His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com


We say one thing while thinking of another 

Down the allley, forsythia, and jasmine starting; startling at night, the scent. But little fills me with horror like camellias; reddish blooms browning, rotting on the branch; pink-red petals strewn down the alley, among the crush of gravel and brown pulp of last year’s leaves and pine needles.
And this morning, late March -- clumps of snowflakes falling amidst the rain, like the ash of paper and shag from a hand-rolled cigarette.
This mood leaves me nothing but a few phrases.


Carmelite Light 

A miscellany:

Holy Saturday -- a particularly resonant day. I must’ve been around ten years old; old enough to walk to the library by myself, and inquisitive enough to go into the church. No one was there, and the church was dark. Maybe someone was praying out of sight in a corner of the apse; some small, echoey sounds. Maybe just the reverberations of the kneeler being set down. The sides of the altar were draped in purple, and I remembered thinking of that moment in the Easter narrative where Christ dies and the curtain in the Temple tears in two. Sense of being alone in the church, there in the dim light with echoes. A cloudy day, I think -- seem to recall the stained glass windows as muted. I sat there for awhile; I don’t know if I was trying to pray, or praying, or this was an early and unacknowledged crisis of faith. Through the years, it’s held fast, this scene, and I don’t know why. It may be that this was the first time I was actually alone and of my own free will in church. And if I allow the presence of the divine, then I think I must say then, contra Rome, that there is salvation outside the Church.
Years later, I would read Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and come across the phrase, “the noise at the threshold of the voiceless silence,” and it would be this scene that my mind would return to.

A couple of years ago, I went into the church near my apartment on Holy Saturday; there’s a chapel I’ll go to just to sit in the quiet, but I was thinking of this experience and the big church seemed fitting. It was a bright day; light was shining through the windows, and there was a group of people working inside the church, decorating it for the Easter Vigil that night. A lot of talk and commotion, and I left. Walking past the church today, there were a lot of cars and people about, so I didn’t go in; headed to the park instead. En route, I looked at some crocuses in bloom; they’d been blooming for awhile, now. Some years ago, I went through a serious depression - “a black hairy one” as Woolf would put it. Various factors, what I shorthanded as A Sad Story, etc., contributed to it. The moment where it all crystallized for me, when I became aware of this state as if from the outside, was a morning on my walk to work, when I stopped and looked at a bunch of purple crocuses, realizing that I had walked by them for weeks as they had sprouted, budded, and blossomed -- and it was only then, at that instant, that moment, that I looked at them and formed the word “crocuses.” That signification, the realization of a yawning distance, disconnection -- only then did I realize how far gone I’d been. Come spring, I often look at crocuses and admire them, and only sometimes think about that moment, that time. But it occurred to me today, entering the park, walking through my favorite grove of trees. Wandered past the dahlia beds (wch are now just sticks and mud) and headed to the conservatory. At the edge of the flower beds surrounding the building (Victorian-style, white painted iron and a lot of glass), I saw a smallish daffodil and, almost entirely coinciding with the sight my mind offered the word “jonquil.” Jonquil, one of those particular signifiers I know but have almost no reason to use; I can’t even recall it being in a crossword, even. But that’s how it struck me, as a complete sentence: “Jonquil,” I thought, “that’s what they are called.”

Three years ago, I lost a very good friend. I don’t talk about him much, and I’ve never written about him, but he is (and I suppose I must use the present tense here) the type of person I’ll see on the street to this day, and do a double-take and realize that no, it can’t be him, he’s dead. I could note some personal attributes -- his generosity of spirit, his particular laugh, deep and genuine... A writer and a thoughtful person, he was given to a kind of brooding, but he’d catch himself and try to shake it off, not give into it. I express this badly. He was an alcoholic, and came to terms with that disease, and in middle age, decided to go back to graduate school. Here was someone who managed to rethink, to re-imagine his life not once, but at least twice. So if I bring him up now, it’s for various reasons -- not least to commend the unsung power of the imagination for daily life, or the oft-repeated platitude that the dead aren’t really gone. Typing that seems so goddamn Pollyanna. The big truths, the things that shape us, just can’t be put into words. One tries.

And recently, another memorial service. This spring is literally and metaphorically cold. It was about as good as a memorial service gets -- not that I’m reviewing it, just noting that like as not words fail us, or us them. Sometimes they’re tangible, almost physical. Me?--I pick at the edges, a few stray threads. I wrote five words that day and crossed one out. Living, breathing: repetitive acts. At the end of the service, light broke through the clouds and the chapel was gorgeous in it. Maybe it only struck sometime later, like my crocuses; who knows, who can speak to another’s grief? There was light in the chapel anyway that day; at our best, that’s what we are to each other, innit?


not like light
but like
but like


You’ll notice the deflection there, towards the end; the avoidance of saying something flat out, dropping off into a casual mode of speech instead. And then a short sort of verse, a thread. I don’t know. Sometimes I despair. A few things bring me back. Last week, touched base with K.; realized, trying to talk on the phone, that I hadn’t spoken at all that day, and could barely form a sentence -- not due to any mood, just a day spent reading and in my head, sans actual speech. We met up to see Rivette’s The Duchesse of Langeais [Ne Touchez pas la hache] that night. There’s no Rivette that’s not great, in my book, and we’d seen a lot of him during a retrospective last year. (Last year?-- or the one before?) We’d seen Ozu together, Rivette, many others, really, and found ourselves afterward, stamnnding on the street in a familiar conundrum of being human: what to say? The film opens in the chapel of a Carmelite convent. After that, what can I relate?-- Rivette’s impeccable sound design, the echoes in the chapel? The quality of light? An opening remark that I couldn’t, at the time, contextualize? Or, simply, the blue of the sea outside? Jeanne Balibar’s laugh? There’s a quality particular to Rivette’s work that runs through it all, but I can’t say what it is (and it’s not just whatever aura his name may conjure up; I’m sure a few minutes of a blind screening would tell); on the one hand, no doubt much of it comes into being through the scripting, the direction, the sound (physical, but minimal; rarely if ever any non-diegetic music) or in the editing room; on the other hand, the hand of the maker often absents himself -- while the Duchesse of Langeais is faithful to the Balzac novella of that name, many of his films are largely improvised, with the actors given co-scripting and/or dialogue credits. Rivette’s eighty years old now; returning not only to Balzac, but to a portion of The History of the Thirteen - which he adapted “in spirit” for Out 1; the castle/convent scenes recall his baffling Noroît; the casting of Rivette favorite Bulle Ogier, Balibar and Michel Piccoli again, a small part played by Barbet Schroeder; I had a slightly uncomfortable feeling that this might well be a sort of farewell. (But not to read too much into it; I'm often proven wrong).

Where do I end this rambling post, with its darkness and light, chapels and death, friendships and incommunicability; the general strangeness of things, attempts at speech, of being present? “Carmelite Light” -- an instrumental by Smog; brief, wordless -- that’ll do for a title (the Carmelites are among the most austere and secluded of orders). There’s the sense of light and space in the chapel, and, I think perhaps back to the beginning of the film, simply recalling the echoing sounds of the footsteps of M. de Montriveau, dragging one foot behind him as he leaves the chapel, will be enough.



Lacking from the print I recently saw, but Godard's La Chinoise SHOULD end with the title card: "Fin d'un début." Throws the whole picture into new relief. Work to do, work to do...

"Let a thousand flowers bloom"


First few cherry blossoms falling, now, like ash.

"A word is what isn't said."


Gradually. Lessening. It becomes

Ghostlier, now. Shadows of

burning threads


continuing a thought-impression from October... 

Stepped out into the morning sunlight: across from me, yellow points of forsythia emerging from pale green covers; down the alley-way, camellias in bloom. And, with these images of spring, I detected the unmistakable scent of rotting apples.

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