In their discourse event became emblem, the moon was a stage, music was spelled paraphernalia. Only the very beautiful were trusted with secrets. As in a B movie when you can see into two apartments simultaneously but no one is watching because they’ve all gone out to vomit up popcorn and medication or to read their horoscopes and imagine a field of golden poppies with a canopy of blood red bees. Similarly what is occurring on the mezzanine above the steps down to the scene of your performance with the angel. You seem to be assenting to some reasonable argument, with an anxiety at odds with the proposing voice. Only when the voice becomes cajoling, then prompting, then menacing, do you apparently relax. And yet their pictorial art, their physical art of emblem, whilst faithfully conforming to a discourse become emblem template in reverse and upside down, nonetheless at the same different time negates all world views in that bodies are left unstated and buildings are opportunistic like the rain living in the trees free of rent. One example: Moldovian shepherds gather round a priest demonstrating a prototype machine gun from the 1860s. Another: a woman stands outside a rural railway station her hand positioned as if to hold a child by the hand but there’s no child, only a smell of drains and butchery.
Rachel turns on her side and listens to a dog or perhaps a puppy yapping, someway down the street. “I come now from seeing of a shepherd at Medoc, of thirtie yeares of age or thereabouts, who had no signe at all of genitorie parts, but where they should be are three little holes by which his water doth continually tril from him. This poore man hath a beard, and desireth still to be fumbling of women” (Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Of a Monstrous Child). Tentatively Rachel imitates the sounds the dog or perhaps a puppy made, then continues her imitation with greater confidence until she wonders if she’ll ever speak a human word again. She gets out of bed, cleans her teeth, applies mascara to her eyelashes. The bathroom mirror melts in the factory fire, it’s a big event in the history of this small town, they drive past houses with anonymised lawns (witness protection scheme) and stop to watch the fire engines at their work. Rachel wonders why she’s always so alone, but she supposes it’s because (a) she’s already left town for the great city (b) the living fear her angel, the inanimate worship it, the dead live forever as solitaries inside its mouth. There are moments I can almost reach her hand to take hold and console us. Without our noticing something particular has happened so that right now it’s happening. Inside the apartment it’s night, clunky wooden stars painted an absurdly bilious pink roll about the ceiling; outside it’s a sunny day except we ARE outside and it’s a great velvet night sky with puncture mark stars and from the video we’re watching neither inside nor outside inside warm sun licks the soles of Rachel’s feet peach yellow the red of her toenails molten.
Nothing more unwelcome than a knock at the door. With inordinate emotion Rachel rushes to answer and waves break on the seawall to dash her back where she started. The place was only set up like that a while ago, previously it was rented by a business concern who put up overseas employees and their families there. And it has that feel of a place where family emotions become heightened by displacement and pressure of work. Rachel tries on a business suit for the feel of it, climbs out onto the window ledge and pulls hard at the hair on her head. She cries out in pain, her face goes scarlet then eerily white. Words in an unknown alphabet are projected onto her brow. Down at street level the traffic sounds like traffic, up there it sounds like an electric guitar being played in prison. She looks at herself standing on the window ledge – she can’t get over the weirdest sensation of being alone in the room. The angel grabs Rachel by the throat and slaps and gnaws at her breasts. Often their discourses are described as tragic, but they are written under the sign of Melancholia not Farce. In one text a soldier returns from one of their interminable wars (the 1,000 months war, say) to find his family and furniture have metamorphosed into mobile phone cameras. In another a woman climbs to the top of a hill to discover she has left the recently invented telescope behind.
Nothing more welcome than a knock at the door. Rachel whispers don’t answer it and the angel puts a boot in the small of Rachel’s back and propels her at the door. When she arrives the door has disappeared and she runs straight through a stranger wearing several hats who stands frozen, hand raised, in the act of beating one more time at the threshold. “Without the freedom to be evil there is no merit, and without the freedom to be good no responsibility for one’s own guilt, and indeed no knowledge of good and evil” (Johann Georg Hamann, Philological Ideas and Doubts about an Academic Prize Essay, translated Kenneth Haynes). This was when I met her. We were both strangers in Las Cruces; Rachel was there because of a dream her sister had dreamt in 1997, I am there because I’ve never visited New Mexico. Immediately she identifies my accent, characteristic of an eastern Romanian petit-bourgeois from Piatra Neamț, in German language Kreuzburg an der Bistritz, in Hungarian language Karácsonkő. We hire a car and drive out into the desert. Late at night in our desolate motel room I drink beer and she tells me her sister’s story. I tell her how once I’d been able to carry a tune but now there is zero point turning to me to sing lonesome cowboy songs. Rachel and her sister are not so alike anyone could confuse the two of them.
Those bastards downstairs are burning food again. You’re alone in what feels like a big old house (the lights are so bright the lights are off). Rummaging around you come across family memorabilia: by the light of a torch, that’s granny, that’s Joan’s son who went away, that’s Joan after her daughter came home from where no one speaks about what happened but she looks so serene nonetheless. Similarly they were exquisite artists in glass. A wedding gift centrepiece from the second or third decade shows two heraldic birds suspended in a beam of sun while an infant in full armour turns to red white ash. “I could hardly suppress my joyful emotions on this occasion” (Samuel Richardson, Pamela). Even when I’m not thinking of you I’m thinking of you. Another way of putting it is this. It’s years since my death, all that’s left of me is this text of which all copies have long since disappeared. A few people at that time read it, good people, people I like or would have liked if I had known them. But you, you have no idea I am writing this text, or who I am to be writing this text. We’ve never met. Yet you let me kiss you, turning your face in towards the bed, and you say gentle words about the pale green light that is under the trees where we lie on the ground and eat sandwiches from a little wicker basket. Rather than birds, wing shadows make us aware of how fine the day is and we eat some strawberries from a plastic carton and you smile and I say I am always glad to see you smile, that it happens too seldom, and you smile again and it’s like everything will always be like this.
One representative text deals with the question of happiness, of various orders of happiness ranging from the rocks and the grasses and the trees through the insects, the fish, birds, animals, to humans, to angels, and then to God theorised as a pebble hidden by grasses on an obscure patch of wasteland near a humble cottage. The anonymous author (or: the lost author; the title page is missing, and there is no dedication nor laudatory epigrams) draws ingenious analogies between the arts, systematised as a hidden word, an unseen shape, a phantasmagoric harmony lurking just after the final note’s echo has drifted away, and suggests they are an expression of depthless unhappiness and therefore an emblem of perfect happiness. Rachel opens her eyes wide and wrens fly in, fluttering their tiny wings and perching on the tops of her tears.