I’m thinking about how to come to some kind of pause in the bumpy, looping rhythms of our conversation. The other morning at Poetics in Commons Anne Boyer spoke of the destabilising of air as the grounds for our perdurance and our poetry, irrevocably altered by capital’s toxicities and temporalities. I scribbled: ‘in the climate-controlled lecture theatre… where we collectively cannot make our own atmospheres… we must be ‘treated’ in our being together to listen.’
What are we doing in this dialogue?
In an interview about The Undercommons, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney describe the undoing of writing-in-relation: ‘we should write together to incomplete each other. It may not cure our brokenness, but that is only because we are incurable, or to put it another way, our cura, our care, can never be of the self, but only of that touch… that kinky tangle of our incomplete sharing.’ This exchange has become a kind of commonplace book, but also the unfinished, uneven commoning work of reorienting (to) the world.
And yet Adnan’s work (after Derrida) also wants to ‘paint you so simply, so simply, so simply’.
Maggie Nelson, (un)master of the colour blue, writes:
You might even say that it is the business of the eye to make colored forms out of what is essentially shimmering. This is how we ‘get around’ in the world. Some might also call it the source of our suffering. (2009)
I’m thinking about how not to aestheticise catastrophe, how to be responsive to / altered by its multiple frequencies and resonances.
Adnan, on the weight of things:
There’s malady in
the waters are temporarily
It’s raining and half a year ago we agreed to be-with Adnan’s paintings in ways that might be im/possible across our distances. Maurice Blanchot, after Georges Bataille’s death:
Friendship, this relation without dependence […] the fundamental separation on the basis of which what separates becomes relation. (1997)
Can we write to and with each other and Adnan’s work without fixing the objects of address? How would we go about making atmospheres from the various materials of our breathing and thinking and perceiving (or dreaming, as Boyer might say) from the colours of being and the colours as beings (as Adnan might say)? It’s raining and the hills that are my afterimages are layered in a jawless time remembered by the rocks where the land was underwater but the sun still seeped through.
With love and solarity,
4 April 2021
I’m looking at a recent piece of Adnan’s, Avril, 2017 (2018), and the tiny piece of orange inside a red square. If I could climb inside it, surely I’d find myself ‘standing looking at a deep red-orange rectangle’ oozing from your first letter. The shapes of this painted tapestry draw the eye inwards, as a yellow sun hangs coyly in a mound of orange, looking down at a blue sun. Between the two suns, day and night, is a nervous geometry of temporal shimmer; it’s like listening to Aphex Twin’s ‘Avril 14th’ played backwards. Hotly, you exist in simultaneous ghost trace of the opposite. I want to say the orange is ‘the outside’. I want the juicy chroma of serotonin.
But it’s burning. Something of the orange and the place behind the painting. It’s been almost two years since our last tangent, where you wrote of unmastering, atmospheres, destabilised air. It’s just over a year since the air got very strange, teeming with traces of a deadly, invisible virus; since we ceased hugging goodbye, visiting galleries, stopped going places altogether. I’m thinking about what kind of door a red square is; where do we go from here, can we open it? Does it exist beyond virtual seams?
Adnan writes of trying to sketch shadows on a piece of paper, ‘under the pine trees’: ‘I tried to catch their contours but they were slowly moving, all the time. They made me think of sidewalks on which people pass, swiftly’ (2014). For twelve months I have passed people swiftly on pavements, wedging two metres of space between us, even as we share the same air. Seems to me that in writing this I’m trying to catch the contours of my thought, your thought, our thought: the shimmer of Blanchot’s ‘common strangeness’ (1997), which passes swiftly undersea, through fibre optic cables. The slow time of shadows traced by sunlight, the quick time of panic—they exist in relative, diurnal motion.
The daffodils I bought last week have wilted. They look overexposed, an image of themselves left too long in the sun. How does writing change the opacity of a topic? Dominic Boyer insists that we ‘always ask ourselves: Are we creating a solarity that is worth living?’ (2021). To write in the oscillating tempo of ‘dreaming, dreaming’, as Adnan does, ‘turning around’ Mount Tamalpais (2014), is to live for the love of that bright red splash—something that smoulders and rises on im/possible horizons. That wants us to live. I roll up my sleeves to absorb it.
‘The square is the passion of the circle’ (Adnan 2014).
With love and care,
At the beginning of 2019, inspired by Kristen Kreider’s idea of art writing as listening and response, we began a dialogue that writes to and with the work of Lebanese-American artist/poet Etel Adnan, as a form of intimate feminist translation. Honing in on the ‘red square’ which recurs in Adnan’s work as a site of excess, exhaustion, and potential—what Lisa Robertson calls an ‘event in perceiving’—we amassed seven letters or ‘threads’ and then extracted each other’s prose, interspersed with illustrations by Maria.
As a condensed, fragmented iteration of a more extensive exchange, these poem-letters test an epistolary art writing that negotiates distance, proximity and address through questions of ecology, violence, gender, orientation and becoming-with. A version of this work was performed at the Modernist Art Writing/Writing Modernist Art conference at the University of Nottingham in June 2019. The final eighth letter to Katy was written almost two years later, in April 2021.
Katy Lewis Hood is a poet and researcher from the Midlands, currently working on a PhD at Queen Mary University of London. Publications include SWATCH (glyph press, 2019), infra·structure, with Maria Sledmere (Broken Sleep Books, 2020), and Thundersweet (Earthbound Press, 2020). Katy co-edits the online ecopoetry magazine amberflora.
Maria Sledmere is a poet and artist, currently completing a DFA in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. She is editor-in-chief at SPAM Press and member of A+E Collective. Recent publications include Chlorophyllia (OrangeApple Press) and neutral milky halo (Guillemot Press). With Rhian Williams, she co-edited the anthology, the weird folds: everyday poems from the anthropocene (Dostoyevsky Wannabe). Her poem ‘Ariosos for Lavish Matter’ was highly commended in the 2020 Forward Prize, and her work was included in makar / unmakar (Tapsalteerie, 2019), an anthology of contemporary poets in Scotland. A seasonal pamphlet series, Sonnets for Hooch, is forthcoming in collaboration with Mau Baiocco and Kyle Lovell.
Works cited in all three parts (not otherwise via hyperlink)
Adnan, Etel, 1986. Journey to Mount Tamalpais (Sausalito: Post-Apollo Press), p. 51, 52.
—1989. The Arab Apocalypse (Sausalito: The Post-Apollo Press), p. 43, 75.
—2014. To look at the sea is to become what one is: Etel Adnan Reader, ed. Thom Donovan and Brandon Shimoda (New York: Nightboat Books), p. 293, 294, 312.
—2018. Surge (New York: Nightboat Books), p. 17.
Bataille, Georges, 1970. Ouevres Completes VII (Paris: Gallimard), p. 10.
Benjamin, Walter, 1969. ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations, ed. by Hannah Arendt (London: Fontana).
Blanchot, Maurice, 1997. Friendship, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press), p. 291.
Boyer, Dominic, 2021. ‘Revolution and Revellion: Toward a Solarity Worth Living’, South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 120, No. 1, pp. 25-37 (p. 35).
Burtynsky Edward, qtd. Clint Burnham, 2017. ‘Photography from Benjamin to Žižek, via the Petrochemical Sublime of Edward Burtynsky,’ in Petrocultures: Oil, Politics, Culture, ed. Sheena Wilson, Adam Carlson, and Imre Szeman (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press), p. 465.
Carson, Anne, 2016. Float (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart).
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, 2015. Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), p. 3.
De Landa, Manuel, 1997. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books), p. 259.
Fattal, Simone, 2002. ‘On Perception: Etel Adnan’s Visual Art’, in Etel Adnan: Critical Essays on the Arab-American Writer and Artist, ed. by Lisa Suhair Majaj and Amal Amireh (Jefferson: McFarland), p. 90.
Glissant, Édouard, 1997. Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), p. 190.
Kreider, Kristen, 2014. Poetics and Place: The Architecture of Sign, Subjects and Site (London: I.B. Tauris).
Neimanis, Astrida, and Jennifer Mae Hamilton, 2018. ‘Weathering’, Feminist Review, 118.1, 80-84 (p. 81).
Nelson Maggie, 2009. Bluets (Seattle: Wave Books), p. 20.
Rose, Deborah Bird, 2017. ‘Shimmer: When All You Love is Being Trashed’, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, ed. by Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017