Monday 27 June 2016

shuttle 11: glass of flow


'Still today, it is water who is stranger here. Water is the exile, carried back in cans and flasks, the ghost between your hands and your mouth' (Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient)

'In the desert, the horse drinks first' (The Barbarian, Sam Wood, 1933)

Movement and transformation. The resilient persistence of matter, its survival, its memory - and yet the bottom line is that the only constant is mobility, change. It’s all circuits and flows in the mortality of forms, and the unpredictable migrations of their constituent parts. 

There are the remains of sea creatures in deserts and on mountain tops. Shells on Everest. And a tiny bead of sweat on a forehead might contain something of the exhaled vapor of another person or creature from long ago and far away. 

A glass of water here now is informed by the past. Perhaps it holds molecules evaporated from a glacier, a tree, tears, mist, snow, fog, ice, a cough, the gurgle of a new-born child or someone’s final sigh. Maybe even molecules from Archimedes’ bath water. 

Countless micro-moments of time, from yesterday or centuries ago on the other side of this blue ball, potentially co-existing in the same small container. The glass itself was once sand. 

It’s almost promiscuous, this co-mingling, and there is joy and mystery in that thought.

‘Ordinary human beings do not like mystery since you cannot put a bridle on it, and therefore, in general they exclude it, they repress it, they eliminate it – and it’s settled. But if on the contrary one remains open and susceptible to all the phenomena of overflowing, beginning with natural phenomena, one discovers the immense landscape of the trans-, of the passage. Which does not mean that everything will be adrift, our thinking, our choices, etc. But it means that the factor of instability, the factor of uncertainty, or what Derrida calls the undecidable, is indissociable from human life.

This ought to oblige us to have an attitude that is at once rigorous and tolerant and doubly so on each side: all the more rigorous than open, all the more demanding since it must lead to openness, leave passage: all the more mobile and rapid as the ground will always give way, always. A thought which leads to what is the element of writing: the necessity of only being the citizen of an extremely inappropriable, unmasterable country or ground’.

(Hélène Cixous in Rootprints: Memory and Life-Writing, London: Routledge 1997: 51-2)

For a brilliant account of the histories, economics, politics and ecologies of water in the western states of the USA (and with the overpumping of the vast fossil  aquifer, the Ogallala, very much in the news right now), see Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water, London: Pimlico, 1993

For drinking-water-driving music, here is James Blake's live cover of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You ('that was incredible, dude ...')

Photograph (at top): Nick Winter, 'Badwater, Death Valley', 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point on earth; summer daily average temperature - 116F/47C; highest recorded temperature - 134F/57C

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