjects within the texts or established for moral support.
Each fragment defines condition of humanity. From, “In Praise of Tears”, the right to cry is countered by adult infancy, sensibility vs sentimentality, repression of timelessness vs its healthful benefits. Modes of weeping and ultimate result of crying, “the truest of messages” are objective observations.
Absence is deliberated. Fear, abandonment, death all are contrasted. He indicates qualities of time, how the “situation generates a kind of insupportable present; I am wedged between two tenses…” as contributing factors to absence. “Language is born of absence”, is another tandem. He ends that fragment with a Buddhist Koan / story, where water torture forces experience of inflexible truth, how absence of “the other” is the torturer and reconstitutes “my truth”.
“In the loving calm of your arms” / subtitle, embrace explains “enchanting” cradling vs “infantilism of sleepiness”, positions, qualifies “myth and utopia” from a previous segment on contact, “is the moment for telling stories”. Embrace is when nothing is wanted, desires do not exist because they are fulfilled. He presents the conflict of contradiction between kinds of embrace.
Definitions of Hold
There are an endless amount of definitions and phrases in which the verb hold is used. When I translate those into German I realize that in German we would often use a different word then ‘halten’. (what the future holds – was die Zukunft bringt, holds a great deal of poperty – besitzt grosse Grundstueckswerte etc).
Dans ton Coeur dort un Clair de Lune
The poem’s title is actually Chanson Triste and it was written by Henri Cazalis (1840-1909)
H. Duparc wrote the music. Here is the German translation (in case I might use it during the workshop). It is a beautiful poem and yes, I agree the verb hold comes to mind.In deinem Herzen schläft das Mondlicht, das milde Licht eines Sommermonds, und um dem anstrengenden Leben zu entfliehen, tauche ich mich in deine Helle.
Ich werde die gewesenen Schmerzen vergessen, meine Liebe, wenn du mein trauriges Herz und meine Gedanken in der ruhigen Geborgenheit deiner Arme wiegst.
Du wirst meinen kranken Kopf So manches Mal auf deinen Schoß nehmen, und ihm eine Ballade erzählen, eine Ballade, die von uns zu handeln scheint.
Und aus deinen Augen voller Trauer, aus deinen Augen werde ich so viele Küsse und Zärtlichkeiten trinken, daß ich vielleicht genesen werde.
The moonlight contains the power of healing, once released, apparently, according to the person imploring for its light from the one with the snoozing moonlight. Its a summer moonlight, gentle, sometimes sweet, clear, qualities of the possibility imagined or shared experience, when we look at the different translations.The one wanting the moonlight wants to escape cares, flee the importune, escape life bother, be far from the troubles of life by drowning themselves in the light, be drowned by the light, drowning in clarity, lose themselves in brightness. The intention is to forget past sorrows, past pains, forget pain spent, or past grief. The person wanting this moonlight imagines the one with it cradling their sad heart in loving calm of the arms of the one with the sleeping moonlight. Or, by rocking the sad heart and thoughts or by rocking the sick head on knees or the sad heart and thoughts in the loving calm of arms of one with inactive moonlight, sometimes putting the sick head on the lap, or rocking the unhappy heart and thoughts on the tranquility of the moonlight containing person’s arms, the anxious head, some evenings on the moonlight dweller’s person’s lap.
Think with me about your Extension of now.
In his text, artist Olafur Eliasson writes about his thoughts related to the ‘now’ and possible different individual perceptions of the now. In one of his examples he says that the daily stock update followed by the weather forecast forms a perfect (time)frame of reference for the fact that the recent past and future belong to one’s now. The recent past (the daily state of the stock markets) and the immediate future (the prediction of the weather) forms today's perfect collective, cultivated Now.
He continues that the cultivation of a collective sense of time and space works through representation. Tools like thermostats and wind-meters are used as representational layers, our sensation of time and space (now and there) enables us to orient ourselves more productively if we are aware of the level of representation we are at.
Eliasson says our perception of now has been stretched to last longer and longer. Humans can link one moment to the next and create our sensation of presence. He refers to German philosopher Edmund Husserl who said that our expectations for the coming moment and the memory of the one just passed all belong to our perception of ‘now’. He suggested memory of moments merge with the expectation of future moments and are collectively organised to create a shared experience called now. Husserl’s assumption of expectations and memory of those moments set parameters of experience and orientation in a space.
"Now" as a segment of time has been extended by humanity because we link earlier and future moments together with the present, creating a sensation of presence.
Olafur Eliasson argued that we have ability to orient ourselves in the nearby past and immediate future and space because we are in a society of predicable outcomes, avoiding surprises for safety.
Like the stock market reports, the recent past and immediate future, he construed, is the perfect collective experience of “now”.
Our mediated experiences, the representational layers of our sensation of time and space (now and there) are measured not by how we feel but what technology says we feel. Eliasson insisted that time is subjective, unlike the objective experience of time experienced by Jim Carry’s character in the movie Truman.
A Wing and a Prayer
Tom Vanderbilt is the author of Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America.
In his 2003 article for Cabinet Magazine, Tom Vanderbilt described the current urban pigeon nuisance in New York state, complete with a falcon predator hired to minimize the disturbance. He contrasts this with the use of pigeons as communication conveyances, beginning with pigeon messengers in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71).
The war isolated Paris. Attempts to thwart the isolation due to sieges through imprecise, one-way balloon transport of people and mail carriage via floating zinc balls was superseded by ancient pigeon travellers (voyageurs). Balloons now carried pigeons to outposts where they were outfitted with messages. Birds were released and they arrived back in Paris with messages sent. Vanderbilt refers to Pliny, how ancient Roman pigeon couriers aided war, how 13th century Syria, Egypt had institutionalized pigeon posts, with penalties against pigeon killing, bounties on potential birds of prey. According to Vanderbilt, by 1572, pigeon post has been exported to Europe, utilized in Holland during the Spanish invasion. Messenger pigeon use and the sport of racing pigeons, pigeon clubs were popular in 19th century Belgium.
However, the messages obtained through the Paris siege were hampered by weather, interception and deceit. The allusion to ‘wing and a prayer’ in the title of this article might refer to the haphazard success of this means of communication delivery.
The last official use of messenger pigeons recorded was from flood bound Orissa in 2000, where Belgian bred pigeons roosted at the original 1946 postal station were imported to carry postal messages and election results. Their service was to be, Vanderbilt lamented, the dire end of the longest running airmail service in history.
Blue Eyes Black Hair by Marguerite Duras (1986) is an account of two strangers, a homosexual man, a heterosexual woman that met by chance at a seaside during a summer. No details of location are given. He pays her to remain with him in his nondescript apartment so he may look at her naked. He is never naked. Hours, days pass. Time is difficult to measure in the story. They both have blue eyes and black hair. Her looks remind him of his recent lost love. They agree that they look like each other. They don’t know each other’s names. She has dissociative memory lapses, cannot remember who he is, how she came to be where she is, where they are and why. He often cries. He doesn’t want to touch her. There seems to be some oblique relation, erotic need of both to do this. She touches herself. He sometimes wears makeup. She often wears a black silk scarf over her head, “like the black bag – it’s to put the condemned man’s head in.”
He thinks that “it’s in this room, with this theatrical light, that the beginning of his love is to be sought…” She said, “she thinks it’s a kind of accidental place, in theory uninhabitable, infernal, a closed-in stage.”
There are notes to indicate the work is can be read for an audience where actors are instructed to deliver text without special emotion or gestures, “Just the emotion aroused by the unveiling of the words.”
There is mystery, but there is no plot – the characters exchange fears. His payment ensures she will “do what I say.” We are seized by voyeurism.
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-82), an autobiographic account in an amalgam of characters was influenced by her study of performance art and film. The foreword indicates Cha utilizes several female voices: her own, Korean revolutionary, Yu Guan Soon, Joan of Arc, Demeter, her daughter Persephone, Queen of Hades. Cha’s mother. There is little differentiation between the narrator (the author) and the designated characters, “you see only her traces.”
Of the book’s 9 parts relating to Greek muses, this summary comments on two excerpts. Interspersed are filming directions to mirror narration, staging scenes with supplementary commentary about the narration. Incongruent, a letter typed on a mid-century typewrite is included. Historic / personal photographs are employed to designate character disposition, atmosphere.
What is evident in both selections is the author’s need to portray herself. It is about her presence. Characterization of other people helps her speak: “She forms the words with her mouth as the other utter across from her.” More than one voice or character seems to be simultaneously employed, as sounds, noises, qualities of silence that are interspersed along with condensed expository. Dictee, a French word meaning dictation, a process someone writes what someone else says is the caveat for the entire work.
Cha is interested in qualities of time, apparent with her use of characters across time. “There is no future, only the onslaught of time.” “It is between séances.” Cha examines truth, what it is to believe, be believed. She deliberates on what death is, compared to sleep, “both appellant.” The book is full of her pain, “…keep the pain from translating itself into memory.” and longing. Cha wrote, “if she were able to write she could continue to live.” Her assertion is made more poignant because Cha was murdered after Dictee was published in 1982.
Island is a compilation of poems and transcribed aural histories by, interviews with Chinese detainees of Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay from 1910 to when it closed in 1940. 135 ink brushed poems and carvings found on the barrack walls when Angel Island closed are included in the volume in addition to others, 150 in total. The book contains images of the original poems with English translations. The 30 years of survivors’ aural histories were collected in the section called, “The Detainment”. Archival and private photos accompany the book.
Exclusion laws resulted in Chinese detainment for days or years. Fleeing famine, foreign concession in China, the works describe despair, hopelessness and suicide, “Sadness kills…”. Poets utilize Chinese history, proverbs and legends to compare their ordeal. “…more miserable than owning only a flute in the marketplace of Wu.” This poem line compares the internees’ existence with the demise and shame a historical official suffered begging for food with his flute. Most poems are of misery. Some have an apt assessment of politics, “America has power but not justice.”
The detainment narratives have varied accounts of life within the barracks, contingent on age, length of time held, life outlook. Most are despondent, frustrated and angry. The narratives specify daily rigours of captivity. The poems are emotional outpourings and are not detailed except to articulate the depths of poets’ anguish.
Survival techniques, means of confronting, confounding authorities are explained; smuggled coaching for interrogation, hearing procedures are depicted. Cultural differences, privation, imposed religion are recorded. Relations between people in confined, segregated communal spaces, their boredom, ingenious business within the facility are countered with private adversities. Historical descriptions allow empathetic consideration of the context of their trials. Consistent in all the stories is their resolve to survive.
MIRRORS by Lucy Grealy
Dead at 39 from an apparent suicide, Lucy Grealy (1963-2002) was a poet. She wrote an essay about 30 operations endured in 20 years to reconstruct her face from excised, childhood cancer. Mirrors were integral to her reflections about how she lived.
Grealy refrained from looking at herself in a mirror and other reflected images for nearly a year. She had avoided her reflection but this year-long evasion began in her 20s after surgical intervention. She considered the act “nihilistic, an insurgence”, not knowing if this rebellion “was directed at the world or at myself.”
Reconstruction surgery was initiated by “nasty comments” (…) “all from men and all odiously sexual, hurt and disoriented me so much…” She misconstrued fixing her face with "fixing" herself, “my soul, my life.” Grealy thought her reconstructive surgery, would result in her being “whole, content, loved.”
Grealy began Her year long mirror avoidance. “I simply didn't want to know.” Previously, her repulsion with her image “took the form of a strange, obsessive attraction.” Now, she could not or did not want to associate with the image. She no longer felt ugly. She was estranged from her appearance.
She wrote that “all things eventually relate back to ourselves, and it is our own sense of how we appear to the world by which we chart our lives, how we navigate our personalities that would otherwise be adrift in the ocean of other peoples' obsessions.”
Once in conversation with an attractive man, she convinced herself he was speaking with an ugly woman. The negative presumption did not match the interaction. She needed to shed her self image.
She realized, “most truths are inherently unretainable, that she could change how she thought about herself.
Georges Perec described the “what”, the ordinary, worthy of notice through a 3- day vigil in a Paris cafe. The goal, to be astonished by what is immediate and to question and compare the mundane to ascertain personal truth.
He explained his observation of ordinariness: “what is not noticed”, is valuable and is pivotal to “what happens when nothing happens.” He repeats an observed slogan and its visual context, “Demand the real thing, Roquefort Société in its green oval”. This catchphrase reflects Perec’s intention.
Inventories, trajectories are composed of lists. He offers descriptions of events, “a Japanese woman seems to be taking my photograph”. Perec repeats his daily observations in similar categories, noting weather, street traffic, time. Throughout the excerpt, Perec interposes commentary. “There’s no water gushing from the fountain.” He poses questions, “young man draws a sort of “V” (…) with a kind of question mark inside it (land art?)” He makes social commentary, “Most people are using at least one hand…”.
He becomes a voyeur to a funeral and wedding procession. He becomes emotionally taxed, “I want to clear my head. To read Le Monde. Take my business elsewhere.” In a few pages, he remarks on his emotional state, “fatigue”, “lull (lassitude)”. He wrote about how a point of scrutiny is consumed by observation and how that observation consumes him.
Perec philosophises about his “unsatisfied curiosity, (what I came here to find, the memory of floating in this café...)”. He insists that it is important to see not only rips that make fabric visible but the fabric, more philosophical analysis of his experiences.