In 1913’s Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson says that a man who lives in the past is a dreamer and that practitioners of a “superficial psychology” kept themselves safe from error by locating description and interpretation in the categorical past, which included both chronological temporal moments and categorical states of mind. Bergson wanted to bring to light the possibilities that would exist within mind-to-language interpretation if one were to shift from static to dynamic consciousness; that is, if one were to allow for an error synonymous with possibility by including the illimitable present (conscious), not just the past (subconscious), in the examination of the ego. Bergson flagged contradictions and inconsistencies arising from the traditional practice of psychoanalysis in order to allow for the idea that the concrete self might self-expose as a result of having given up its “symbolic substitute.” In other words, the second self, the one easily expressed in words, could surpass the semantics of psychology and be freed from limits if one were to pay attention to “what is going on." I like thinking about writing as the purest form of the present.
Ben Russell has been a good friend for 14 years. His film A Spell to Ward off the Darkness came to Istanbul for a film festival in February 2014, as did Ben. It is a film about moving from the social self to the solitary self to the artistic self while also moving through time and surviving the constant progressions of day and night, silence and screaming, peace and disaster. If it weren’t for Ben, I might not have survived a past non-life to find this present life. February was the nadir of a blinding desolation and total hell for me and suddenly, with my soul-kin looking on, I was signing papers to scream my way out of it. I saw the sunset and then I saw the sunrise and I was ALIVE.
Ben’s films have always been a source of poetic inspiration, the way they place the viewer in uncomfortable positions: closing in on private spaces and intimate conversations that continue as though off camera, questioning the exoticism of traditional/tribal societies, and locating serious topics in landscapes of the absurd and beautiful.
Quicksand is not deadly if the body keeps composure and the voice behaves like a news-reporter-voice carrying on with the news despite the news-reporter-body being attacked by killer seagulls on live TV. As the body sinks in deeper, the soul enjoys the displacement of weight, the smooth plunge, the mud hug. There is always a way out: spreading like a February 15th rose and surging at the very top layer of the muck with gorilla arms. The more the arms gorilla, the better the chance of clawing into firmer ground and emerging coated in a caul of mud. When the body sinks deep, it is sinking into icy water even in the hottest desert—into layers of the world that have never felt warmth, that seize the skin and bones as they freeze. When a woman is stuck in a quicksand life, she may be the gorilla beating the air with her heaving arms, and she may go nowhere, but she will not die. She will be stuck between two realities: the one firm enough to barely hold will eventually help her out. And the other one: the other one will tease her into the dead ground, but only if she is dead.
The Bosphorus divides Europe and Asia. There are two kinds of dolphins in it: black dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. People say that if you stand on the shores of the upper Bosphorus and hold out a piece of bread, a dolphin will come up and eat it out of your hand.
There are sunken submarines at the bottom, half-embedded in sludge. Watching ships pass for hours is unequivocally meditative. I saw a large tank ship immobilized and sinking one day. It was red and its tail end was submerged. Apparently it was sinking so slowly that there was no panic, only peace and the precariousness of the surreal.
Pliny wrote of the Bosphorus:
“Several suns were once seen at the Bosphorus, and were visible from dawn to sunset.”
“at the two Bosphori even Oxen easily pass over : and hereupon they both took their Name : and in this disunion appeareth an agreement of relationship. For Cocks may be heard to crow, and Dogs to bark from one Side to the other: and by the interchange of Human Speech Men out of these two Worlds may talk one to another in continued discourse, if the Winds do not carry away the Sound.”
New images, if they do exist, may occur in the imagination, but may always depend on a person’s ability to recombine the old into something never previously combined. In my fictitious quest to find the new I decide to move to the middle of a wheat field, sit in a rocking chair, play my piccolo, and watch a deer eat some grass. The concrete image may not change much; every day, every minute it is the same field, the same rocking chair, the same piccolo, the same deer eating grass. Stevens would argue that there is dynamism in the weather; that a cloud shadow appearing on the field or a raindrop landing on my piccolo contextualizes the image anew, thus exposing a continuity of newness. He may be right, but perhaps the need of the perceiver calls for something more piercing than a cloud shadow. Perhaps the ideal way to find the new in my fictitious ideology is to move further into a need-piquing possibility by teaching the deer to play the piccolo while I burn holes in the grass with my laser-beam eyes under a whale-colored sky. This new image is still a recombination of the familiar, only possible through poetry/art/dreams. We need new images from artists because most of the old ones—without re-contextualization, intellectualization, and imagination—are violent, predictable, and tired.
In an emergency the world cracks in half and whatever dies is sucked into frayed physicality while whatever lives is suspended beyond clocks. Shot on a cinematograph, David Lynch’s Lumiere and Company is 55 seconds of layered time in the dimensions of hesitation, death, family, loss, and forever. The soul passes through a dark nymph’s haven, into a vicious hell of control and torture: a long drowning. In 55 seconds infinity opens, a series of lives upturns. A woman lies dumped outside her own home in the light world, mother’s shadow an apparition in the window, the soul tugged into a deceiving darkness where women lounge freely only to suffer at the hands of hellions. Time and space expand, infinity encloses.
When Jerome Rothenberg came to Istanbul in 2008, I awoke from an artistic coma and a seedling of love for his work grew enormous, due in particular to his work in Gematrian and translations of sacred Navaho songs (The 13th Horse Song of Frank Mitchell). His “total translations” create a new being out of an existing being; the conversation between the two beings is a collaboration that redefines the sacred source and taps a new vastness in the post-modern fabric. His work in Technicians of the Sacred affixes language to the uttered-only in an attempt to reign in the magical (true) poetry of oral events, rituals, songs, and so on.
The evening folded
blind, plato blind
Someone writes rain
Eyes black, yours
I don’t need to say anything here.
Twin motherhood is a motherhood augmented and split. One twin goes one way and the other twin goes another, and shapes and colors and animals are two by two but also exponential. Tiny mouths and eyes, and tiny bodies lengthen into the bodies of real boys and then men. A few words WOW SHOE BAA WHOA WOOF emerge in passionate noise, and the bodies scramble to match a black shirt to a black toy car, a sheep stuffed animal to a cartoon sheep. Learning is connecting one thing to another thing regardless of the age of the connector. There are whimpers and bumps and giggles and Cheerios and goddamnits and all of them double; magnifying the trouble and love and being. The twin-mother brain is dull, but the twin-mother heart is an electric whale firing laser beams off to the cores and the zeniths of 500 planets.
Gertrude Stein begged for the re-birth of aesthetics amid the cultural lauding of systemic control, mechanized mass production, and reproductive selectivity. TO DO: The Book of Alphabets and Birthdays, is a paratactic accumulation of games, alphabetized characters, and children’s riddles, yet it is also Stein’s acknowledgement that Modernist social forms bled into literary forms. The reader meets the (Freudian) dogs “Was Asleep” and “Never Asleep,” two brothers, obviously one with a dream-life and one without, whose favorite game is the super sexy “pass through the hole.” Despite the order implied by Stein’s use of the alphabetic system, things spiral out of control as images and characters accumulate within this limited frame. This spiraling is how birth and death and life and writing work.
Almost midway, she introduces Henriette de Dactyl, a French typewriter whose two “pen pals” are a German typewriter, Mr. House, who has “not been born yet” and an American typewriter. The progression moves from human and animal characters to mechanized characters and back; the reader sees evidence of Stein’s attention to social systems, mass production and art: “everyone liked to be born on the same day so it was more economical” and “If we smash all the clocks nobody will know when we were born.”
What are we if we don’t have time? What are we if we stop going forward? What are we if we are aborted?
Julie Doxsee is the Canadian-American author of three books of poetry: The Next Monsters (Black Ocean, 2013), Objects for a Fog Death (Black Ocean, 2010), and Undersleep (Octopus Books, 2008). She holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of Denver (2007) and an MFA in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2002). After several visits to Turkey over the years, in 2007 she moved to Istanbul, where she teaches academic writing, creative writing, and literature courses at Koç University.