Excerpt from Ghosts

March 11, 2010

posted by caroline picard

I’ve been reading this fantastic book lately, very small and modest looking–the book centers on a family living in a high-rise under construction. There are ghosts in this high-rise, although they inhabit the book as ghosts might inhabit a room, being more of a presence in the work than the focus itself. As far as I can tell the book is about architecture, it’s about the literal architecture of a building not-yet-finished, it’s about the architecture of a family, the architecture of society and the gendered expectations there in, the architecture of the body, of class and culture, architecture vs expat. Most of that comes to life in a more or less straight-fiction narrative, however in the middle of the book Patri, a (young?i think) adolescent girl falls asleep during siesta. Aira makes this incredible foray into different cultures, describing the various ways that human beings physically organize their communities and how that organization reflects on the priorities or logic of that culture. It’s as thought suddenly, through the sleeping girl, the narrator is loosed to leap up into the sky, obtain a faraway view and, with Romantic speculation, examine humanity as a whole, thereby leaving the family behind. A great book–

What follows is an excerpt from Ghosts, a book by Cesar Aira

But the Australians, what do the Austrlians do? How do they structure their landscape? For a start they postulate a prime builder, whose work they presume only to interpret: the mythical animal who was active in the “dreamtime,” that is, a primal era, beyond verification, as the name indicates. A time of sleep. The visible landscape is an effect of causes that are to be found in the dreamtime. For example the snake that dragged itself over this plain creating these undulations, etc. etc. These “intellectual dandies,” these “spinsters,” these curious Aborigines make sure their eyes are closed while events that take place, which allows them to see places as records of event. But what they see is a kind of dream, and they wake into a reverie, since the real story (the snake, not the hills) happened while they were asleep.

The dreamtime, as giver of meaning or guarantor of the stability of meanings, is the equivalent of language. But why did the Australian Aborigines need an equivalent? Didn’t they already have languages? Maybe they also wanted a hieroglyphic scripts, like the Egyptians, and they made it from the ground under their feet.

The elements of Australian geography are as simple as they are effective: the point and the line, that’s it. As the Aborigines proceed over plains and through forests, the point and the line are represented by the halt and the journey. With a line and a point, a line that passes through many points in the course of a year, frequently changing direction, they trace out a vast drawing, the representation of destiny. But there is something very special going on here: via the point, the precise point in space, the nomads can pass through to the other side, like a dressmaker’s pin or needle, through to the side of dreaming, which changes the nature of the line: the hunting or gathering route becomes a mythic itinerary. Which adds a third dimension to the drawing of destiny. But the passage through the point is happening all the time, since no point is specially priviledged (not even waterholes–contrary to the anthropologists’ initial assumptions–although they serve as models for the points of passage, which can, by rights, be found anywhere, at any point along the line), so the food-gathering route is always taking on a mythical significance and vice versa. There is something dreamlike about the points that provide a view of the other side, but they belong not so much to the dreamtime as to dream work. The nomads enter the dreamtime not by setting off on some extraordinary, dangerous voyage, but through their everyday, ambulatory movement.

In Patri’s dream the building on the Call José Bonifacio was under construction. Standing still yet seized by an interior, interstitial movement. Suddenly a wind, a typical dream-wind, so typical that dreams might be said to consist of it, arose and blew the building apart, reducing it to little cubes the size of dice. This was the transition to the world of cartoons. THe building was reconstructed somewhere else, in another form, its atoms recombined. Then it disintegrated again, the wind scattering its particles, one of which came to rest on Patri’s open eye, and in its microscopic interior, an entire hourse was visible, with all its rooms and furniture, its candelabras, carpets, glassware, and the little golden mill that spins in the wind from the stars.

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