It’s always been awhile.
Two cassette releases of which I am a small part (one a dirty-double, beautifully letterpressed and presented by Ben Owen): ‘wild horses think of nothing else the sea – tape readings’ (wayward and itinerant readings of a walking walking walking walking walking book I wrote, by Antoine Beuger, Holly Pester, Michael Pisaro, Sally Ann McIntyre, Jeph Jerman, Daniela Cascella, and Bruno Guastalla), & a split release with the inimitable Mark So, are both now available on the Winds Measure Bandcamp page.
Close Eclogues on Tiptoe
Patrick Farmer (2018)
£10 + postage (£2 UK/EU £4 international)
Limited edition of 100
Risograph print; 188 pp; soft cover; 203x145mm
Close Eclogues on Tiptoe is an epistolary experiment that recalls my visit to Mass, an exhibition by the artist Lotti V Closs in 2015. Drawing on the ‘character’ inherent in Closs’s sculptural practice, Close Eclogues on Tiptoe uses the work as a structural device that brings together various literary, compositional, visual, scientific, and sonic references. Moving away from the literary form of the letter as a means of drawing the sender and recipient closer, the protagonists in Close Eclogues on Tiptoe experience a division or estrangement, a void that allows them to stand back from themselves and witness their own disappearance.
My long-standing research into listening is at the forefront of this writing. Following an accident in 2008 which caused long-term hearing loss, tinnitus, autophony and dehiscence, I’ve been working across various disciplines to develop an embodied sense of listening. This has led to a greater understanding of the auditory processing system of the human body and an awareness of myself as a dis-placed body in the landscape. This dispersion has led to the realisation that there is no one way of listening that holds prevalence over another, a conception of listening interwoven throughout Close Eclogues on Tiptoe.
Marcel Proust wrote that the past is somewhere beyond the reach of the intellect, and unmistakeably present in some material object (or the sensation which such an object arouses in us), though we have no idea which one it is. As for that object, it depends entirely on chance whether we come upon it before we die or whether we never encounter it.
This is essentially Close Eclogues on Tiptoe. It revolves around two nameless, sexless protagonists attempting to relive their life together. Through a series of letters they begin to unfold shared and fragmented memories, often illusory, that begin and end with their visit to an exhibition, Mass, by lotti V Closs, the in-between, the composite third term of their combined memory and amnesia. Each object, or character, in the exhibition serves as an edge on which to stand, leap, and fall from this third term, once again, into the secret history of the dividing line.
I still find the objects in Mass to be enigmas. Visiting the exhibition was indeed the birth, so to speak, of the book, and yet I feel they are barely touched upon, in a laconic conventional sense, in the book, there’s a strange relationship between the two distanced protagonists, they compose and receive their memories of the sculptural characters to bring them closer and yet they discard the memories as soon as they can hear each other, falling into old traps and patterns.
You I address though you are absent.
Close Eclogues on Tiptoe Vol 1 will be out any day now, I can hear these sentences ringing back into each other’s organs. It feels like so much time has passed since I visited Mass, a show by Lotti V Closs that began all this without my knowing; since Joseph Clayton Mills sent me his Table series of compositions, many of which provide the fascia of Eclogues… since I first read Guy Davenport’s Death of Picasso, since I encountered Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Asterion’, Gertrude Stein’s bottom nature, John Ruskin’s paper nautilus, Anne Carson’s Geryon, the correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore, the smell of mint and sage in the morning…
All of this, particularly in relation to collapsed time and diffuse scale, those oft egregious percepts that can cause so much aggravation and confusion (at least when integrated with a fluctuating inability to wait patiently for things to develop as they will––I think a lot about delicate empiricism and a more modern, dare I say, form of going visiting, an enlargement of something that can only be felt not seen or heard, well, directly at least) feels now like a manifold consequence of incidence in a concentric labyrinthine abyss of inattentiveness, where one hole passes for another, leaving me to consider just how much I failed to notice or channel. Anyway, I lost the thread there. You’ll have to forgive me, as I’m currently in the midst of pleurisy, and so it’s hard to bend down and pick it up again. But as I write this the ravens are vociferating like soft bubbles of yellow lichen.
I’m lucky enough to have the day, pretty much, to go over the copious notes that made me, the notes that taste like fennel and smell like petrichor, a series of scribbles that resemble ions before being saddled with Quixote’s rump. I hope anyone who reads this will forgive my rumbles of egregious indulgence, in going back there… to retrieve an echo but returning echoless.
But now I remember, at the very least, that whilst living these Eclogues… a great deal of my time was spent in the waiting rooms of various Ear Nose and Throat hospitals around the country, body buried in books so as to avoid the tv screens slowly relaying their information about auditory health and grommets, mucus build ups and phantom signals.
It seems foolish to build a platform in order to declare such statements, but at this moment I remember these Eclogues…, themselves desperate attempts at recollection, or relocation, hence the echoless, were spawned from Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin. There are many more parents of course, but I can’t seem to shed images of Benjamin on a boat, Arendt surrounded by plants, soft pitches of circling contentions––where are we when we think? What do we want from what we hear? Thoughtlessness, inner deafness, corporeal listening, an echo as both a dead ear and a resonance sustained long beyond its decay, an understanding of of disturbance learnt from Anna Tsing, a relationship, a society, built on neither harmony nor conquest. Benjamin pushes further into this mass where efforts of the intellect are seemingly futile and the past is unmistakeably present in some material thing, in a chance encounter, objective or otherwise. In this way the image the protagonists form of themselves is a sound that knows its own atoms, atoms that consciously contort their simulacra, which translates not only to the Greek word eidôla but also phantasmata. The material emanation of bodies that are merely a film of atoms which form the totality of the world; the shades of the dead; the life beneath cloud shadows. There are only atoms and every sensation is a clashing, a rubbing, a sudden contact, mute, senseless.
This material thing, now limited to the promptings of attentiveness, formerly floating in the abeyance of disparate signals that accrued beyond notice, was encountered at the Syson Gallery in Nottingham. A good friend of mine had come to visit for the day and as ever we poked our beaks among the rotifers of art galleries. Mass, by Closs, felt like it had always been, there. Each character in the exhibition was grafted with adumbrative cells of potential that photosynthesised the Eclogues… an innate reaction that is almost more important than the reception of stimuli, striving to preserve the special forces of conversion of energy operating in it against the effects of the excessive energies of the external world – effects which tend toward an equalisation of potential and hence towards destruction – turning each incident into a moment that has been lived.
Each page of the book is a waste of sugars rising toward a surface tension. The protagonists of the book live vicariously and defeatedly through each other only by recollecting their time together so only that which has not been experienced consciously and explicitly, not happening to the subject as experience, makes it onto the page. Each character of Mass acts as a Herm of misplaced and frustrated desire, flecked with possibility without purpose.
Shapeless, they breed themselves in the materials of exhibition and the ways in which they misremember and displace their bodies in relation, lose their wings as they burrow and die a slow death on every page that is a declaration of a subconsciously conjoined phenomenological doubt that they don’t witness anything except in agnosis. What they understand of their life together is very little compared to their ignorance of its meaning. The greater their sensibility, the sharper their skepticism.
Eclogues… is an epistolary experiment. Usually we see letters as a means of drawing closer to the other, of communicating, but what the protagonists experience is a division or estrangement, a distancing that allows them also to stand back from themselves, to witness their own disappearance.
There is something fundamentally ambiguous in the epistolary impulse, one untiringly calls on the other only to be dismissed again and again.
Their lives ‘after’ each other are in many ways manifestations in narrative form of Ovid’s letters in his Tristia. They live each other, though why is never stated, and for the rest of their lives roam from one place to another, from toilet to bed to toilet. Through their letters they are seeking the same happiness they feel they once had, though if it did exist, they didn’t know it then.
Time has changed them into what they think they were through an awareness of precisely that, though what they possibly were bears little resemblance to anything other than what they are now. They have never found joy again with any others, though it is not joy they miss, it is each other.
Images: Edvard Munch, Clay Bell and Poppies, Collage of Mass by Patrick Farmer, Brain scan from Close Eclogues on Tiptoe, Slide by Lotti V Closs, Two Crura by Patrick Farmer.
Matt Davis has very kindly included some of my field recordings, honeybees and pondweed as far as I’m aware, for this intriguing event in Bristol.