Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Sky Inside

 'So that becomes how it is. They try to reach each other with words and gestures. They almost tear their arms out of their sockets, because the reach of their gesticulations is much too short. They never stop trying to throw syllables at each other, but they are extraordinarily bad at this game: they cannot catch. And so time passes, while they stoop over and hunt around for the ball...' (Note X in Rilke's Notes on the Melodies of Things, translated by Damion Searls)
 '[But] there are, in fact, moments when a person stands out from his grandeur in clarity and silence before you. These are rare festive pleasures that you never forget. You love this person from then on. In other words, you work to retrace with your own tender hands the outlines of the personality that you came to know in this hour.' (Note VII)

'[Rilke] says that each of us takes our inner world and flings it out past whatever is out there so that it constitutes the background or negative space against which the object in the world is delimited. In this metaphor, what matters is not the angle you see from but the fact that things are undefined unless they stand out against something, and what they stand out against comes from inside you.' (Damion Searls, from The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, and Dreams of Rainer Maria Rilke.)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Map and The Territory

When he was a boy, there was a topographical globe at home. Occasionally he would spin the whole world, close his eyes, and let his fingers trace journeys over a braille of landscape and sea. The sharp bump of the Himalayas, the smooth slope of the Sahara. These pregnant pauses in which he waited to decipher something, until the globe and all that it represented would fall completely still, silent. And it was here, at this point, that he would imagine trying to inhabit the distant location where his fingers had landed, a place he may or may not have heard of, but certainly never visited. There were very few frames of reference in the pre-internet age for places like Stockholm, Salamanca, and Svalsbard. Kristianstad, Kyoto, and Kent. Bethlehem, Botswana. What were the people like there? What did they dream of, and in what language? How did they feel and what did they love? It was like a passenger train coming, slowly, to a surprise halt in the middle of the night: those drowsy seconds you spend gawping out a window and spotting, in the middle-distance, the lights of houses, vague interiors; the realisation that whole other lives are always taking place, secretly, out there.
Now, with the advent of Google Maps, he finds himself late at night, doing similar things, making similar expeditions. He will randomly drop the little yellow figurine someplace on the globe and find himself hurtling down to street level in some unknown place, feeling again that old battered globe under his fingers. Still, even now, even as a man, trying to unlock something always just beyond the reach of his fingertips.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Moon Tigers

I quite like things with the word 'moon' in them, she explained, one evening. We were sitting in her kitchen, astride the kitchen counter like a couple of kids up a tree, ashing out the window and drinking iced tea. Our bare feet were in the sink, my heel between the two of hers, nuzzling the drain. It was warm in the house and felt like summer even though it was raining out. She listed them off, saying she had no idea why this should be, only that the moon invariably added mystery that wouldn't otherwise be there: Moon Palace by Paul Auster, Moon River, Moonstruck, The Moon and Sixpence, Moonlight in Vermont, Goodnight Moon, Blue Moon, Paper Moon, Pink Moon, Half Moon Bay, The Moonstone, Moonshadow by Cat Stevens, Melies's Trip to the Moon, the Moonlight Sonata, Harvest Moon, Gibous Cresent Waxing and Waning Moons, also a poem by Ted Hughes called Full Moon and Little Frieda. She thought there were more she was forgetting. Then she told me that she had just finished re-reading Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively (that same day, in the park) and recited her favourite passage which she knew off by heart now: it described the main character crushing a eucalyptus leaf in her hand, smelling it, and 'crying not in grief but in wonder that nothing is ever lost, that everything can be retrieved, that a lifetime is not linear but instant...that, inside the head, everything happens at once.'

Garry Winogrand took this.
She kicked me when I said I hadn't read it, even though I was at the time studying 20th Century Egypt for my MPhil in Anthropology. 

After that I would call her whenever there was a suitably pretty moon in the sky and have her look out the window so we could share the moment, once or twice demanding--so ecstatic was I by the moon's shape and colour hovering on the skyline--that she get out of bed, leave her boyfriend, and see what I was seeing.