When my Grandad came over I remember that I perched on the side of the chair, and I showed him one of my sketchbooks. It was a brief chat, because as I recall I was on my way out, so I think perhaps it was even an unplanned visit. And yet, it turned out that this would be the last time I would see him alive, because a week later he died very suddenly, from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 66. The fact that I had—for whatever reason—shown him my sketchbook in the last moment we were to share with one another, became a memory that gained an apparent significance. I can’t recall every detail of showing him my sketchbook. For example, I can’t recall if I had or hadn’t already filled the sketchbook when I showed it to him. For some reason, since I first wrote these words I have found that it has bothered me a little—that I can’t remember that. After stewing on this for a while, it also strikes me that there’s no such thing as a conclusion to a sketchbook or a notebook. Reaching the last page doesn’t bring a sense of conclusion to the book, it’s just where that collection of thoughts, drawings and so on, gets cut off.
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR
Sat on the floor reading with my back against the radiator. Butler says: ‘To ask for recognition, or to offer it, is precisely not to ask for recognition for what one already is.’ (2006, p.44). Suddenly there’s a knock at the door, which is locked. As I scramble up on my feet to respond I am scrabbling around to find where I’d left my keys, and I respond with, ‘Hello?’
I have a brief conversation with a stranger through the closed door, neither of us are able to see one another.
Through this reciprocal exchange, ‘the self is the sort of being for whom staying inside itself proves impossible. One is compelled and comported outside oneself’ (Butler, 2005, p.28, original emphasis).
This seemed to illustrate Butler’s point: neither of us asked for recognition for what or who we already were, we were instead ‘constituted by virtue of the address’. To ask for recognition and to give it ‘is to solicit a becoming, to instigate a transformation.’ (Butler, 2006, p.44).
Stork stood at the drawing board, choreographing the pencil across the sheet of paper with her broad wing. She was trying to draw Dog’s portrait. First, she would draw an oval for his head. If the arc of the pencil line did not meet itself where it began, she scrunched the paper up with her beak, and cast it aside on the floor. Despite the unpredictable nature of drawing, she kept going, beginning again with a fresh sheet of paper.
Dog wanted very much to see himself through Stork’s eyes, but he would not sit still for his portrait. He kept telling stories and gesturing with his paws; ‘I have this little scar on my nose Stork, did you notice? I will tell you how I got it…’ Numerous iterations of Dog’s face were building up on the floor—a face both made and forsaken in the discarded portraits.
Stork worked away fervently at the drawing board—her quest to portray Dog’s uniqueness spoke the desiring language of the one. But, something quite different was happening on the floor: a rejection of the unity of the all.
Dog kept jumping up to collect the newest discarded portrait on the floor. Because Dog continued to move, Stork would need to begin her drawing again, and so this loop continued. Dog tried to gather all the crumpled drawings up together onto his lap, but by now there were a lot of drawings. Try as he may—just like the stubborn escapee sock from a pile of dirty laundry—every time he leant to pick up the new drawing Stork had cast aside, he would invariably drop another, and so it became impossible to gather them all together.
Lydia Davies is the second recipient of the John Calcutt Prize for Critical Writing presented annually by The Glasgow School of Art in collaboration with MAP Magazine. An artist living in Glasgow, she works across writing, voice, sound, and moving image. www.lydiadavies.co.uk
For parts 2 & 1 of this selection, see MAP entries below.
Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. London: Duke University Press
Butler, J. (2005). Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press
Butler, J. (2006). Precarious Life. London: Verso
Cusk, R. (2019). Aftermath. London: Faber & Faber
Davey, M. (2020). Index Cards. London: Fitzcarraldo Editions
Goldie, P. (2014). The Mess Inside: Narrative, Emotion, and the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Ricœur, P. (1984). Time and Narrative, Volume 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
Stewart, S. (1993). On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. London: Duke University Press
Winnicott, D. W. (2005). Playing and Reality. Abingdon: Routledge