December 26, 2008
by Cathy Borders
Sex and philosophy have never stopped interchanging their gravity, but sex cares nothing for philosophy.
It is assigned to the body alone.
Supposing there is a real way to read this, a true way, a perfect way, it would be difficult to know if you had already read it that way.
She doesn’t inhale her cigarettes as deeply as he does, smoking as if she doesn’t want to, and yet she lights up more frequently.
“Her eyes stop traffic. They go from green to red, without the cautionary yellow.”
“I wish I could be more like her.”
All he could think of was how she obsessively plucked her eyebrows.
Stormy weather… since my man and I ain’t together… keeps raining all the time… all the time.
Her wedding dressing is covered in blood, “it must have been an arranged marriage,” she says, but he’s busy jumping back and forth between the two Fridas, following the vein connecting them, the lack of certain breasts, those terrifying scissors.
They suffer from nonconsolation.
Philosophy was born with anxiety, with questions, with insomnia, and from the depths of time we have been seeking consolation within the depths of the night.
She clutched his arm like a monkey, wishing she could hold on with her feet as well, as he led her down the alley and into the next bar, this one was much quieter, “easier on his temples” he said.
With her knees on the ground, snow and mud and sleet soaking through her jeans, she searched for her earring, which was nothing more than a simple wooden circle, with the blue light from her cell phone.
“To be free of hypercivilization, to be able to throw out my television, and hear music like I’ve never heard before,” he said to her as she looked for an earring that reminded her of her father.
In the first season of The Muppet Show, Wayne and Wanda tried to sing the song, but as with most of their attempts to perform, the duet ends with slapstick violence.
Cant’ keep my poor legs together…
Two cats crawled into her lap as he spoke to her, and as she warmed her fingers in their fur he got the vague sense that she wasn’t paying him any attention.
They preferred to meet at the only park in town that wasn’t outclassed by plastic, and she would wait on the swings, twirling the metal chains, staring up at the towering rocketship completely devoid of children because it was nearly two in the morning.
“Wagner has nothing to do with me,” he says, but she doesn’t agree.
He brought her a sandwich from the deli (ham, cheese, onion, no mayo) and upon his handing it to her she burst into tears, and this made him feel like an asshole.
“You are like Wagner, heavy with a light touch- he brings out your feminine side,” she says.
On the bed, listening to Wagner, looking at Le Due Frida, thinking about Trotsky, smoking cigarettes.
November 28, 2008
by Lily and Cathy
November 25, 2008
by Cathy Borders
Our Father, who ar(en’)t in Heaven.
God? Are you there God? It’s me, D.M.
Wait…. Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been….three-no-four years since my last confession. I’m not sure I needed that, I’m not sure I’m confessing. I’m scared. This is what I do when I’m scared. But I haven’t been scared in a while, well, not scared enough to do this. I mean, I haven’t been alone and scared, and without Xanax, in a while. But I feel like I can’t ask you for anything unless I confess. And there are loads of things I feel bad about. Shit.…
Loads. I feel bad talking to you. I don’t really believe in you. I’ve always been told you’re there, just there, here, all the time. At first I accepted it. Why not? But then, as I got older, studied, thought about some things, the probability of you seemed less likely. Now I feel pathetic. Like this is a return to you, tail between my legs, and I know I’m not really returning. I don’t even know what I’m returning to. I can’t imagine you. I can, but it’s not you. It’s that eyeless, foreheadless, image of you from the white beard down, in a white robe, being you, on a cloud, in the clouds, with gold tassels and Birkenstocks. It’s a cartoon rendition of you. But I don’t think things were always this way. At some point, very, very early on I melded you with my father. Yeah.…it was that scolding thing, and that the throwing me into Hell thing. But then Daddy stopped scolding me. I grew up. Now I can’t really get into trouble with him. And I realized I can’t with you either, (well not with you now) just myself. I mean, the Super Ego and all…. I never liked that image of you, as my father, or as a partially decapitated cartoon. I started believing all religions were one. You had many personalities, many faces, but it’s hard to talk to you as a Siamese twin, well, multiply that by ten, or something. It’s best to picture you headless, since I guess it’s a sin to give you a face, because you’re all faces, but of course I give you my father’s. He kind of looks like me, and of course, I’m supposed to want to fuck him, not consciously, Electra Complex, and since I can’t do that, or acquire a penis, I want a baby. But that’s neither here nor there, really, it just explains the desire to turn you into my father. Because you’re supposed to penetrate me right? Whisper sweet nothings into my ear and impregnate me? How come you don’t touch people anymore? Reveal yourself? Burn a bush?
Shit. I’m getting hostile. I didn’t mean that. I really wanted to talk. I’m frightened. It’s just hard when I don’t know who I’m talking to, and I can’t talk to my father right now. Which isn’t the reason I’m talking to you. I guess I could call him, but it’s very late, and I know he’s sleeping. I can’t call anyone right now. Hence….
I’m blanking out. I feel guilty. I’ve been silently saying this all along, silently thinking it, but I know you can hear me. I know you can hear my thoughts. Who prays out loud anyway?
There is nothing here. Nothing at all. I’m
lying, I’m sure you know. Let me collect my thoughts. Wait. Let me put them into words.
November 18, 2008
by Cathy Borders
Berio’s Sinfonia, third movement.
This piece is Beckett’s Unnamable constructed on the backbone of the third movement, the swinging scherzo, of Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony, the “Resurrection” Symphony, with numerous quotes from other pieces; most notably Claude Debussy’s La Mer, Maurice Ravel, La Valse, and Igor Stravinsky’s The Right of Spring. Eight different voices site quotations from Beckett, almost entirely from the first page of the Unnamable, and a few other fragments from Joyce, Claude Levi-Strauss, Berio’s own diary, and some other things. In this way, these familiar objects and faces, set in a new perspective, context and light, unexpectedly take on a new meaning. The combination and unification of musical characters that are foreign to each other is probably the main driving force behind this third part of Sinfonia, a meditation on a Mahlerian “objet trouvé.” When asked to explain the presence of Mahler’s scherzo in Sinfonia, Berio replied with the image of a river running through a constantly changing landscape, disappearing from time to time underground, only to emerge later totally transformed. He says, “Its course is at times perfectly apparent, at others hard to perceive, sometimes it takes on a totally recognizable form, at others it is made up of a multitude of tiny details lost in the surrounding forest of musical presences.”
Many of the spoken excerpts involve water, just as the “speaker” in the Unnamable considers his space an island. And Mahler’s thematic material of the third movement comes directly from Mahler’s previous opus, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, The Youth’s Magic Horn, specifically the 6th section entitled St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes, which is about a man speaking to the sea, particularly to fishes, who do not hear him. “The crabs go backwards, the cod fish stay fat, the carp gorge a lot, the sermon’s forgotten. The sermon was a success, they stay as they were.” Fish do not understand language, or rather St. Anthony’s words are empty to the fish, his audience. He, in a way, said nothing.
This is what Berio is trying to capture, this, and Beckett’s schizophrenic, or split-personality over-lapping “discourse”.
The listener experiences an almost failure to understand, which is essential to both this piece and the Unnamable. Berio is sticking other things, layering other things, on top of the Unnamable, or he is placing Beckett’s words on top of a distortion of Mahler. Everything he’s combined in this piece, has been cut up, reorganized, pasted back together, in a word, disfigured. Berio is not translating Beckett’s work, but collaging it.
My criticism lies in what was discussed last week, where actors act too much, and here, the voices give too much power to Beckett’s words, too much inflection and emotion. Because the Unnamable is a written text, the inflections aren’t meant to be heard, the reader is entirely responsible for the translating. There is a sort of flat, monotone repetition that is impossible to be read aloud without destroying its itness. In an ironic way, the Unnamable ceases to be once it is uttered, part of its essence is to remain silent after all.
Bion and Beckett. Or, how, Beckett Became Beckett by Abandoning Beckett.
Passages, and notes from Beckett and Bion by Kevin Connor.
Samuel Beckett and Wilfred Bion. 1934. Beckett was 27, Bion was 6 years his senior.
Beckett left Bion in 1935 and completed Murphy.
It has been said that these two were “imaginary twins” because they were both concerned with the possibilities of understanding and communication against the background of psychotic denials of meaning and human communication.
The originality of Beckett’s narrative writing derives from the attempt (unacknowledged and probably unconscious) to transpose into writing the route, rhythm, style, form and movement of a psychoanalytic process in the course of its long series of successive sessions, with all the recoils, repetitions, resistances, denials, breaks and digressions that are the conditions of any progression.
We may say of Beckett’s analysis perhaps what Bion says of the material uncovered by analysis: “In the analysis we are confronted not so much with a static situation that permits leisurely study, but with a catastrophe that remains at one and the same moment actively vital and yet incapable of resolution into quiescence.” In other words, the repetition of trauma. Usually because one cannot understand their own death, or birth. So in order to understand one repeats these traumas, or traumatic images as a mechanism of coping, but really, just reliving.
Traditional psychoanalysis functions like a nineteenth-century inheritance plot, in which the forward movement of the narrative is defined by the desire to retrieve the past, and this forward movement culminates and concludes with the reappearance of that past, the kind of analysis proposed by Bion would inhabit the looped, interrupted, convoluted duration of the modernist or postmodernist text, in the form represented by Beckett’s Trilogy.
While Beckett was writing the Trilogy, Bion was working on his Attack on Linking of the second “psychotic phase.” Both works explore the experiences of negation and negativity. Bion reports on patients who display in their attitude towards the analyst and the analytic session a hostile inability to tolerate the possibility of emotional links. The essay begins with taking the “phantasied attacks on the breast as the prototype of all attacks on objects that serve as a link and projective identification as the mechanism employed by the psyche to dispose of ego fragments produced by its destructiveness.”
Under these circumstances, the failure of the link constituted by projective identification then gives way to an angry denial of the link by the patient. Because the mechanism of splitting keeps open the possibility of a relation to what is split off, it is the activity of splitting that is thus itself denied. This can only take place through the primitive process of the original splitting.
In The Unnamable, this process of disidentification becomes both more urgent and paradoxical. The speaker begins by claiming that he will do without projective identifications’ imminent extinction: “All these Murphys, Molloys and Malones do not fool me…They never suffered my pains, their pains are nothing, compared to mine, a mere tittle of mine, the tittle I thought I could put from me, in order to witness it. Let them be gone now, them and all the others, those I have used and those I have not used, give me back the pains I lent them and vanish, from my life, my memory, my terrors and shames.” 305.
The speaker discovers that to dissolve, or attempt to dissolve these phantoms, is to reintroject them. The analyst is involved in this process since he is called upon to play the part of the mother prepared to introject the negativity projected into her by the anxious child. If the mother comes under attack so does the analyst, and the process of analysis itself. The particular form which this attack often takes, Bion suggests, is an attack on language as the medium of symbolic and cognitive linking.
The possibility that Beckett’s own discontinuation of his analysis was associated with an attack upon language is suggested in a letter he wrote to Axel Kaun months later: “It is indeed becoming more and more difficult, even senseless, for me to write an official English. And more and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the Nothingness) behind it. Grammar and style. To me they have become as irrelevant as a Victorian bathing suit or the imperturbability of a true gentleman. A mask. Let us hope the time will come, thank God that in certain circles it has already come, when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute. To bore one hole after another in it, until what lurks behind it – be it something or nothing – begins to seep through; I cannot imagine a higher goal for a writer today.”
The struggle against language is identified with a struggle against a series of mysteriously oppressing tyrants, whose motivation appears always to be to force a coherent ego or human nature upon the speaker of Beckett’s fictions. These figures begin Molloy, to the one who demands Molloy’s narrative, and progress through to the tyrannical Youdi and his agent Gaber, who extort Moran’s report; and harden at last into the figure of Basil/Manhood and the “college” of tyrants which the speaker in The Unnamable evokes at various points through his monologue.
He then turns on, and others (splits) his own body. He represents his language in bodily emissions, he grounds himself in the muck of mammalian existence. Bion sees such processes or phantasms in psychotic patients as an intensified form of splitting, in which undesired or uncontainable feelings and ideas are not so much fragmented as pulverized. All abjections become bad. For the speaker in The Unnamable the process of logorrhoeic outpouring is the reflex of a process of unwilled introjection.
The terms of Beckett’s fictional verbal-corporeal economy in The Unnamable perhaps sums up some of the features of his own psychosomatic suffering, or the sufferings he was persuaded to see as such. These boils, cysts, and dermatological lesions led Beckett to seek psychoanalysis, they also suggest the importance of the relations between contained and container. A Bionian interpretation would suggest that the pulverization and moralization of the ejected contents of the psyche seek a form or receptacle. It’s as if Beckett’s psyche collided with his body, and this kind of representation excited Beckett, as is apparent with his grotesque characters in the Trilogy.
As a text full of grotesque bodies, it is uncertain whether or not “the speaker” truly is alone, trapped inside his mother’s womb, or speaking with two even more grotesque figures. What is certain is that “the speaker” is at the heart of the narrative, and that whether or not these creatures (Manhood and Worm) are real or imaginary, he is never alone because he has othered his own body.
I think, the solipsism of the Trilogy derives its energy from alterity, its otherness. The aggressive purging of the other from the self reveals that the self will never glimpse or grasp itself except through the openings of its inauthentic others. “The battle of the soliloquy” as Beckett described it, is a battle with and against these others, a speaking to oneself via their speech. Like psychoanalysis, it demonstrates “How little one is at one with oneself” (in Moran’s words) as both Beckett’s and Bion’s final works show, it is a battle that is played and won, or successfully lost, but only and always in company.
Late in the analysis, Bion suggested to Beckett that he attend a series of lectures being given at the Tavistock by C.G. Jung. In the lecture, Jung spoke of the mechanisms of splitting and dissociation within neurosis and psychosis. There he told the story of a young girl afflicted by premonitions of death who, Jung said, had never properly been born. This haunted and fascinated Beckett.
The term comes from “Evasion by Evacuation” by Melanie Klein: projective identification’, which Bion defines as “a splitting off by the patient of part of his personality and a projection of it into the object where it becomes installed, sometimes as a persecutor, leaving the psyche from which it has been split off correspondingly impoverished.”
October 10, 2008
by Cathy Borders
Nora and Todd are lying in bed. Their legs, French braided. His arms are around her, meaning she is lying on his right arm, cutting off his circulation, and his left arm clung ever tighter to her back, pulling her in to him, as close as they could be with delicate layers of fabric between them.
They are in the dark. Her eyes are closed, as are his. He needs these moments. He calls them a “recharging.” She often pushes him away. Because it is in these moments she feels farthest away from him. Unlike sex, where their consciousnesses could transcend their bodies, and unlike deep, philosophical conversations where she saw their words transcend their bodies (to dance, intertwine, make love overhead), in these moments of still hugging and holding she feels infinity between him and her.
When she first opens her eyes he appears to her at the far end of a tunnel. Gradually, as her eyes adjust to the light, he comes closer, advances, intensifies. But before the pin prick of light, before she opens her eyes, and the nano seconds when her lids flitter open, the gulf, the blackness between them is a materialization (as much as blackness can be) of the distance between them. She may know exactly how he takes his coffee, the things he thinks of when he sees a dog or a crucifix, but she cannot know what his anxiety feels like, how it approaches. He will never know the extent of her headaches, what pain feels like to her. And she cannot know what her headaches feel like to him, how he imagines them.
When he is not there she feels the presence of his absence. She conjures him, the qualities of him that she likes, into a fantasy. She can fill her mind with him, but she knows it is not him, this is how she feels the presence of his absence. The gaze of Todd is missing. She has nothing to be ashamed of with him gone, nothing to hide, nothing to try and articulate. When he is gone and it is just him and her within her mind, it is him as she has created him. It is him as she understands him. Him as she has translated him.
But here, in his arms, pressed against his chest, smelling him (what he cannot smell), she is so far away. Farther than a dream, farther than her own consciousness, her own ego. Already in between their words, their utterances, he must translate her sentence, her thought, and she cannot see this internal action. She can never walk through its fluctuating terrains. And yet he holds her, thinks their hearts are beating as one, thinks they are collapsing time and space together, on this bed.
And with this she cries. He thinks she is crying sweet tears of happiness. He sees her as a tender object, pondering temporality, full of love for him. She cannot tell him how absent she feels, how empty and alone. She smiles gingerly, he misinterprets, begins fumbling for her buttons, fondling her breasts. It does not take long for lust to erase this nebulous feeling of the void. The never satisfied void of physical desire is easier to deal with.
October 4, 2008
by Cathy Borders
The Grim Reaper sits down between a couple at a coffee shop; they don’t notice him.
Girl: “Don’t look at me like that.”
Boy: “Well, stop crying. Everyone will think I’m an asshole.”
Girl: “No one will think you’re an asshole.”
Boy: “The one is made up of all things and all things stem from the one.”
Girl: “Don’t get dogmatic on me.”
Boy: “Don’t tell me no one’s looking at me.”
Girl: “I just don’t want you looking at me like that.”
Boy: “Like what?”
The Grim Reaper looks at his watch, and then takes a sip of coffee.
Girl: “Like you lost me.”
Boy: “I did lose you. Are you mental? We broke up.”
Girl: “Kind of. There are various categories of together.”
Boy: “You knew what this was.”
She begins to cry. The Grim Reaper gets up from the table and goes to get another packet of sugar and a doughnut. Except for some intermittent sighs, the couple remains silent until he sits down.
Girl: “I’ve been suicidal.” The Grim Reaper’s black face perks up at this.
Boy: “But not entirely.” The Grim Reaper lends his hand for a high-five, but the boy does not see him.
Girl: “I like living on the edge.”
Boy: “What’d ya use?”
Girls: “Mainly pills, but I think I’ll try a razor next time.”
Boy: “Oh, the possibility of impossibility.”
Girl: “No, the other way around.”
Boy: “You were always ‘being towards death.’”
Girl: “Is that why you broke up with me? I’m too passive?”
Boy: “Stop playing semantic games.”
Girl: “Where is the dividing line between being and language?”
The Grim Reaper faux coughs and then blows on his knuckles before shining the breast pocket of his black cloak.
Boy: “We should stop sleeping together.”
Girl: “Even if we do stop sleeping together we won’t really stop sleeping together.”
Boy: “You will eventually start sleeping with someone else. And then you will eventually forget me. Well, maybe not me, but my smell, my circumlocutions.”
Girl: “Perhaps. But I’m not interested in annihilating you at this moment.”
Boy: “You just did.”
Girl: “Did what?”
Boy: “Annihilate me.”
Girl: “I can’t annihilate you. Words cannot describe my feelings for you.”
Boy: “I figured.”
The Grim Reaper puts his boney hand to his invisible forehead.
Girl: “I think about you in two ways.”
Boy: “Or two of you think about me.”
Girl: “I’ll have to think about that.”
Boy: “I think I should go.”
Girl: “I’ll go. But don’t watch me leave.”
Boy: “Fine. But don’t say I never did anything for you.”
The girl gets up to leave. She packs her things, and the Grim Reaper escorts her home. The boy does not look at her as she does any of these things.
September 30, 2008
by Cathy Borders
As they did the night before, as they do every night, the ants have returned. I have sat near the hole which they march out of, and one by one squished their conga line with the pad of my finger. I have sucked up whole families with the vacuum cleaner and taped the hungry mouth of the hose shut. Doing a lezginka, I have slaughtered thousands with the soles of my boots. And still, they return.
These idiotic ants, possibly particular only to Australia, move in single-file curved lines towards the fuse box, where they suck at the wires, getting high on electricity. I have to remove the carcasses with a wooden stick from the electrical box every morning. I would leave them there, as a warning (like a head on a pike), or to help aide them in their malfunctioning common sensibilities, but I’m afraid they’ll catch fire. At least it’s gratifying to disembowel the leviathan, to suck out the shiny black bodies from the colorful wires.
Last night I captured one and placed him inside my ashtray where he desperately, and with futility, tried scaling the convex glass walls. I could not decide whether it would be more merciful to kill this one ant, my prisoner, or let him return to his pack, where I would, almost undoubtedly, kill him later.
But I’m in no mood for boots tonight. I’m in no mood for anything. How like that tortured ant I am, here, suspended in the desert, except my walls are vast, vast horizontal expansions of red sand, with the occasional hopping marsupials as my chimerical jailers.
“All right spiders…I need you…” I say aloud. I do need them. Without them my cottage would be overrun by clouds of flying insects, the useless, irritating kind, the kinds that fly into your mouth, nose and ears, the nipping kind. I hate them all, especially the flies, and especially the ants. I walk over to the left corner, near the standing lamp. Four spiders have spun an expansive web together. There is only one ant in their web. “This is unacceptable!” I threaten to vacuum them as well if they don’t get to work. This one-sided conversation is tedious, usual. It’s the same with all the spiders; the Huntsman, the Wolf, the ones with the domino bodies and bright orange legs. “Please…I implore you…”
I go to the bathroom. There’s a new spider in the corner, its pathetic silk web is made entirely out of ants, meaning it had no reason for a web, meaning its web is a pile. I like the red diamond stripe across her bulbous black body, which looks as if it would secrete green goo when squeezed. Its vinyl legs are perched atop at least 44 ants. I could kiss it. “Where and how can I obtain more of you?” At this I raise my voice for all to hear, “Why can’t the rest of you be more like…Charlotte?”
I’m telling this story to Carey over Scrabble. I’m speaking slowly. We have a thick translation curtain between us. I can’t understand half of what he says. His signs are different from mine. His brain is puffy from years of copious alcohol consumption, and he eats very little, picking at kumquats and sucking on the salt water Pigface leaves. His leathery face and bloated stories remind me of salt. I am methodically picking at a kumquat, more interested in the wooden brain in the middle, then the small nuggets of savory fruit.
He stops listening to me and walks into the dunny. “You beauty! Get this fucker out of here!…one ripe bloody way to the hospital she is.”