From postcards to the past
Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
When I walk? Mostly it is a rushing of sky. After that day moving across the flax field with you, still tasting pears, brie in my teeth—there was a moment a few weeks after I returned home. My knees became soft levers emitting a contralto hum; hips lilac rockers, arms, golden clock hands on silicate wheels, spinning Mingus’ goodbye pork pie hat. I happened to be walking downhill toward the nearby river. I could hear it singing, like sometimes I can the sky. There was a badger friend just down the soft slope grumbling as she dug. Last year’s locust pods, sentient and attentive. The wet in the air friable. It felt like I imagine a windstorm does to a mountain, wondrous and ephemeral. I cannot stay there, but I am learning to visit. Is this walking for you?
Ms. V. von Willendorf der Gravettian
I’m sorry to have assumed upon your origins in my last postcard. It’s a peculiar failing, this assumption that where found, where from. The idea that you were on a trading mission when you came across the oolitic limestone that you used to carve your gift to me had not penetrated my ideas about our past. The idea that you worked the stone while pregnant and walking, eyes to the ground, makes such resounding sense now that you’ve said it. In a time (for me and my current human kind) where mirrors at a distance generate the rulership of the eye, your sense of multi-focal tactile perspective has all but been lost, except, of course, in some of our more experimental painters and sculptors. You can refrain from further chastisement: I can hear you laughing despite our 25 or so thousand years distance. Yes. We have learnt a few new things and we are not as primitive as we might seem to you. I hold to this. It gives me hope.
Mr. B. Spinoza
c/o Svalbard globale frøhvelv
Longyerbyen, øya Spitsbergen
Gentle Benedictus, I am glad you have found your work with seed so restorative, but what do you do in a “black box” site? I understand your personal lab on the mainland, but the sense I have at the frøhvelv, of apocalyptic expectation, wars with the roiling beauty of the archipelago. Do you still wander out to follow Rangifer taradus, or was that report for my benefit alone? I must admit that I do continue to play with the elastic that is our friendship. The wonder of your conception of the relative nature of morality, snaps against the absence of chance in your necessity. I am no abstainer from reason, but can’t you see that compassion, yes even certainty, are feelings, and we only inhabit reason as one does a cottage in the summer? What good a set of rights ordered by the state if they are reasoned through the lens of a peculiar compassionate certainty without even the barest acknowledgement that their certainty is limited to their circumstance? What can any lens specific to any human being be but peculiar? We are all the fragrant breath of our time and place. Oh, but enough. Do not disturb your luncheon with this old disputation. I will see you at mid-summer next. We can talk more of necessity’s definition.
Mr. I. Newton
Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth
Well, we’ll have to disagree. My preference for peaches remains undiminished despite, your admittedly brilliant, discourse on fluxions, their relationship to the limits of the plague sickness, and the benefit of apple orchards upon the vital essence of the human body. I admire the dedication your friend, Major Dawson, shows to you by planting an arbour of that “holy fruit”. It made me smile, as I know was your intent, to hear you speak of Adam’s fruit in that way. This “wanton Eve” makes do with the soft fuzz of the yellow fruit made dear to us in our most recent visit to the East. Still, you know I’m unlikely to come over to the dark of fluxions when individual infinitesimals are so luxuriously fertile and bright in their immeasurability. You remain a mathematician, dear. Do obsess over fluxions and fluents. I’ll stay a poet of very small numbers. Looking forward to our next trip. I wonder what Iceland will have to offer us in the way of profitable disagreement? See you there come spring, gravity willing.
Major W. Dawson
The Apple Arbour
Langcliffe Hall, nr Settle
Yorkshire Dales, Yorkshire
Dear Isaac! And you, William, how kind to tell me of his visit with you, those days under the apples! Friendship is a rare thing for him, I think. Such a mind is hard to countenance with envy being such a strong thread in the human weave—and we two, friends of his, but so far from his brilliance. And, still, not servants. How have we managed? This is our peculiar brilliance, which is something, respect him as I do, to which he cannot hope to aspire. Your village of Giggleswick is well named, I think, both for its contemporary connotations of delight; and for those of a Viking who came, saw, conquered, then farmed. Our mutual companion of furious curiosity certainly managed up to and including the conquering bit. Not at all good at farming, but hey, he has you to come to for orchard perambulations of foot and mind! Do keep me posted on any new inventions and I’ll send you a report of our upcoming Icelandic trip.
Ms. Saartjie Baartman-Khoikhoi
South Arm of the Gamtoos River
Upper Gamtoos Valley,
I was glad to hear that you moved home after those disastrous decades in the Museum of Man. Yes, I know you laughed about it. Even George’s flagrantly stupid remarks about your “appetites”, could make no headway against your feet-to-ground refusal to countenance their “opinions”. I know I’ve said this before Saartjie, but I am so glad we met in London. I’ve learnt much about my own “distinctions” (such a kind way of you to describe my madness!) by watching you. Those first steps you took coming down from the ship! Your startling beauty! You knew this, but I had to learn it. Thank you dear heart. Perhaps when I am again near your river home, we can return to our favourite game. This time, I’ll imagine a world where you are what counts as normal, and you can imagine a world built for someone like me.
By the time I’d settled into puberty, my “episodes” (later to be diagnosed as epilepsy) had taken on a new form. I called them “fast spells.” They would start with a change in texture that I could (at the outset of an episode) feel with my tongue and felt faintly like malt – the air became a little rough, bumpy. Then time split, and I experienced more than one stream concurrently. My head, lips, tongue, nose moved fast. My knees and thighs were in the slow-stream. It wasn’t difficult, moving in multiple time-streams. I could walk quite normally, think, chop veggies, dodge cars and bikes when crossing the street. These events would come, and then go.
I never did correlate fast-spells to anything environmental; I stopped having them by the time I was in my late teens. New forms of events came in their stead. Tell the truth, I kind of miss them, even though now I can slip pretty close, to what a friend calls their event-horizon. There I can talk to the still-living-through-their-words-and-human-impact. We exchange postcards.
The part of me that lives further away – into the universe’s gravity-calm regions called normalcy – loves math, philosophy, raw moments in deep cultural and human change (often studied through anthropology). Those in history that are the whirlwinds of change – people like Spinoza, Leibniz, Newton, FirstBird, Lucy Australopithecus Afarensis, Egeria the Nun, the woman who carved the Venus of Willendorf, Saartjie Baartman – they function like charging stations, and simultaneously, temporal platforms from which I participate in the system’s emergent properties.
Time-itself and time-as-we-experience-it are distinct. The second is an emergent property of the interaction between mass and time-itself; this is how I explain my fast-spells.
Matter in its relationships creates many property states. The body-form as it moves through its evolution has a teleology, that is, the body “wishes” (has a set of properties and resulting behaviours that causes it) to continue as a recognizable system. Teleology, in itself, is an emergent property; the feeling of “wishing” is another. The “platforms” (formerly known as historical figures), both remembered and not, act as jump points for system exploration. Think of them as StarGates, if you are a fan of the sci-fi franchise. But instead of new worlds, what you get to explore are nodes in the actual system, that is, temporality and materiality operating in tandem.
What do I want to do with this series?
Explore the vibrant and ongoing set of resonances that exist between my place in the greater system, and theirs. I do it mostly for myself, I suppose, and for the system itself. I suspect that like tendons, twanging the “chords” that connect me and those who are normally known as historical personages, thickens them, reinforcing their existence. Like good habits, the more you do them, the deeper they are gouged into your neurology.
I don’t mind the idea that others, readers, viewers, co-observationists and postcard writers, might also share in my temporal anomalies. Fast-spells for everyone! I can’t really share my “events”, but through art I can create another platform from which the system, simultaneously ephemeral and everlasting, can be experienced. Would more of we-who-live-at-the-moment experience the continuance of the past. But I suppose that’s selfish too. So maybe all I really want to do with my art is to explore and think things through. But that doesn’t stop others from coming along if they want.