Sunday 6 July 2008

skywritings: an intro

‘When you are working on relationships that are in process, you’re like a man who takes a plane from Toulouse to Madrid, travels by car from Geneva to Lausanne, goes on foot from Paris towards the Chevreuse valley, or from Cervina to the top of the Matterhorn (with spikes on his shoes, a rope and an ice axe), who goes by boat from Le Havre to New York, who swims from Calais to Dover, who travels by rocket towards the moon, travels by semaphore, telephone or fax, by diaries from childhood to old age, by monuments from antiquity to the present, by lightning bolts when in love. One may well ask, ‘What in the world is this man doing?

There are dilemmas in the mode of traveling, the reasons for the trip, the point of departure and the destination, in the places through which one will pass; the speed, the means, the vehicle, the obstacles to be overcome, make that space active. And, since I have used diverse methods, the coherence of my project is suspect. [...] In fact, it was always a matter of establishing a relation, constructing it, fine-tuning it. And once established, thousands of relations, here, there, everywhere - after a while, when you step back and look, a picture emerges. Or at least a map. You see a general theory of relations, without any point focalising the construction or solidifying it, like a pyramid. The turbulences keep moving. The flows keep dancing’ (Michel Serres in Serres and Latour, Conversations on Science, Culture and time, University of Michigan Press, 1995, pp. 111-12).

This is a collection of texts and images about some of those things that 'quicken the heart' in
various ways, or at least my heart: contemporary art - in particular, contemporary performance, music, film, writing, and visual arts - people, politics, places, animals, collaborations, encounters, walking, the weather, the sea, Sicily, and so on. So, traces of recurrent fascinations and obsessions, as well as occasional detours and dead ends. A partial register of the present's unfolding, and of some of the shapes it has taken in the past and could take in the future. Perhaps it's part of the delicate and ongoing struggle to work out what Herbert Blau once called ‘some liveable unison between panic and grace’; so much of what I write and am interested in seems to be. I start this blog without any particular 'goal' or focused intention, other than a desire to play in purposeful ways, to share some stuff and allow it to go where it will. And a recognition of this curiously enabling paradox: ‘The things I tell about myself that are true seem most like lies to me’ (Elias Canetti) ...

In the back of my mind, there's also this hilarious dismissal from Don Paterson's The Blind Eye: 'You've made a blog ... Clever boy! Next: flushing'.

At the outset I'm not at all sure what this blog will become; I certainly have a strong sense of what I don't want it to be - in particular, a diaristic accumulation that assumes the stuff of my everyday life to be oh so interesting in itself, or an exercise in self-promotion. My hope is that it's more something to do with the informed wandering of the drift, as a walking-reading-writing practice. In Lights out for the Territory (1997), Iain Sinclair writes: "Walking is the best way to explore the city: the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reveries, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself". This ‘fiction’ can have many functions: poetic, ethical, political, critical, topological …

I sense the linear time-line structure of the blogging format may not be the most important here; it might be much more to do with trying to create the conditions for the emergence of connections and patterns, 'figures' in the writing and images, over times and spaces that are discontinuous, backward/forward, foldable, tearable, re-writable.

For the first few weeks in July/August 2008 I will include some slightly older materials alongside the new: to try to provide some contextual 'ground' (for me and for any readers); to allow some patterns and trajectories to start to emerge - perhaps through the 'labels' - and then either linger, morph or disperse; and also to help me to orient myself a little in the unfamiliar terrain of this blogging space. From then on, who knows? 

A word about the links in the right hand column. In my initial hyper-enthusiasm, I included over 100 links, but this had a rather vertiginous effect: an overload. So I'll select 20-30, and endeavour to switch them around from time to time. They will be pretty mixed: artists, activists, writers, film makers, friends, and any other stuff I've found interesting in one way or another. I'll also embed other links into some of the posts themselves. 

Finally, in part I hope to try to use this blog in ways related to one of Annie Dillard's core propositions about writing in her exquisite book The Writing Life (1989): "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes".

By way of a beginning, here's part of the introductory text - 'something to do' - from a presentation called skywritings that I've returned to over the past 6 or 7 years in different forms and places in Australia, the USA and England. Perhaps, in its uncertain enumeration and its citational circlings, it gives something of the flavour of what's at play:

"It's something to do with embodiment, emplacement, perception, with ephemerality and unpredictability, with circuits and flows and connectivities, with process, change, multiplicity, and with the works-in-progress that all becomings make of identities. Something to do with relational unfoldings at the present’s speed, with what Clifford Geertz described as deep hanging out, and with the possibility of what Matthew Goulish has called slow thinking. 'To sit, to listen, to be, to observe, to breathe, to think, to remember – the most urgent choreography’ (André Lepecki). Something to do with spending too many days in a studio, too many nights in a studio – and finally feeling like someone in a spacesuit who has been farting for some time but has only just realised that the same old stuff is circulating: a recognition of the need for different wind, for ‘new routes away from home’.

It's something to do with maps and their gaps, with the beautiful absurdity of the World Meteorological Organisation’s 2-volume standard reference work, the International Cloud Atlas.
Something to do with the meaning of the word 'oceanography', and the impossibility of 'writing' (-graphy) something as protean as the sea. And it's something to do with Michel de Certeau’s suggestion that “what the map cuts up, the story cuts across”.

It's something to do with that photo of me at the age of 6 – a me I barely recognise - a blur of arms and legs high above the swimming pool, high above the treetops, having sprinted off the diving board clutching my inflatable rubber ring: so brave, and not so brave. With standing on a hill north of Melbourne scanning the sky for signs of rain, the rain that would fill water tanks and the lake from which the animals drink. With rotating 360 degrees on Ugborough Beacon on Dartmoor, just behind my home, and palpably feeling the fish-eye effect of what James Turrell calls ‘celestial vaulting’, the folding curve towards the horizon. With halogen torchlight sweeeping across a field in Victoria, Australia, and projecting the shadow of a cantering horse on to the hillside. With poppies in October, ‘a gift, a love gift, utterly unasked for by a sky’ (Sylvia Plath). It’s something to do with that bloke who kept bees who lived next door to my dad, and with my friend Swen’s conviction that the rhythm of Paignton is blue.

It’s something to do with the little-by-little-suddenly, the make-haste-slowly and the instability of weather systems, and the poetics of the namings of meteorological phenomena: the dew point, funnel clouds in tornadogenesis, the ‘eye’ of a hurricane, dust devils, snow devils, hailshafts, the ‘leader’ and ‘return stroke’ in cloud-to-ground lightning, rain shadows, heat lag, storm tracks, halos, coronas and parhelia (also called ‘mock suns’ or ‘sun dogs’), moonbow and fogbow, sunpillar, the glory, the green flash. Something to do with my friend Myriam who writes to me, from the depths of her continuing illness, that she will try ‘not to be under the weather, but to be the weather’. Something to do with the word ‘twi-light’ and two French expressions for dusk: the sonic event of the word crépuscule, and the transformative threshold of entre chien et loup, between dog and wolf. It’s something to do with Billy Bragg singing Woody Guthrie, and “there’s a black wind blowing through the cottonfield, and oh how funny it makes me feel, baby, sweet thing, darling” ...

It’s something to do with Roland Barthes describing ‘difference’ ... “the very movement of dispersion, of friability, a shimmer; what matters is not the discovery, in a reading of the world and of the self, of certain oppositions but of encroachments, overflows, leaks, skids, shifts, slips ...’. And it’s something to do with Gilles Deleuze’s affirmation of attempts to think life beyond the human – ‘to make life something more than personal, to free life from what imprisons it’.

It’s something to do with a journey I made to “a wreck of a place. There were three gates standing ajar and a fence that broke off. It was not the wreck of anything else in particular. A place came there and crashed. After that it remained the wreck of a place. Light fell on it” (Anne Carson, ‘Short Talks’).

It's something to do with Peter Greenaway's inclusion in his 100 Objects to Represent the World of a cloud and a crashed aircraft, and it’s something to do with one of Prospero’s 24 volumes in Greenaway’s film Prospero’s Books, ‘A Book of Motion’: ‘This is a book that at the most simple level describes how birds fly and waves roll, how clouds form and apples fall from trees. It describes how the eye changes its shape when looking at great distances, how hairs grow in a beard, why the heart flutters and the lungs inflate involuntarily and how laughter changes the face. At its most complex level, it explains how ideas chase one another in the memory and where thought goes when it is finished with’ ( Peter Greenaway).

It's something to do with Edmond Jabès’s Book of Questions, in which he writes: ‘The sky begins ankle-high. In walking we cleave the sky of the earth. Elsewhere there is the sky of stars, of the sun’. ‘Is it the same sky?’ ‘Are you the same from head to feet?’

And it’s something to do with: ‘not even the sky but a memory of sky, and the blue of the earth in your lungs’ (Paul Auster)".

© David Williams

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