Named Tomorrow

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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

“An idealized scene. Space as reassurance.”

August 14th, 2008

My bed is my writing table. My floor is my desk. Right now, I am sitting on the floor, cross-legged and leaning forward onto the bed to write, glancing at the many stacks of books around me, the stacks which I am sorting through and into numerous piles: books which I need access to, books which I want access to, books which I do not need access to, books which will be perfectly fine sitting in a box in a room in a different country while I am away for the year, books which I do not by any means need but nevertheless want access to, etc. All these stacks give me an overwhelming desire to have a small house in the distance in which I may set up a regimen, eat simply, read regularly, write when I feel I must, ‘learn to be good’… I am tired of moving.

I paused just then to consider which direction I wanted to pursue: something I thought to write after reading the first few essays in Perec’s Species of Spaces, or this idyll of isolation with language (“Is the aleph, that place in Borges from which the entire world is visible simultaneously, anything other than an alphabet?”).

I have in mind a room that is bare, square, small, buttressed on a seaward-sloping hill, two sides with a large picture window, one prospecting the sea, one the sloped meadow, and it contains so far one chair behind a small desk which faces the opposing, solid wall, on which I am considering putting a painting, perhaps Vuillard’s “Tea at Madame Vuillard’s” to give the impression of more rooms, more paintings, some company and some tea, all of which I desperately do not want right now. In this small painting I may put on the wall there is a small painting on the wall; though doubly miniaturized, one can still vaguely tell it is a landscape, as one can vaguely tell there are two women at tea in a front room and, seen through a doorway, a chambermaid arranging flowers in a back bedroom. And the doorway: it is twice the size of Mme. Vuillard, and, consequently, the back room and the maid, though in the background, become the focal point of the painting itself. That distorted yet delicate perspective was what drew me into this painting. Relative size on the canvas has no bearing on decipherability or importance— the painting within the painting, an inch or so square, if memory serves, is as perceptively comprehendible as the women in the foreground and as the woman in the background. On the space of the canvas, once blank and flat and now proliferating through color, range is both heightened and obliterated. But it is no more or less metaphysical than it is social or physical space, rank, depth, or distance: the real painting I am viewing contains a painted painting which is no more or less prominent and ‘clear’ than Mme. Vuillard and her companion at tea or than the maid in the background arranging flowers. The various privileged of each perspectival position are leveled in the painting.

August 23rd, 2008

I left my house for the last time tonight. This departure has snuck up on me. Tonight, after the last boxes were re-taped for support and put in the car to take to the train station, we watched a movie at the house, using C.’s projector and the wall as an impromptu viewing screen. Only after the movie, while outside having a cigarette and pacing with my roommate, as we have done innumerable times after innumerable movies, looking at the freshly cut grass, the apricot tree, our neighbor’s overgrown garden, our stoop— only then did I realize that I was saying goodbye to this place. Even with an empty room, boxes stacked, all my belongings hidden from view, it did not occur to me, really, until literally moments before I left for the last time.

I picked up Species of Spaces, on the brief trip C. and I took to the other side of the country to Providence and Boston, in a small, one-room bookshop, run by a friendly man who had moved there from New Orleans with, he said, over 200 boxes of books. I pulled it from a stack of books on his desk whose prices he had just finished marking, and he laughed that, when it does come in, he can never hold on to any Perec long enough to get it on the shelf. It’s small essays are the perfect accompaniment to a brief break between boxes. I wonder, though: how have I been reading, as a distraction from moving and packing, during a smoke on the front stoop before a door behind which is my life, boxed, an essay or passage or what-have-you called “Moving Out,” which is a list of verbs related to that process, many of which I have just done, am in the midst of doing, or soon will do, and not have my thoughts turned to the actual fact of my moving out of the place on whose front stoop I sit for a smoke? How a piece on neighborhoods, knowing I will be leaving this one, with the café where I am an ‘habitué,’ as Perec says, in just a few days? How the section on countries, on traveling, without comprehending that I will be leaving mine soon to live for a year in another? I am so distant from my own actions, apparently; reading simultaneously and at different times flattens and increases that distance— then, in the midst of it, each essay was merely well-suited to a brief respite from packing, a little pleasing splotch of color to enjoy, and now, after the decisive event, the last departure, they congeal into a relief map of the whole time, all of its particular/particolor thoughts.

from ‘The Bedroom’

“What does taking possession of a place mean? As from when does somewhere become truly yours?”

from ‘Neighbourhood life’

“Obviously, you could cultivate these habits, always go to the same butcher’s, leave your parcels at the épicerie, open an account at the ironmongers, call the pharmacist by her first name, entrust your cat to the woman who sells newspapers, but it wouldn’t work, it still wouldn’t make a life, couldn’t even give the illusion of being a life. It would create a familiar space, would give rise to an itinerary (leave home, go and buy the evening paper, a packet of cigarettes, a packet of soap powder, a kilo of cherries, etc.), a pretext for a few limp handshakes (morning Madame Charmissac, morning Monsieur Fernand, morning Mademoiselle Jeanne), but that would only ever be putting a mawkish face on necessity, a way of dressing up commercialism.”

from ‘The World’

“Travelling. … To see something in reality that had long been an image in an old dictionary. … Or else, rather, to see, far from its presumed place of origin, a perfectly ugly object… To see what you have always dreamed of seeing. … Or else, rather, to discover what you’ve never seen, what you didn’t expect, what you didn’t imagine. But how to give examples [of this last]? Not what, over time, has come to be listed among the various wonders and surprises of the world; neither the grandiose nor the impressive; nor even the foreign necessarily. But rather the reverse, the familiar rediscovered, a fraternal space…”

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Filed under: Books, Perec, Vuillard, Writing

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