Ruth Clarke
DOOR Guillaume Vissac
28-11-2014

It’s quite unexpected. A few days after your return from The Hague, in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, suddenly there they are: the turtles from before, reinvented, staring out at you between two pages. And reaching your front door on the evening of Sunday 16th, literally finding your way out of the labyrinth: you can’t get your key in the lock, because it’s a new lock. You’re definitely in the right place in the present reality, but the internal mechanism won’t work. You tell yourself you’ll soon have to report back and recount what you experienced, no, what you went through over there. But beware: can you measure precisely, with physical tools, the difference between the reality of a moment as someone experienced it, and their remembered reality, the things filed away in their spongy matter when they say, many years later perhaps, that famous phrase: I remember? We should invent tools for that. We should relive those rare, real moments in the course of which you find yourself talking to someone for hours, only with no net, no skin other than your liquid silhouette, no artifice in your words and no constraints on your choice of syllables, because of the pressure of time, because the countdown is everywhere telling you: the end of this moment is nigh, everything must be spoken now, everything must be right. You remember, it was raining like it was raining inside all of you. You remember switching on a portable screen on your knee half an hour before you had to leave for your reading on stage, you know, to clear your head and rearrange your pulse before time T, and tiny pixelated figures appeared and said things in the language of Shakespeare. You don’t know what it was, but yes, it worked: your pulse quietened. One of them was a monk; he discovered geomancy. Your text, you read in a room called heaven. You answered some direct questions. In the same room, you went to a concert of beards. You talked endlessly with happy people and human faces. And then, as you were sheltering from the rain and restoring the creature with wifi and power, someone came over and asked, in a mouthful of French, with no accent of any kind: vous êtes Guillaume Vissac? Your taxi for the journey back, already. The rest is a red train in the black night, the Philae probe in hibernation and, at the end of the road, Paris, underground again, back to Day D of departure and, in general, to what you’d called, several hours before, ‘the place I’ve read most in my life’. Of course, now, all around you people are asking how it went, and you reply precisely, with all or some of these things. But, before you come to that, first you have to get through your door with the locks changed. You knock. Someone lets you in. How did it go? It was good. I read my stuff in heaven. I saw The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and then The Luminous Sea. I drank lychee stuff. Took 120mg of eletriptan. 80mg of Propranolol Ratiopharm. Ate eighteen croissants. Met nice people. Struggled to find my eyes sometimes. My monk discovered geomancy.

All translations from Ruth Clarke
28-11-14

It’s quite unexpected. A few days after your return from The Hague, in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, suddenly there they are: the turtles from before, reinvented, staring out at you between two pages. And reaching your front door on the evening of Sunday 16th, literally finding your way out of the labyrinth: you can’t get your key in the lock, because it’s a new lock. You’re definitely in the right place in the present reality, but the internal mechanism won’t work. You tell yourself you’ll soon have to report back and recount what you experienced, no, what you went through over there. But beware: can you measure precisely, with physical tools, the difference between the reality of a moment as someone experienced it, and their remembered reality, the things filed away in their spongy matter when they say, many years later perhaps, that famous phrase: I remember? We should invent tools for that. We should relive those rare, real moments in the course of which you find yourself talking to someone for hours, only with no net, no skin other than your liquid silhouette, no artifice in your words and no constraints on your choice of syllables, because of the pressure of time, because the countdown is everywhere telling you: the end of this moment is nigh, everything must be spoken now, everything must be right. You remember, it was raining like it was raining inside all of you. You remember switching on a portable screen on your knee half an hour before you had to leave for your reading on stage, you know, to clear your head and rearrange your pulse before time T, and tiny pixelated figures appeared and said things in the language of Shakespeare. You don’t know what it was, but yes, it worked: your pulse quietened. One of them was a monk; he discovered geomancy. Your text, you read in a room called heaven. You answered some direct questions. In the same room, you went to a concert of beards. You talked endlessly with happy people and human faces. And then, as you were sheltering from the rain and restoring the creature with wifi and power, someone came over and asked, in a mouthful of French, with no accent of any kind: vous êtes Guillaume Vissac? Your taxi for the journey back, already. The rest is a red train in the black night, the Philae probe in hibernation and, at the end of the road, Paris, underground again, back to Day D of departure and, in general, to what you’d called, several hours before, ‘the place I’ve read most in my life’. Of course, now, all around you people are asking how it went, and you reply precisely, with all or some of these things. But, before you come to that, first you have to get through your door with the locks changed. You knock. Someone lets you in. How did it go? It was good. I read my stuff in heaven. I saw The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp and then The Luminous Sea. I drank lychee stuff. Took 120mg of eletriptan. 80mg of Propranolol Ratiopharm. Ate eighteen croissants. Met nice people. Struggled to find my eyes sometimes. My monk discovered geomancy.

17-11-14

A wandering poet friend of mine wrote a lovely thing that goes like this:

On the doors of shops open at night – on the skin of those who still have any – on the screens of our machines – on the drops of rain that ran down our skin that night when we stopped to tell stories: tenderness.

He comes to mind because of the beards. Here, there are folk groups with beards. Rock groups with beards. Hipsters with beards. Beards with beards. Perhaps this place has a ‘beard code’? For no apparent reason, you go around repeating the word “eclectic”. In a museum, you ended up doing the tour several times, but backwards (then forwards, then backwards again), because you had to keep going back to the lightning sea. They dragged you out to put you on stage, and on stage you gave your usual pitch. “It’s the story of a guy who lost his hand and wants to find it again”. You read a passage, but let’s stay with the pitch. There’s laughter in the audience and you find yourself explaining, two hours later and in another language, “it’s not a funny book, no. Actually, it’s fucking sad”. Someone chats to you about Charles Bukowski, except the pronunciation of his name distorts him and he’s no longer the Bukowski you knew. They tap it out for you on the screen of a so-called ‘magic’ phone. In a matter of moments, Bukowski’s shadow has shifted into something else, and he’s biting his nails under his beard and fixing you with a mysterious stare, nervous tics in his wrists and elbows. Another beard. Someone says “has he got OCD?” Someone says “tiny dicks”. They ask you if you’re on drugs, or what. It’s never easy to answer that kind of question. Then, slowly, twisting his head on his neck and staring into the black gold of your eyes, spoke Antonio Lobo Antunes. He said, without any kind of beard and seemingly blinded by the spotlights: “he asked me if I was a fag”. Except that with his language and with his accent and with his age, he didn’t say ‘fag’, he said ‘fang’. ‘He asked me if I was a canine tooth.’ What a funny thing to ask anyone. And you don’t know what his reply was. All you know is Dutch cuisine seems to be big on frying. There’s this thing that looks like a horse’s dick and someone smokes it like a cigar, lights up and smokes with it, and there’s no beard in this smoke. In fact, there’s no smoke in this smoke. It’s there, it snakes along the steps of a staircase from a bygone era where the two of you go to talk about whisky, two of you who don’t even drink the stuff. Whisky, the spell check on your phone reveals, it’s spelled whisky. That does not have a beard. That comes and goes in your glass, while the silence buzzes over your spreading skin. You have to go round things several times to get back to the lightning sea. Several times round the lightning sea to get to this splendid painting called Three worlds. Several times Three worlds to experience Three worlds. That’s all there is, in the end. Tenderness. Superimposed worlds. Beards and foreign words. More tenderness.

15-11-14

You’ve abandoned the notion of time and turtles. You remember walking down underground tunnels (underground to a point), a labyrinthine topsy-turvy pyramid. Here, languages are topsy-turvy, too. Start in one, finish in another; sometimes getting completely lost. For example, the performance by the two authors, their voices echoing with an electronic hum, their jaws speaking an unfamiliar language, and you sit there, fascinated by the music of things that come to life by themselves, without meaning, without roots to tether them to the earth. Ok, but where are the turtles? Because, at some point, somebody said the thing with the turtles would be worth seeing. The name of the band was Trampled by Turtles. Somewhere it was pitch black. Somewhere it was red. Right, ok. But where are the turtles? And it was the same thing at the Iron and Wine concert. There was only one of him. Iron (or Wine), no turtles to be seen or heard of. But at one point, Iron or Wine invited someone, someone with only a first name, to join him on stage for a duet and, as he literally mumbled to himself, ‘to make him look good’. You didn’t catch the singer’s name, just that she appeared when he spoke those syllables and she disappeared as soon as he said thank you. It’s easier to identify the people who hang around at the back – the ones no-one’s ever quite sure what they do or why they’re there. It’s the clarity of their outlines that draws your attention. It’s the same thing with a painting. It’s a beautiful landscape, soft light, but you’re only interested in the shadows lurking in the background. So you get so close that the very thickness and consistency (in a word, the texture) of the paint begins to change. Voilà. Small, black silhouettes sketched in one stroke. One for the body, and one for each arm, each leg. Sometimes more complicated, perhaps, if there’s a hat. One flick of the brush becomes a flock of sheep. That’s it. Silhouettes. Why not suggest a 3000% enlargement so you can only see them? Or better yet, why didn’t the artist paint them like that in the first place, on a giant canvas, but still using that single sharp line. If they had, though, you know you’d still find yourself getting closer to the canvas, until the canvas became a paste, tracking down its smallest common denominator in the flesh: the speck of dust, pigment, sliver or pixel. You leave the museum, through the gift shop, for a five second summary of everything you’ve just seen – this time plastered on the side of a mug, or the face of a rubber duck, or a postcard. And there, you spot two Brazilian turtles, mouths agape, eyes on the side of their heads, possibly vicious. They weren’t in any of the paintings in the museum, you’re sure of that. Where are they? What’s up with the turtles?

14-11-14

You no longer know where it came from, who said it, or wrote it, where, for what reason or under what circumstances, but someone said, once, that, with writing, it’s better to systematically remove the first and last line of a text because, fundamentally, they would never give you enough to cast off the artifices that land us with something like lead on our tongues, most often it’s a pirouette, a formula, something that makes you say, on the other side of a reading, shit, these words are first lines, last lines, this isn’t literature, no, it’s marketing, these lines are there to sink your eye into the text, like fingers into flesh, it’s almost obscene, but, in spite of that, you’ve always been suspicious of those rules people set never to do anything like everyone else, because you end up no longer quite sure which side you’re on, the side of the norm or the side of the iconoclast, and that means you very often pause in front of your comprehensively blank screen, the mandibles open and engaged right up to your fingerprints, and you’re not sure of anything, you pause, like the engineers from the European Space Agency paused yesterday, noses pressed against the control screens of the Philae probe, at the moment of touchdown, or even a bit before, in this period of uncertainty that bubbled across our interconnected webcams, before we found out whether or not the probe had actually landed on the comet Chury, and we saw all these figures twisted in knots, tense, perhaps their hands had disappeared into the depths of their pockets, perhaps their knuckles were cracking in there, perhaps they were pinching their skin because that’s how they denounced their fears as children, rediscovering nightmares of comforting habits, perhaps one of these engineers suddenly started biting his fingernails instinctively, even though he or she, whatever their normal job entails, hadn’t touched them for aeons, since they’d put an end to their nail addiction after kilometres of effort, years of therapy, litres of sweat, to guard against the classy OCD habits that chew up our nerves, to think that this person, simply by lifting their face to catch a waft of air conditioning and inhaling it into the gaping hole they use to see, could say to themselves, noticing somewhere, perhaps, the shape of a camera, shit, the whole world’s watching me, and this moment of distress is stamped in real time on the retina of the networks, yes, it smacks you right in the chest because, you know what, perhaps from time to time you can go back to customs capable of dissolving some of the excess blood that juices to your head, perhaps because that’s not as serious as being afraid of being afraid, perhaps you can just dare to forget the systematic removal of the first and last lines, like you’re doing here, because it’s not always marketing, no, it’s something else, you just don’t know what.

 

Prologue
04-11-14

When asked what the hell you’re going to do there, you answer that you’re in denial. You’ve seen the website, of course. They want you to write something. You’ve opened a blank white page in your glowing white Macbook, set the line spacing to 1.5, and you’ve thrown away a piece of paper, also white, on which someone (you, no doubt) had written: ‘Call Marc asap’. But Marc has already been called asap, because that piece of paper is months old. Despite that, you still don’t have the heart to throw the note away: you don’t even know what the hell it’s doing there. It has no place in the present, or in that space you enter when you activate the mandibles of the white computer. But you didn’t say that. Besides, nobody asked you, and white computers don’t have mandibles. Mandible is a word someone else adopted to mean realities other than yours (but you’re using it anyway). On the back of the note you’ve drawn the head of a devil in felt tip, red on white; but, as so often happens – your drawing skills unfortunately being what they are – you stopped part way through for fear of completing the depiction process. The other day you said: ‘Everything’s wearing me out, it’s beyond me. Everything’s a struggle, I can’t even manage the simplest thing’. Question: what, for example? Answer: answering this question. Sometimes you’d like it if the answer to any question could have been pre-graffitied on a wall in town, and this wall did the talking for you (because walls have paint mouths, to talk fluently about things humans can’t say out loud). For example: ‘love is dead’, which covers the walls of Paris. And that phrase near Galeries Lafayette: ‘we are misfits’. But who graffitis that? What are their eyes like? Their faces? You’ve never been near a can of paint. Why would you, if the devils you spray you can’t even finish? Maybe it’s a question of confidence? Maybe it’s a matter of superstition, like when you rap your knuckles on the table and say ‘touch wood’, mimicking. Or you make the same gesture, but hidden, the knuckle turned into your fist, and that fist in your fist, during a match, any match, right before a corner or a dangerous free kick, ‘just outside the area’, as the TV pundits would say; and you repeat to yourself, in your own internal language, without mouthing anything or spitting a single sound: ‘they won’t score’. And, most of the time, it works. When it doesn’t, there’s no-one there to question these little gestures that arise instinctively from superstition. But if they score, then yes, something does happen. Perhaps it only lasts a fiction of a second, but that’s enough to shake up the sense of the world as you’d conceived it. Above all: are you sure you called Marc all those moons ago? And to say what?