stratum a. the surface of the unknown
Time does not heal as much as it erodes. An editor of the years that is crueller than kind, it culls the familiar and repeats messages from a depth where all memories coalesce into stone and fire, dreams and symbols. The sleepless, desiring sleep, draw schematics in which synapses find the connections which elude them in their dragging wakefulness.
The statuary of Fleur Jaeggy’s Beeklam stand next to the perhaps-imitation alabaster busts of my childhood. Opaque sentinels placed in the entrance hall and atop a piano, they watched and sang in silence, the lares and penates of our small family. In 1980, when The Water Statues was first published in Italian and I was five years old, Jaeggy’s (unreal) words narrated my present (real) movements without my awareness:
‘From early childhood he’d been drawn to figurative imitations of grief and stillness; from childhood he’d been a collector […] statues were his playthings, a privilege of all who are born lost and start out from where they end.’
I viewed one of the busts as both a man and a woman at different times: waved hair centre-parted and pulled back low on the nape of their bare neck, shoulders abruptly halted at the low drape of a robe interrupted by a pedestal. It was not until I reached the curve and partial exposure of a breast that I would think woman, but they seemed so interchangeable that it felt irrelevant to distinguish. Years later would I find that the original, excavated in Naples, was thought to be a model of the water nymph Clytie, turned to a sunflower out of pity for her obsessive adoration of the sun. If I saw both male and female did I also see the love of one and indifference of the other? In a field of such flowers we see radiance and shame: the lifting of a head, curling petals reaching towards the gaze which renews life and hope; in its revocation, the realisation of a course which must inevitably travel from the brightness above to the darkness below.
stratum b. foundation
As a child my parents sent me on a summer course to study rocks. Igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary. I held, sniffed, even licked smooth-faced mica, rough granite, and airy pumice with a curiosity as surreptitious as it was open. Tongue prying into holes and cracks, slipping across glassy layers in the hope of accessing the world within them. Like the rocks, I am formed by my exposures; not just of time, but circumstance.
In The Conscious Mind, David J. Chalmers says, ‘[T]here is not any feature of belief that outstrips the phenomenal and the psychological. […] [O]ne may need to add a relational element, to account for the fact that certain beliefs may depend on the state of the environment as well as the internal state of the thinker.’ Children especially, hold that relation as primary to their belief. Logic and mysticism become entwined, and although at the time we do not know the meaning of either, they stand together as irrefutable but ever-changeable truth.
There is a naïve directness to sensory knowledge at that age. In attempting to ingest or physically penetrate those rocks, I felt I would know them with a wholeness more satisfying than being taught. In the same way, my sister would attempt to eat what she would find in the garden: fallen oak leaves and foxglove flowers. One wanted to know how things came to be, the other wanted the secrets of the end; this is the beginning of all fairy tales.
stratum c. exploration
It has been six years since I left, or rather, vanished. Left suggests a possible return, but to vanish is as if one never existed. Only now do I see an erasure of the edges of anger which was the reminder of presence, somewhere. What were once tears and rage have settled like indistinct particles. A mass of memory in ways no longer recognizable as my own, it is yet bestowed a permanence; a layer within a formation. This is the stratigraphy of a former life. Tracing my fingertips along it, would I be able to decipher myself better now than I had when it was lived?
Accompanying Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge’s images of chemical colour experiments, Esther Leslie writes cryptically: ‘every picture has a history of its coming into being’, and ‘augenscheinlich, or apparent to the eyes—nature looks back—nature looks at us.’ Besides rounded, multi-hued forms resembling both jellyfish and kaleidoscope patterns viewed through an acid trip, Runge also discovered the effects on the pupils of Atropa belladonna, the substance that fed the eternal green flames in the eyes of the Marchesa Casati.
The stone pines of the Riviera, scorched in recent wildfires, did not burn to ash in some places: as I drove through an afflicted section, the trees flanked either side of the asphalt like a forest of giant alien jellyfish. No longer earthly brown and green, the trunks turned black while their umbrella-like canopies were now tinted vivid pink, coral, faded yellow. Thierry Mugler’s ‘La Chimère’ haute couture gown. It is not the phoenix that rises now, but a creature wrought from the destruction of exploration. Burned into a fantastical new being, nature looked at me; the vision is the message, though the message cannot be translated with ordinary sight.
Tomoé Hill’s work has been featured in publications such as Socrates on the Beach, La Piccioletta Barca, Exacting Clam, The London Magazine, Music & Literature, Numeró Cinq and Lapsus Lima, as well as the anthologies We’ll Never Have Paris (Repeater Books) and Azimuth (Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University). Twitter @CuriosoTheGreat