In her notebooks Simone Weil tells the story of the cobbler who is to marry a princess, but falls asleep due to an evil spell. The princess can only wait for seven years. After the cobbler wakes up, a wise man tells him that the castle is at the end of a forest, impossible to walk through. The cobbler tries and tries, with his axe, to cut the thicket, to no avail. Time goes by. Then he remembers his goal: to reach past the forest, not to walk through it. He goes across the top of the trees, arrives at the castle.
I long for writing that walks across the top of the trees.
Writing like Saudamini Deo’s ‘Our Lady of the Forest’.
Weil’s story is a parable against the law of practicality and literal readings; for thinking beyond expected, functional solutions, for changing disposition. In her story, Saudamini adds to such charge a visionary force, lucid meandering which rejects any safety. Through imaginative turns and countless metamorphoses she reawakens an arcane profundity, streaked at times with a terror which can only be encountered in fables. She offers thresholds, not keys; a sense of troubling consonance.
Something happened. To ask where would be misleading: it is at once in Prague and in the Sundarbans, in deep waters and in the eyes of a beast of prey, no longer in a place but in certain inexpressible turns of the mind. Something happened and continues to happen: a singular event in the textures of the narrator’s being, the places she saw, the dreams she dreamt and yet, as Cristina Campo wrote in ‘Della fiaba’ (‘Of Fable’), the unrepeatable event is universal history, the utmost profundity utmost surface.
Something continues to happen and it attracts secrets from the narrator’s life, from nature, other fables, the world, other worlds. In the telling of her story she draws closer and closer to an image, and does not know what it may hold until it is met in its fullness, writing, reminiscing, anticipating, writing.
Beauty here, most of all, is inextricably tied to danger; drawn by that same spell that bound Sindbad the sailor to go back to his journeys, Belinda to follow the rose through to the Monster.
Leaving the body (shifting through strata, species, sidereal timespans) demands to forget limits, to tune into transformative supernatural senses. In the chain of metamorphoses—into the shark Jaisalmerensis, into the Lady of the Forest, into the spotted hyaena, the Caspian Tiger, into the mangroves of the Sundarbands, into the trees, the river, the river, the river, back to and out of her body, her self—the narrator’s heart is untied: she appears to be a permeable creature, open to the ebbs and flows of other materialities beyond the confines of herself, capable at times of being possessed. Like in the reading of a story.
Cristina, again: The stubborn, inexhaustible teaching of fables is therefore […] the constant shift to a new order of relationships and absolutely nothing else, because there is absolutely nothing else to learn on this earth.
Time warps, the text swarms with ruptured memories of other tales, scientific findings and geographical lapses, heard in a whisper or perhaps in a dream, a figure from one story may belong in another, a river in Prague is a stream in India, its waters flowed and filtered in the mind of the teller who makes their coexistence plausible in the pulse of her telling—the only possible reason, the only plausible derangement. She leads us through those flows and deviates us, is driven by those flows and drifts off them. We are enchanted by a narrator who is in turn enchanted.
The gravity in her gaze holds something known and forever unspoken. The force that drives the story is imperative. The mystery of character is present and forever unspoken.
In the final paragraph of the introduction to her translation of Bhuwaneshwar’s The Wolves and Other Stories, Saudamini writes: The wolves of our certain fate are approaching. The wolves will eat us, in the end. Likewise in her story, a menacing and compelling image-vortex approaches, absolute and particular, which shall never be owned but to which she returns to be transformed, again. She drowns in its shape, its predatory cadence. Anything more pressing, for a writer, than the necessary challenge and calling of shape and cadence?
I see them again: our Lady of the Forest, the vodník, the shark Jaisalmerensis, the spotted hyaena, the Caspian Tiger, the mangroves of the Sundarbands, the trees, the river, her body, not her body, the marshes, the river, the river, the river, the vortexes, vortex. They have not changed, my perception has, so I can read again a story that is water, many-creatured rhythm, metamorphosed voice.
Daniela Cascella is the editor of A Year of Carte Blanche and Other Chimeras at MAP. Her books articulate tensions and points of contact between the literary and the sonic: Nothing As We Need It (Punctum Books / Risking Education, forthcoming 2022), Chimeras: A Deranged Essay, An Imaginary Conversation, A Transcelation (Sublunary Editions, forthcoming 2022), Singed. Muted Voice-Transmissions, After The Fire (Equus Press, 2017), F.M.R.L. Footnotes, Mirages, Refrains and Leftovers of Writing Sound (Zer0 Books, 2015), En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing. An Archival Fiction (Zer0 Books, 2012).
Voices Heard in Reading
Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge, trans. by Richard Rees, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015 (1970)
Daniela Cascella, ‘…cerchi? Cerchi (…You Search? Circles)’, Reliquiae, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2021
Saudamini Deo, ‘Our Lady of the Forest’, Part 1 and Part 2, MAP Magazine, 23 February 2022
Cristina Campo, ‘Della fiaba’, in Gli imperdonabili, Milano: Adelphi, 1987 (1962)
Bhuwaneshwar, The Wolves and Other Stories, trans. by Saudamini Deo, London, New York, Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2021