The Book of the Spoonmaker
From The Waters of Marah: Selected Prose 1973-1995, 2003
(For Tony Rudolf)
It's true I have dreams about non-existent books. The spoonmaker –
who wasn't merely a spoonmaker, but that's easy to surmise – spoke
against defining good in dependence to evil, as its opposite term. –
The room, he wrote, is a trap for flares.
I opened the door; a young woman was sitting inside the room, writing.
She looked up, astonished to see me there. I had no idea who she might
be. She and I took stock of the fact that neither of us was an orphan
and she wasn't a widow. (Nor indeed had she ever been married.) On the
other hand, we were both from a distant country.
The paintings and drawings were acknowledged to provide only limited and
fragmented documentation of a special history. I would have liked to have
thumbtacked the images to the walls and walked round them with her, one
by one; for I wanted to hear what each revealed to her. – You persist
in writing about art, when you're supposed to be writing about all manner
of other things! And your characters – they always discuss subjects
that real people hardly ever talk about! I dream of being denounced by
breakfast waiters in front of several of my friends.
From childhood: a fear of running molten metal, or the sudden din of machinery.
We threw our drinks at each other, caught up in a drunken hilarity. At
one point my friend gestured towards our host and exclaimed: I think this
guy's the Devil! The artist began to write around then over his drawings
and paintings. He'd taken the young woman round a private view of another
artist's work, loudly denouncing every exhibit with splenetic verbal pyrotechnics.
I do end up writing about art, in one sense or another, in most of my
work. In divergence, it needs to be said. – What else, she asked,
did the spoonmaker say? He said he wanted to redefine empathy in the light
of the willingness to be shaken, ruptured, self-abnegated in one's engagement
with another person. Meaning and art, he said, could be understood in
the wake of such a displacement or dispossession.
In Franck's oratorio of the Beatitudes, the despairing thinker is included
amongst those who mourn, together with the orphan, the widow and the stranger.
The procession of figures was seen as through tinted glass, the colours
shifting between one portion of glass and the next. Locutions were summoned
and dissolved by grief. We'd taken the steep path that led up the hill
to the castle; my friend insisting upon photographing me at various points
along the way. When we were coming back down, I was overtaken by a dizzying,
sickening impulse to throw myself from the hillside into the sea below.
My friend and I went in search of him and found him in bed, lost to a
blissful drunken sleep. No amount of talking, shouting, prodding or shoulder
shaking served to rouse him. The door wouldn't open to our tugging and
pushing; and the keys I found in a leather jacket by the bed didn't fit
the lock. (When my friend returned from searching the rest of the boat,
he informed me that it was his own jacket.) Finally, when we were close
to giving up, my friend discovered that the door opened by sliding sideways.
...yellow, blood-coloured, violet, water-coloured, and greyish-black.
Walking on the bridge at midnight, we found ourselves overtaken by shouts
and exploding lights and the noise of glass being broken. The young woman's
hand on my arm was the single locus of revocation.
Avenues of ivy-covered trees between the long rows of gravestones; pebbles
placed on the graves, in remembrance. By divergence: the need, the spoonmaker
wrote, to be emptied of oneself. In transverse imitation of the divine
exemplar. The anagogical is a limit that presupposes supplementary levels,
he also wrote.