Wednesday, October 24, 2007


In my valiant and eternal attempts at procrastination I have just translated a letter I wrote to an Australian friend living in France - originally written in a phonetic spelling of a "fairy seek foran ucksonn" into my incredibly imperfect French.

When I read my French I can read my accent into it - it's not just the lack of punctuation, the absence of accents, or the continual reversion to imperfect past tense as a default position to disguise my complete incapacity to absorb volume two of the BLED guide to French verbs (dspite many hours of cheese inspired toilet reading).

and - I do get increasingly scared that my French will end up as disused and strange as spanish. this sounds tragic in a way, but then I wonder just how much of language - or appparent coherence in language is built on faith... we recognise what we expect to hear, what we want to hear. Language is acquired as a habit of familiarity and trust - which falls apart as soon as that trust is broken - or the familiar suddenly seems incomprehensible.

I said goodbye to 'el viejo' on the weekend. He's moving back to South America to live. He says he'll return to visit his kids, but I'm not expecting to see him again. He returned my tresses that I cut in the 5th and final year of our relationship, so I now have a complete collection of my hair for the past 17 years.

. He also gave me the photo left - which is a tiny print - which he insisted was of me and my brother - which my mother had given to him.I tried to tell him that it was not of me or my brother, but he refused to believe me.

This was really strange. I asked him which child he thought was me, and which one was my brother, and where did he think it was taken, and he said "I don't know, but your mother gave it to me". This was the sort of moments that my childhood was full of. My dad telling me continuous endless tales about myself and my family that didn't make any sense.

In Dad's favour (perhaps) he was also obsessed with mimetic technologies, taking photos and recording our voices and cutting scraps of hair. these would be brought out and displayed and replayed each time he came to visit. They were some of the very few things about the visits from my father that made sense. Mum didn't buy a camera until we moved into town, so almost all of my childhood photos before the age of 7 were taken by Dad, my aunts and uncles, or the pixie photos in town.

I remember most of them being taken, and remember hours spent looking at them, recounting the stories of when and where they were taken. It's incredibly how scarcity of images produces an embellishment of words, or rituals, stories sensations and memories around the images, so they become attached to ourselves - not merely through the punctum of the image itself - but in where and when they have been viewed, reviewed, explained, touched, maybe destroyed and forgotten and then remembered. I wonder if kiddies growing up in the digital age of excessive images - will relate to photographs. I see my own relationship to photographs changing as the amount of images of myself multiply - but mainly on virtual platforms - disconnected from me, my hands, from paper, my room, my family.

the photo on the right was the first pixie photo that I and my brother had done - and I think it is likely that Mum gave a miniature copy of this one to el Veijo. I think he's recognised the dark curly hair, the spotty jumpsuit as indexical elements to this image and then decided that this other photograph was identical if not the same.

But I remember the photo - where it was taken - and the past 30 years of walking past that particular pharmacy since, and remembering 'that's where we had that photo taken when I was four' It's next to the pub where I threw my t-bone steak bones onto the street - coz I's assumed there'd be dogs wanting to eat them. I remember the clothes we were wearing, and seeing them on the clothesline, and in other photos since. I remember looking at that photograph repeatedly since, and remember what I thought, what I said, what I felt - as I do with all of my other childhood photographs. I aslo recongise the features of my brother and of me. the facial gestures, my mouth, my hands, both our eyes - which I don't in the other photograph.

I tried pointing this out to el Veijo - "neither of us has eyes that far apart - we both had curly hair as kids - his eyes were black not blue - we were nearly the same age" but el veijo still wouldn't beleive me. I was incredulous that someone who'd slept with me for 5 years and lived with me for 8 couldn't see recognise my features enough to tell me apart from some other child in a photograph, and I wondered what sort of relationship I even had with him.

I still wonder, and I wonder about representation, and what happens when it doesn't work. Derrida's work breaking up representation - it's a re-presenting, but then it's also a redoing of a pre-sending - a weird kind of repetition of an act of interpretative anticipation. Derrida - recalcitrant beast that he was - tried to read more sympathetically into Martin heidegger's disdain for the detachment of representation from reality, the act of anticipation and projection of a preconceived idea of reality as a way of avoiding an engagement with it. Derrida (I think) envisaged to re pre sent as a series of temporal shifts and movements. Derrida's emphasis on temporality is deadly serious. His use of 'differance' is not a semantic game -but a passionate insistence that difference, that reality, that what we encounter as.... anything that is, is founded on a deferral - a shift in time between what is familiar and what is strange. What we know as 'us'is never given but comes to us through a process of becoming, of differentiation - and the moment of this differentiation is intricately linked with memory - a movement back and forth in time, between what we RE - cognise, what we REmember, and what is formed as memory - through a process of anticipation.

Can I admit here how much I LOVE this idea of embedding the notion of time moving forwards and backwards as we - as the world, as our capacity to apprehend, to articulate, to describe it - also involves a distinctly temporal quality? for me, it's a reminder of why history is so precious and so fragile. We cannot apprehend the present - and any attempt to do so - to represent it involves memory, projection, moving backwards and forwards between what we think we know or thought we know, anticipating what we might know, and being startled so often by our encounter with what is. My idea of myself - bound up in industrial beige consumer fetishes for mimetic technologies - for technolgies of representation aroudn which I have an accretion of habits, of words, of exchanges with others that has become my life. My memories, linked to indexical elements in childhood photographs, is still embedded in relationships and the language that I am using now. this is what forms me.

However, so many friendships or affairs seem to fall apart based on a dispute over words, or their meaning - and I find - I feel that as a soon as I find myself haggling over words, phrases and nuances in words, trying to tease apart, re-read, restate, clarify, qualify what i've said to someone - or as soon as I find someone picking apaprt my words and twisting the remainder back around my recollection of an event, my emotions, my reactions, my feelings - or my confusion - that i lose interest in saying anything at all. words seem absolutely pointless. words exist to embellish an affective connection, a weird strange sense of a shared project, or plan - or something... but they don't work as bandaids over nasty gaps in faith or feeling -but drop away.

It's the sense I had in my last conversation with my feline friend - who curled up and spat in a furious dispute over 3 words in a text message. Can an affair really fall apart over three simple words? An affair built on crazy desires, unstated needs and mad flights of fantasy probably can, and did. I was silly for ever tring to call such a fleeting thing 'friendship'. Ho hum, mayhem's judgement swayed by une belle cul yet again. One day I'll learn to walk with my head raise a bit higher, I promise.

Tormenting myself over the spiteful missive from the cane toad - I'm impressed by the power of misapprehension to allow for meaning to twist between words,and turn back again, becoming something else. My words, misheard, mistranslated doubling over themselves, as meaning trips and stumbles. I spoke to her in two languages, she wrote to me and spoke only in one. Her command of English almost as appalling as my French, using the misrecognition... yelled became yeild, and my cries of pain became distorted into an accusation of violence.

She said she could press charges against me... for what I wonder? "Yielding and crying"? Australian police have a history of harassing and incarcerating aboriginies for being in a position of vulnerability and disposession in the face of colonial invasion, but I'd hardly describe indigenous marginalisation as 'yielding'. So is 'yielding and crying' a crime? And was I yielding? or yelling? I'm not sure that I raised my voice that much, but I could be wrong. One of my housemates described my requests that she turn out the lights when she left the house as a "bollocking" -so maybe I am more forceful than I realise.

Where images failed, now words fail and have failed, and yet here I am, circulating the images, and surrounding them with words to somehow make things alright. words and images, becoming like some sort of fetish to ward off the evil eye - or the evil spirits, or just evil. In the misrecognised photograph I felt undone by doubt - I doubted my childhood - then doubted my relationship - and then in the cane toads posting - her differing account - again I wondered if I'd made everything up. If I was just acting after all. am I acting, what am I playing at? and why would I bother. Is "yeilding and crying" such a compelling fantasy for me?

and why the hell is it, that when I move away from an impossible relationship with a French Language Teacher I end up immersed in the work of those French intellectuals who are lauded among anglophones but barely known in France. does their work only work in translation? and what does that say about me?


Anonymous said...

Si vous voulez guarder votre francais je vous conseil d'aller vous reseigner a propos du systeme DELF/DALF, c'est facile a trouver sur l'internet et ils font des examens a l'Alliance Francaise deux fois par ans. Aussi un petit livre rouge qui s'appele le Bescherelle des verbes est bien plus pratique que les grands livres de grammaire. C'est comme un 'ready reckoner'. Quant aux philosphes francais, je crois que les anglais on bien plus besoin de se deconstruire que les francais, en tout cas je les comprends, je m'y retouve aussi. Peut-etre qu'il s'agit de la psychologie des terres volés.
Je peux vous aider avec la grammaire si vous voulez - vous pouvez me retrouvez a
-je suis la yogi enceinte en violet. Quand on apprends un autre language je crois on perd un partie de soi-meme s'on ne l'utilise plus.
Bon courage, Carolyn.

mayhem said...

Merci Carolyn, c'est tres gentille.
Je connais le DELF/DAFT et resouviens le Bescherelle et - bien sure c'est beaucoup plus sympatoche que Le BLED. J'ai une amie australienne (qui habite en Lyon) et nous ecrirons uniquemente en Francaise - c'est une cadeux. J'avais perdre beaucoup deja dans le separation d'Abel. Je ne peux pas faire la peintre - et ca me fais beaucoup mal - mais pour sentir, et resouvien cette part de moi meme en cette moment est unsupportable .... et puis qu'est ce que je peux faire? Je bouge, je bougerais - je suis tres maladroit meme avec la lengue, mais je continue a essayer....
Tes mots et ta sagesse me donne du courage et de le espoir, merci encore.