The door opens to learn the new language, new every time, every time old, renewed, recycled. Behind it the dark room.
And before you enter the faint trembling, the hovering first step.
Here: not who am I but where am I? What is this here?
I am at the threshold. And inside darkness. I will need to make my way blindly, to wind my vision up to another function.
Something comes to me or am I going to it? And always trembling. I am scared to go into this other time, I don’t know what of me to leave behind and what to take along.
The passage is a rupture. What ought to break?
There: without familiarity, without recognition. For this movement I need to swallow myself, to forget myself in contemporaneousness.
To gain a bit of time yet before I see what is behind the door. I just now decided to open my eyes onto this unmanifest. The room does not offer me shelter. It is essentially inhospitable. For it to be inhabited the narrator must himself facilitate entry into the story.
Here: I am contained in something which I am not myself. I am contained in space and in time. It is unbearable not to be contained in space and time. Am I responsible for finding my place in the house?
For this journey I call up a companion:
So then, let it be a distant relative with Altscheimer’s, dead for decades, white head with thick, intractable hair, eighty something years of age, he appears behind the wall of the courtyard, looks in with a timid smile, does not recognize me but is embarrassed to ask who are you, maybe he wants to ask who am I? Besides, it is common here to put that question to you “who am I” they ask you on sight, as a memory test. His brother dead, his nephew dead, we are not children.
So he stays put behind the wall, he courteously says good evening, hesitating, every time starts the acquaintance from scratch, starts time from the beginning of time.
First love, countryside, 1932.
Love in the empty land.
Description of country by British writer, May 1932, Wolf, Virginia:
This then, is a land so ancient that it is like wandering in the fields of the moon. Life is receding. The living, these worn down, for ever travelling, cannot master it any longer. It is too bare too stony, precipitous for them. We met them always on the high mountain passes padding along beside their donkeys, so small, existing so painfully, always marching in search of some herb, some root, mastered by the vast distances, unable to do more than dig their heels in in the rock. Such solitude as they must know, under the sun, under the snow, such dependence on themselves to clothe & feed themselves through the splendid summer days… The centuries have left no trace. There is no 18th 16th, 15th century all in layers…—nothing between them & 300 B.C. 300 B.C. somehow (dominated) conquered it & still holds it. So it is the country of the moon; I mean, lit by a dead sun. If one finds a bay it is deserted; so too with the hills & the valleys; not a villa, not a tea shop not a kennel anywhere; no wires, no churches, almost no graveyards.
Mountains and olive groves without a soul
Yet in the wilderness he finds
and time commences
the hidden pain, the discommoding
the twisting of nerves
the sickness and the healing
the great trepidation and the great affirmation
in the empty land
the smell of the flame
the taste of blood on the lips
his secret in the dark
his voice resounding in a frenzied song
heart beating like a clock newly started
her laughter ferrets him out
he breathes it
exposed in his every fissure starved
he opens his mouth in the countryside and sings to himself
By means of the voice he exits himself and as he turns to look now behind the wall he sees himself indeed singing sees his open mouth the entry and exiting of his breath. He embraces the mule’s velvet head and it pulls impatiently away and neighs, he observes from up close the twitiching of its flesh. What he embraces is her and her laughter. His secret. Licking his lips he tastes his own taste. A birth. In a similar way now, hesitant, not knowing where, who, strange and familiar, he comes with me.
I have been at the threshold for a long time, at the meeting which would be impossible without the poem. I am standing at the doorway and start up some knitting, some handiwork, I need something to do while I’m here, time does not pass without action so it needs to be helped along with some form of activity.
Does time spread? Does it get added? Does it thin out? If I think of time as space, do I maybe wander in a landscape that keeps expanding? Am I complicated and voluminous like a book? Can what was scoured maybe be reinhabited?
I don’t want to enter the room of time. There are places for things there except nothing is in its place. I don’t know if the room suggests that there used to be something here once. Or has it been like this forever?
Waiting, that is, to be inhabited by something?
Then it would quake with the anxiety of anticipation. But it does not.
Quiet here with no anxiety. Here the open-closed. Like there was neither a content nor does it look forward to a future fulfillment. What then?
The room simply being traversed
Performing the opening up
Filing the possible finds inside the room
The cleaning, the emptying of the room and the eradication of its traces
Training in loss
The fruitless action of viewing
Playing at the threshold, I am sitting on a mat and I am calling a virtual cat from a photograph decades old.
The cat and the old man are now sitting with me.
Today—how happy today was—at the little round Byzantine Church on the slopes of Hymettus. Why cant we live for ever like this, I said to myself—A family keeps the church—middle-aged men & women, sitting in town clothes (the men) with overcoats & gold rings reading a paper at 3.30. Such idleness, such aimlessness I’ve never seen in England. At last the youngest, a woman, in shawl slippers & cotton dress, strolls off, climbs a ruined wall & begins to pick yellow flowers—nothing else to do.
Behind the door is the stranger who lives inside of me who knows the entries and the exits, who does the calculations. Under the crack of the door seeps the difference in temperature something cold, something old but also from the future surrounds me with its familiarity, that unknown which is mine, the untouched point I carry within me like a childbirth. I am the envoy of my time, the message I will never read is sealed in abeyance in my heart.
Something unsaid that cannot be forgotten. Am I the outcome of an equation, am I a sum total or a distillation? What is the process?
In there the confluence of colors, here the colored mat outside the door.
If only I could embrace my whole self! How to embrace what comes to me. Indeterminate though necessary, how to receive it? Behind the wall his mouth opens out to song and underneath the door seeps the soundless and wordless song of dust. Who can seal one’s ears?
So we went to the hill, all in one gulp, but it was wired off, & we therefore turned back & went on to the theatre, with its curved marble seats each cut with the name of a priest seat holder as they stick cards on the boxes at Covent Garden… & we said that Sophocles Euripides & Aristophanes must have sat here & seen—Anyhow the hills were before them, as before us. And if the 2000 years have laid a few light rubbishy stucco houses on the earth, in the way, very little has been done to damage the view—nothing solid & immense & lasting has been built. Poverty & war & misery have prevented any obliteration…
I am writing outside the door. I extend my hand to write on the surface of the paper in order to find myself where I was not present. I am a hunter and I am a supplicant before the door, I stalk and I pray. There are simultaneously two times here at the threshold. Outside noon December the 28th, a day no matter which, where/but the same day. Separated and joined this day and all the others together. Under the same roof I bring you with me because we whispered something that wasn’t properly heard, we have been strangers together, embracing like outcasts and fugitives for a moment. Life is many lives joined together and without a break you are now working, digging, observing, I am being born, I’m wringing my hands, you are getting drunk, you yell, bend over the ground, I reach for the sky with my gaze,you are singing, now I am being born, I am reading, you are digging, you are falling sick, I am falling in love, you are getting drunk, I am swimming, I am crying, you forget about me I look into your eyes you die I come close to you you reach your hand I hear your voice deeply you are singing with no sound to my ears I am looking for you.
& felt as if a knife had scraped some incrusted organ in me, for I could not find anything lacking in that agile, athletic beauty, steeped in colour, so that it was not cold, perfectly free from vulgarity, yet; old in human life, so that every inch has its wild flower, & the peasants are gentle people; & their clothes, worn & burnt, are subtly coloured, though coarse.
What is there behind the door? There is an old wardrobe with carved doors eaten by woodworm. Inside the wardrobe hangs a black umbrella and a red hand woven blanket inside some tattered plastic. There are large clay urns. If you bend over them you can feel the vertigo of containment. Rusty tools with their edge blunted long ago, also some crooked, four-legged stools, possibly for fairy tale dwarfs. Low round tables. Most things are receptacles for something else, now empty or nearly so. Wooden chests filled with dust, wood shavings, moth eaten linen, threadbare lace, fragments of fabrics and also hundreds of plastic bags hanging from the beams that contain nothing but other bags well folded and stored in case of need, crumbs and empty plastic containers, one inside the other and also straw baskets with leftovers of condiments, and other paltry paper and plastic wrappings storage of empty space for possible future use.
But what have I come here to do? I might have been a treasure hunter, even an archivist, but here nothing: void and the syntax of void. My companion has remained on the other side of the wall singing the moment of his fulfillment. And I am demented inside this room of shells, running up and down, touching them, opening them again and again, trying out rituals.
Am I an observer here or am I disturbing an order or ordering or bringing to light or transporting or destroying, displacing, perverting, some things simply dissolve on touch.
The room is not completely empty but completely full. It is the multiplication of lack and what evidence has remained intact intensifies its failure to contain something.
Including the anticipation of a content as past history or identity.
The room is empty? Might it simply be open?
Anger. Disappointment. I need more clues to take with me. Take them where? To the homeland?
It is perhaps a netherworld. The netherworld is pure interiority. A stomach which absorbs events. The pure meeting point without forms. A convergence of forms.
This then: The room is a meeting place. So small so little so empty. I am plural and I bring you with me. Here. Because I need you. All this time I am not groping and stumbling on something that isn’t there but on interiority.
I take one step inwards, inside the room’s inside where the outside disappears. Underneath the shell I swim in a space unassailed by the exile and loneliness of my skin, immeasurable and precise, without boundaries. Here the continent of events is illimitable. What might this unfeasible proximity mean? This birth into life already born? You above the courtyard wall looking at me, not knowing me, asking who am I?, and I can start your story. In front of you I am thinking of you, imagining you from very far away, so close. I touch you without intimacy from inside the soil. What is it like us being together like a country?
The text is from the book Every place, once, and completely (Melani, 2015).
The quotes in the text come from The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 4: 1931-35.