Hello everyone. I am happy to share with you today some of my obsessions and interests. The other day I stumbled on this Public Speaking Class
and hesitated for about 2 seconds. I fantasised about the prospect of becoming an expert at speaking in public,totally buying into the idea that this class would somehow help me in that endeavour
But this is no aspiration of mine—nor do I think it will ever be possible.
You understand where I’m getting at: I don’t particularly like to express myself in front of a group. I find this an almost
excruciating exercise. I could continue to speak in silence like this for a while.
I realise practise is what I should do. Practising is actually what I’ve been doing since now almost New Year’s day.
Anyhow, here I am,
and here is my best shot at talking, at per-forming. At giving form to my thoughts
, knitting pieces into something legible for the purpose of
this talk. To borrow a saying from Gordon Matta Clark, here is what I have to offer you: “confusion with a clear sense of purpose”.
Strangely enough, this is one of the first time I am this close to my interests, with no escape door ahead.
While some of my preoccupations like my fascination for the body of the language, and the language of the body were
already familiar to me, some others have remained in the background, out of reach because still overclouded
The top of the iceberg
has started to come in sight.
Sometimes I feel like an apprentice translator decrypting my inner puzzles, getting consciously acquainted with them.
At other times, I am an archeologist struggling to catch up with things that have already, unknown to me, occurred.
With this in mind, memory is a matter I’m deeply drawn to.There is a lot to be said on the subject. Most of us are blissfully unaware of the complexity of our brain’s memory systems.
I’m mostly concerned about personal individual memories and their breaches, how they are and not passed on.
This subject took a whole new importance in my life when my grand uncle passed away at the end of last year.
Some things precipitated and crystallised in me. A sense of urgency mostly. “Paul was my memory” my grand aunt said.
Memories disappear with us unless we try to find ways to externalise them into transmissible forms.
Concretely I’ve started to record some snippets of my grand parents recollection’s of thoughts.
Mainly of my grand-mother, Jacqueline
, whom I’m really close to. Far from a totalizing ambition, I am pushed by desire to fix fragments of thoughts before they depart.
Will I forget everything about her life?
I myself, have a very clumsy memory. Will I forget everything about my life?
This must be the reason I have such a hard time trusting it. Or maybe it goes both ways.
Forget to fill the coffee pot with water and almost destroy the stove. Forget my memory stick at the copy shop.
Never wear rings because I believe I’ll forget them after I wash my hands. Never take an umbrella because I am certain I’ll end up losing it,
like what happened with my mom’s expensive umbrella at the bar. And much more, but I can’t seem to recall. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.
(“Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, Joan Didion)
We all record our histories, make inventories, lists, pictures. But I seem to have a tendency to do that more than others.
This habit of mine manifests itself in non-stop note-taking,whether using paper, my phone, my computer or even my hands themselves,
depending on what I have … at hand. A need to fix ideas and things before they elude me.
Perhaps it offers me the feeling that if I write the things down,the facts might remain standing in the end.
Memory and writing have always been inseparable. One of writing’s key functions is to enable the fixation of memories.
Like many other technologies invented by humans, this extraordinary tool has become a way to externalise parts of our memory. It’s also dangerous.
In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it : they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own.
(Socrates in “Phaedrus”, Plato)
Socrates already lamented about writing’s effects on forgetfulness.
I’ve been keeping track of my thoughts since I was a child, even thoughts I did not understand, as in this journal
from when I was ten.
Today I keep notebooks, but also pense-bêtes : literally “think-stupid” in English. Write to remember or write to forget?
Beyond its core mnemonic aspect, I am enthralled by the action of writing.
The gesture itself is a form of muscle memory — it involves consolidating a specific motor action into memory through repetition.
For most of us, writing has become a sort of second nature.
"Now, it’s when something “goes without saying” that it needs to be looked at closely — and it then emerges
that what “goes without saying” is in fact comprised of a number of unanswered questions."
(“How to live together”, Roland Barthes)
But shaping letters remains a complex embodied act that lies in between drawing and conceptual thinking.
I’ve always been interested in exploring Ways of Writing, especially handwriting.
I have questioned the tool that is my right hand by experimenting writing with my left hand
and drawing with my feet.
I am pursuing these experiments today as I am keen to further explore how the expression of memory can extend to other body parts.
moves through a body that has
been in working order for over twenty-six years. It is a 165 cm female body, around
55 kilos and its bone structure appears rather average. No bone has been broken— yet. 25 1/2 % of this body is fat
and 60% of it is water. It still has tonsils and its appendix and has never been impregnated.
Our emotional state affects how we speak. When we are excited, nervous, the muscles buttressing the
larynx contract involuntary, and tension in the vocal cords will increase to produce, that high,
unsteady pitch we associate with alarm. I must also be thinking it is really awkward to hear myself speak.
Anyway, lets continue : the cords that produce speech and sound are approximately fifteen millimetres
in length. These were white when I was born, but in the past 10 years I have tinted them with lots of coffee, more than a little alcohol and scores of nights in smoky places. I spent most all my life in a city with rather clean air.
My voice must contain traces of the big flu I was struck by last week.
The voice is one of the more recent development that we have in terms of human physiology.
It is a compelling medium because it cannot be located in the body. It is parasitic on
organs that are primarily used for respiration (the lungs), for mastication (the tongue),
for digestion (the epiglottis) as well the musculature of the body.
This is the end of my little voice intermission. I hope you’re all doing all right.
I have started a subjective record of my time here.
"Transform the experience into a document,
make the document an experience.
Transformer l’expérience en document,
faire du document une expérience."
(“Aby Warburg et l’image en mouvement”,
Pierre Alain Michaud)
By this I mean keeping track of various documents and recipes, taking pictures, and writing down my observations.
First as a way of understanding where I am, to grasp my experience here and get a hold of it.
I have been taking morning photographs
whenever I was arriving at Werkplaats, using
photography for its core mnemonic function. These are more of an attempt: I find them to be technical failures and have yet to go beyond mere
“record photography”. They are not about the building itself, but about the people who inhabit it. I can mostly always tell who is in the building by looking at the bikes, which have become indexical of the individual themselves.
are another type of document I collect.
Here, I’m particularly interested in the tension between the subjective and the objective, between the handwritten and the printed, the spontaneous and
the controlled. I do not know yet what I will end up doing or making with this material, but I plan to continue this undertaking, as I think that it has some potential. Once again— there is no totalising aspiration here. I am simply driven by a sort of compulsive habit to gather things that might appear to be unimportant but that are nonetheless traces of our presence here.
Drawing with my feet, recording my grand mother and taking pictures. These are all sorts of traces, scratches, inscriptions made with either lines, sound or light.
is that all such things involve some form of memory.
We know that human memory
is composed of many different systems, from procedural memory, which subtends our ability to fluently carry out sequential actions such as walking, writing, or making coffee, to episodic memory, which keeps a trace of all the snapshot events that make up our lives, from short-term memory, which helps us remember a phone number long enough to dial it, to
long-term memory, which can bring back souvenirs from our childhood.
What we do shapes our memories, but memory also shapes us, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously. We share our memories with other people; that is why I want to record not only my memories, but also those of other people. Writing is a tool for memory. Through this work, I want to investigate the dialectical relationship between writing and memory, at different levels: from the muscle memory involved in repeating movements to the perceptual memories associated with seeing interesting roadsigns… Even if there is more I want to inquire and develop, memory, as of now, is thus the backbone of what I want to work on.
These 3 1/2 months have further been filled with mostly being like a sponge, adapting to this new city, getting to know all you guys, a lot of
, getting comfortable in my little space
(I recently learned that it used to be a toilet hence the small window that I have tried to expand with the help of Mirjam), playing soccer, dancing, doing many walks
setting up the radio and making
I am almost done. I will soon begin to improvise, which I sometimes have a hard time with.
"Speech is irreversible ; that is its fatality. What has been said cannot be unsaid, except by adding to it : to correct here, is, oddly enough, to continue. In speaking,
I can never erase, annul ; all I can do is say “I am erasing, annulling, correcting”, in short, speak some more."
“The Rustle of Language”, Roland Barthes
I hope this has made any sense. I have tried to do a short survey of my mind, of where I am at at this point in time.
I intend to develop these fascinations in the hope that they will somehow combine and enrich themselves down the road. I believe it is with what one does often (and actually can’t stop doing) that one should be working with.
I plan to remain in what Keats means by negative capability: which is “capable in being in uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”, while at the same time sharpening what it is exactly that I want to be doing and actually elaborating on it, because beyond vocalising concerns I know am here to formalise them in a tangible way.
(To be continued in the next episode!)
, 18 January 2018