Tuesday, September 19, 2017

There Are No Words: Text work for a Forager Collective Event

I am at Nottingham, East Midlands, England on a short residency at Primary, an artist-led space. The summer residencies look at Work in Commons. The following text was developed last week and looks at the idea of language as Commons and the politics of there being both an absence and a presence of an adequate language. 

The text was performed by the lovely Sooree Pillay from New Art Exchange, and was followed by a conceptual meal that Forager Collective cooked. On the menu were dishes made with ingredients that were 'untranslatable' in many ways. While there are of course words in English for the ingredients used, the politics they carry, the cultural, geographical and social baggage they come with in the Indian context and in the context of the Commons in India could not be rightly conveyed here. The inadequacy of an appropriate language led to a menu that was quite lost in translation.


What is left there now, to say? Was there anything to say at all, in the first place? It is a conversation I have had with my head endless times, like a bad song on ugly loop. There could never have been any answers, not after everything. But there were all these possibilities, mainly the possibilities….what now of them? What happens to these stories when their storyteller dies?

Language is the signature of culture, it seems. Lan-gu-age. My tool of trade. My daily bread and prayer. This language occupies the head but not the soul. These words in the language that you are hearing is a language that is learned, not inherited from the sisterhood of grandmothers before me. What language are your dreams of the deep night in? Mine? In none. For I can no longer claim to have the desirable words. It is a language of prosaic head matters now.

In my head right now, there runs a time-lapse video, complete with the whirring white noise from the speed in which the scenes change. Sporadically there are notes of a music track that, in an ideal world, I would always want to be the soundtrack of my days. Like a wordless undersong really. Wouldn’t an OST performed aloud when you went about things be absolutely impressive? Just like in the movies. I wouldn’t want a movie for myself though. Even I think that would be a bit too excessive.

In my head right now, there are no words really. And that I have come to realize is both the problem and the solution. Most so when I am thinking of that hill, as I do too often these days. That hill raises behind home. It raised me too, in a way. I like calling it a mountain though, the magnificence of northerliness is the sound that sounds well. The words to attribute to this hill-slash-mountain are those that I seek. I seek in vain. There is a language that I cannot bring myself to articulate in. A language exists too that is only in my worst imagination, enclosed, engulfed outside of actualities. How then in this inadequacy of both presence and absence, do I say what I want to say about this mountain? How indeed.

This hill would be my point X, if it came down to wanting to try to pin down such a point and understand its significance in a small non-descript life. Behind the hill is where I have been, time and again, bringing different people and places in my head, below my feet and around my arms. Behind the mountain – I shall now begin to use hill and mountain interchangeably – there is a thin bridleway that I have always meant to walk the entire length of. Some who attempted said that the path gives away in places, and sinks to the earth in shallow abandon. First the king is said to have ridden along the path, inspecting his small kingdom and perhaps the craggy mountain ranges that sunk suns beyond the edge out there. Then his commoners would have gone by, I suppose. He wasn’t a very good king, he wasn’t caring enough, you could say. The commoners have had a chequered history as well – the usual wars, killings, conversions, betrayals, losses of the things of our heart, etc. But mountain people are hardy people, and we have weathered it all well and for long.

Going to further specifics, there is a point on the bridleway that is behind this mountain of mine. I have been standing there, facing outward from that vantage point, all my life. I cannot remember the first time, it must have been a year or so after my stint in this geography began. Where the crazy crows always make a commotion, where the animals are always over-spoilt and two hundred birds come to feed, this land is home to me. From that point onward, I have looked out in some ancient-like search. What I see ahead and around is this: an expanse of green mountains in rows one behind the other that I can see further into if I stood on tiptoe. A few dotted houses, red roofed. Green fields in the foreground. If it was evening, as it almost always was, cranes circling in a spiral fashion to raise themselves up from the far fields below to my point X and then to the other side of the mountain towards the town and perhaps beyond. It is all so set up and dramatic and cliched. The mountains always behave themselves so well. Then there is the mist that cloaks the scenery and parts the veil if you had the patience to wait for it. All so unnecessarily theatrical. It means so much more than a picture postcard. Will you believe it if I said so employing only these words?

This language that you hear right now isn’t the language of my attic. It is not the language of my streets or my heath or my unspoken rituals. There has, for long, not been a language for that. Some would argue that there really wasn’t a language required for something that is not physical, that is not visible, that is not quantifiable. What is the use of its value if it cannot be measured in money and economy and all that other vulgar stuff? Some would argue thus. And they would be right, of course. Why need poetry when you can spend money that you don’t have? Why nurture the soul of a language when you can text in smileys? What the words don’t lack, they must lack in irrelevance.

Yet this language is all I have to mourn. I mourn the view. Nothing has happened to the view though, in all the years that I have gone there to reset myself into sanity, to re-wild myself. To be able to live my days with poetry in my head. In a cloud. But I still find myself in black for reasons I don’t have the language to explain in. They have a word for it, rather ironically. Solastalgia, a definitive disease of the 21st century that imparts an unspeakable sense of being torn from the earth, a homelessness without leaving home, a disconnect even with grass beneath your feet. There is a word for the unease, for the yearning, for that which there are no casual answers for. They call it solastalgia. I call it a good cry on a white cloud.

The estate has a stone that they call god. It is uneven and there is no right angle to see it from. From point x it becomes a god. It lends a name. And then you go closer and are enclosed in what it carries, on itself and for you, in its ancient rituals, in unnamed ideas, empty gestures and other signatures of things as they are. And then you are driven back to a place from where you assign names and categories for people, for the tongue they can use, for the land they can touch, for the words they can whisper. Vantage point. Point x. Distance to make it distant and clinical enough to justify all the injustices of identity, names and marked lives. “For who is ever quite without his landscape?”

Like a beloved prayer I go to this point behind the mountain from where I see other mountains whenever words fail me. Sometimes I go there physically too. In that post-pastoral terrain, these mountains are my experience and there can never probably be a particularizing language for everything I wish to tell you. I quote from elsewhere generously because there are no words in my own language for this. “There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject.” Sometimes on top of a mountain I can only say wow, silently, in my borrowed syntax.

I am certain of this uncertainty, that I can only ever know this knowledge incompletely. This geography is my destiny. Tall words. I reconcile to not knowing them, for I am inadequate to create the articulation it requires. It is not the landscape that can ever fail. It is always I, in this tragedy of expectations. Again and again I go to that place, again and again failing. A tragedy of my common life.

This a prayer then: Spirit of the water/give us all the courage and the grace/to make genius of this tragedy unfolding/the genius to save this place.

No comments: