Monday, March 30, 2020

Like anthropologists studying cosmogonic narratives

I thought about writing stuff down in a notebook for you to read one day, but you are a bad reader still. level A or B, still read everything backward or in a mess, and I have no idea when you'll finally learn to read properly, or if you ever will. So I decided to record sound instead. Also, writing is slower and reading is slower, but at the same time listening is slower than looking, which is a contradiction that cannot be explained. Anyway, I decided to record, which was faster, although I don't mind slow things. People usually like fast things. I don't know what kind of person you will be in the future, a person who likes slow things or one who likes fast things. I kind of hope you are the type of person who likes slow things, but I can't rely on that. So I made this recording and took all those pictures.
I wonder if more books shouldn't come with instructions.

Or something like artist statements. It's a common practice at art galleries, for example, to post alongside any given piece not just the title of the work and its materials, but a note about its composition — its inspiration, intention, or context. However, I dislike the layout of many of our local galleries for positioning this supplementary material such that many people gravitate to it before they see the art. I prefer to come to art cold, try to figure how I feel about it and then check the signs, to validate my interpretation, fill in the blanks, and hopefully expand my understanding.

It's rare to have this kind of reference point for works of literature. An "exhibition catalogue" of novels might be curated by an academic expert, but to know the artists' intentions, one typically must search out several secondary sources.

Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli, includes notes on the works cited. She wants to make sure we're not reading this as idiots who think she's merely name-dropping or that the allusions are decorative — they "function as intralinear markers that point to the many voices in the conversation that the book sustains with the past." She goes on to explain the echoes in the novel's structure and the threads that hold it together. She's not interested in intertextuality as a performative gesture but as a method of composition.

I was readily drawn into Lost Children Archive, and this supplementary material helps me admire the skill and craft that brought this book together. But thank goodness the notes come at the end, else I would've gone into this book believing she was an annoyingly pretentious know-it-all bent on setting herself above writers who write mere stories.
Our mothers teach us to speak, and the world teaches us to shut up.
The references, for the record, are many and varied, and not so obscure that I didn't recognize some, and introduced me to The Gates of Paradise, a novel about the Children's Crusade of 1212 consisting of two sentences (the second one being five words long, the first comprising the rest of the story), a copy of which I am now struggling to track down, by Jerzy Andrzejewski, whose name I've quite coincidentally encountered a couple of times this week in the context of him being a highly popular Polish post-WWII novelist who is sadly not so well recognized outside of his native country, despite having written Ashes and Diamonds, which Andrzej Wajda masterfully adapted for film.

Lost Children Archive starts with so many moments recollected to explain this beautiful thing of a family they've built, and the rest of the book is a roadtrip of a novel across its dissolution.

I had no trouble slipping into the car beside them, the tragedy of it all quite palpable.

It's about a sound documentarian (Pa) setting out for the Southwest on an Apache project, hunting for echoes, with family in tow. Ma is a more journalistic documentarist who is pursuing an migration crisis story in general while looking for a Mexican woman's two daughters in particular — young girls who were sent across the border to reunite with family. In the back of the car are the ten-year-old boy (his) and the five-year-old girl (hers), who are also witnessing their family fall apart while being part of it.
The children have always wanted to listen to stories about themselves within the context of us. They want to know everything about when the two of them became our children, and we all became a family. They're like anthropologists studying cosmogonic narratives, but with a touch more narcissism.
One of the lovely things about this book is that it has had, for me, the mysterious power to evoke echoes of my being, reminding me of the kind of person I once was, wanted to be, could be still. It reminded me of what it was like to be a new mother and be head over heels in love with my child, of trying to see the world through her eyes, and falling in love with the world all over again, in a grown-up way. It reminded me of Lisbon Story, which would have been my first exposure to acoustemology (my brother and I experimented with sending audio letters around the time that movie was released, but how? did we really mail each other mini cassette tapes?).

Acoustemology is a sonic way of knowing and being in the world.
Sound and space are connected in a way much deeper than we usually acknowledge. Not only do we come to know, understand, and feel our way in space through its sounds, which is the more obvious connection between the two, but we also experience space through the sounds overlaid about it.
This book is a composition of multiple texts, scraps, transcriptions, with photographs and lists. No sound, but a written record of echoes of sound. (I am reminded, at times, of Clarice Lispector's incantatory attempt in Agua Viva to write the way music is composed.) So the book itself is a kind of artefact while functioning as an archive, boxing the family members' experiences.
I suppose an archive gives you a kind of valley in which your thoughts can bounce back to you, transformed. You whisper intuitions and thoughts into the emptiness, hoping to hear something back. And sometimes, just sometimes, an echo does indeed return, a real reverberation of something, bouncing back with clarity when you've finally hit the right pitch and found the right surface.
Halfway, the book switches from Ma's perspective to the boy's. I did not at first warm to the boy's voice, but gradually it becomes fairytale-like as the children set out on their own, without breadcrumbs, avoiding danger and performing trials on an almost mythological quest.
They had walked, and swam, and hidden, and run. They had boarded trains and spent nights sleepless atop gondolas, looking up at the barren, godless sky. The trains, like beasts, drilled and scratched their way across jungles, across cities, across places difficult to name. Then, aboard this last train, they had come to this desert, where the incandescent light bent the sky into a full arch, and time had also bent back on itself. Time, in the desert, was an ongoing present tense.
The New Yorker: Writing about writing about the border crisis

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