Thursday, August 2, 2012

part of their body turned in a backward direction

I have to get from one end of my project to the other somehow: this is how Aelian feels -- imagine it for a moment, let me make this up -- momentum has got him in a fist, he has said he will do something and now momentum is pushing him along, he violates the author's ethics that would make him check the information, he won't discard or stop, momentum is dictating his behaviour now, momentum is not him, he is its slave he feels, and perhaps momentum is the breeding-ground or food of the duty-feeling he wants to acknowledge with his note to the reader, but knowing your own impulses is always hard, describing them difficult -- so he fishes, he finds a rational explanation or phrase: he says, it's cracked isn't it, this pretend fact I'm telling you about the moray eel?

We are in conversation, he suggests, and I am apologetic, I shrug but I speak, and the words that occur to me are social words, I will give you this explanation, he says, you will forgive me, and I will stop and breathe, for my objective all along was to stop and breathe, a clearing, peace in the forest, the grip of time relaxes for a second, which is the purpose of an apology, or this one anyway, maybe not all of them, imitation, all imitation, the imitation of a fact followed by the imitation of an apology, and what am I doing here: is this my pen, is this my hand on the pen, are these my fingers?

Outside this rented flat the summer heat flares, the sunshine inflames the atoms, the landscape is white as heaven, the carpark glares like a bomb blast.

How did this project get away from me? he wonders, sucking or chewing the pen again, or putting it down, or looking for a new one because the end has broken, or staring at a bird outside eating an ant, and cannot think of ants now without remembering that in Babylonia there occur ants with the generative part of their body turned in a backward direction, as he records in Book XVIII of his series, section forty-two, still translated by Scholfield.

It's such an easy project, he thinks, I do nothing, I read, I pass on other people's stories, I've never seen a moray eel in my life, I never will see one, I wouldn't know a dolphin if it fell in my lap, and I don't care about storks; why am I being dragged along like this? Something is wrong somewhere. But hard work is good for you, he thinks, how will I get anywhere without hard work? The elder Pliny never stopped writing. He wrote before dawn. He wrote in the bath. And I am staring at this bird.

The bird makes a noise, perhaps Coo.

So a mix of motives drags him on and you can call that momentum. Now I'm switching from him to me. I say: ideas occur and where do they come from, and how do you negotiate the universe of other people to whom these ideas occur, to whom they fly, I imagine, out of the darkness, but only imagining it this way because it is easier than unravelling the pathway of the idea in any serious way, any scientific way, any way that might in the end actually make sense, if you could only find it, if it were not beyond human ability to find, and so, like the people Spinoza despised in the Ethics because they reached the end of their imaginations and decided that everything they couldn't be bothered to understand was God, I am tempted to say that the ideas come from darkness, as though this honestly vague word indicated anything definite, and I might as well also have said God, or, borrowing from a sign I noticed once at Disneyland, the magic of imagineering. Here I move to the next paragraph quickly and wonder if this is getting too self-conscious and facile: possibly, but keep going.

So I was reading Will Owen's Aboriginal Art & Culture blog a while ago when I came across a review of a book by the Japanese historian Minoru Hokari, a scholar who was, like Aelian, interested in a group of ancient-established people, but his were the Gurundji, who live in the area of the Northern Territory now called Wave Hill, and they told him that in the year 1966 they had been visited by the American president John F. Kennedy, who gave them verbally his support in their endeavours. There must be a way of reconciling histories, suggests Minoru Hokari who knew that the president had been assassinated in 1963. His book is called Gurindji Journey (2011), published by the University of Hawaii Press or the University of New South Wales Press, depending on your location.

Sometimes pieces of information repel one another, they can't exist together in the same place, and the idea that John F. Kennedy was extinct and that he was giving advice to the indigenous people of Wave Hill at the same time, these two ideas are driven apart if you try to put them together, they are the same ends of two magnets, or they are the Ancient Greek and Roman information about storks and bats versus the new information in the modern world where I sit today on this hard chair, which is wooden and screwed together. As long as the magnets stay apart there's no problem. But when they try to exist harmoniously then both parties are disturbed, very much like the cockroaches that try to come into this bald little flat, and when they do I kill them. The subjects of death and John F. Kennedy remind me of an American not so long ago who told me that she remembered the day Kennedy got assassinated.

They sent us home early from school, she said, because the president had been shot. As we were getting our bags to leave they came on the loudspeaker again and informed us that he was not only wounded but definitely dead. My parents were out hunting. When they came home we gave them the news that the president was killed. Stop lying, they said. What are you doing out of school?

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