Still Point III
“ See lines 64-68 of ‘Burnt Norton’ from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets ”
Still Point III
In this Issue Editorial Team...................................................................... 4 Note from the Editor........................................................... 5 / Dana Ariel.................................................... 6 Drawing the Line / K. H. .................................................... 8 L’Homme qui Marche / Tianmei Chen............................. 10 Sentient Beings – In Search of Animal Consciousness / Jonathan Newhouse................................. 12 A New One / Eoin Bentick................................................ 18 Square Mythologies: Thinking Borders and Enclosed Spaces / Virna Koutla......................................... 22 New Specs / Anonymous................................................... 26 A Tuesday in July / Manos Charalabopoulos...................... 28 Frontier Anxieties, Espionage and Privilege / Chris Doyle...................................................................... 29 The Oldest Grafitti Artist in the World / Marc Carver The Entropic Custodian / Tessa Glinoer............................ 34 Cartographer’s Fear / Colin Bancroft................................. 38 The Hill / Colin Bancroft................................................... 40 YOLO / Colin Bancroft..................................................... 41 On the Borderline of Living / Grace Fearon...................... 42 / Dana Ariel............................... 45 The Still Point Issue III Contributors................................ 48
Editorial Team Mariam Zarif, Editor in Chief Editorial Team: Nicholas Rheubottom, Erin Cunningham, Jonah Miller, Hannah Burke-Tomlinson, Daniela Zanini and Isobel Ward
E.C. Published October 2018 Design and illustrations: Azem William www.azem.net
firstname.lastname@example.org www.stillpointjournal.com /stillpointldn @stillpointldn 4
Note from the Editor As researchers our journey often begins in the solitary squared space of the Reading Rooms, a place which sometimes feels cold and yet so vivid with the reading lights solemnly gazing. We curiously examine the contents of various publications, browsing archives, and scanning old manuscripts. Silent tomes containing dead words become the living creatures of our thoughts and imagination; each word speaking its history. Amidst these reading moments, we seek to make sense of faded markings on a page, we pause a moment to study our own thoughts through a spy glass â€“ the journey of words begins. We then sit down to work our next chapter, shuffling through our memory to find the perfect phrase. We write: a process that stitches words together in a seamless flow of thought; the untangling of a tangled mass of ideas archived in our mental notebooks. A border emerges, a margin of indecision and hesitation; we thus wrestle with language to form a perfectly dressed sentence that in its own glory and light stands, syntactically immortal. A line dividing language and meaning from the unbound well of knowledge it first derived. Thus, we construct â€˜bordersâ€™ that both define and discriminate as we articulate ideas through language. In this issue, Borders, we have created a space, in which ideas and thoughts whether simple or complex, vague or tentative can co-exist. In our lives as researchers we experience borders between disciplines, between genres; borders of nationality, belonging and identity; political and ideological borders; borders that prevent access to and participation in academia; borders across time; and between ourselves and our work. Unbound by language and its extending order, this issue celebrates the idea of borders beyond academia. From poems, short stories, and paintings that reflect the limitations of borders in territory, to scientific borders, and personal experiences which deal with the idea of boundary and separation. The contributions in the Borders issue are a testament to the personal and emotional journey that is involved in research. In turn, we hope each piece provokes the reader to contemplate on the limitations and boundaries around academia and relating subfields which are shifting and porous. We would like to thank our contributors who have shared their stories and journeys through their work in print and on our blog. We hope you enjoy Issue III, as much as we have enjoyed reading and putting it together. Mariam Zarif Editor
by Dana Ariel blurring a border begins with first light each soldier is assigned a section of the border this is a protective measure the soldierâ€™s duty is to know the border to become familiar with its site and sight to recognise and identify the land, the path, the rocks, the holes, the stains, and scratches to see it change through seasons of the year, from morning to dusk to see the border fade in and out to stand there at noon, and be blinded by the sun reflecting from the bright dusty ground to know the border and become the border
Dana Ariel, ‘From אto x’, gelatin silver print, 2015
Drawing the Line by K. H.
I often think about how caught in the middle I am, like an ocean, squashed between two bits of land. I think it’s quite revealing of my mentality: after all, is the land trapping the ocean, or is the ocean ensnaring the land? When we get down to the crux of things, all land mass is just an island and the sea is inescapable once we get to the coast. We cannot avoid the ocean: that body of water that is dense and frightening, always there. When I close my eyes, the sea stays with me, strangely static even as the tide comes in. Suspended in a spider’s web is another fine example of how I feel. Caught in the sticky tangle of a humble spider, I watched a fly struggle for its life the other day. Every five minutes or so it would buzz, flapping its wings in a frenzy. Every time, the spider would take a few steps back and survey it from a distance, biding its time until it could have its meal. I wonder how flies taste to a spider. I wonder whether I am the fly or the spider. After all, the spider is also sitting suspended, balanced atop a web of its own making. When you’re in the middle, there is always uncertainty. In the middle of a plane journey: am I going to make it off this plane? In the middle of a relationship: are we going to last?
In the middle of my dinner: will this red meat give me indigestion, and was it a bad decision to put this much garlic in? Anxious, anxious, anxious. I stress, like an impatient spider, willing its prey to die quicker. I found out the other day that my father has a gambling addiction. I hesitated just now - does he have a gambling addiction, or is he a gambling addict? Does it make a difference which I refer to him by? The answer is probably yes, but I’m a bit too preoccupied with the fact that my father is addicted to gambling to decide what would be the correct term to call him. Besides, I wasn’t informed that he had a ‘gambling addiction’, as such: I was informed that we were hugely in debt and that the debt was caused by gambling, which, really, is perhaps the most polite way anyone can refer to a gambling addiction. I take a deep breath. I return to the ocean in my mind. A little over three years ago, a kind friend endeavoured to teach me how to swim. There was something to be desired for my swimming, but I discovered that I was exceptional at floating. If I spent one hour in the pool, at least 20 minutes of that hour would be spent gazing up at soulless
rectangular lights. There was something I found so comforting about pretending to be weightless. Now, with my ocean, I imagine myself walking into that thick mass, the all-consuming gloom of deep water. I imagine myself, controlling my breathing and releasing the tension in my body, that tension so determined to keep my two feet on the shore – I let it go. When the water reaches my ears and the antisound of liquid running into an ear canal (that shade of silence so particular to submersion) envelopes my being, I find myself dissolved. At one with my ocean, I accept my place in the middle. I accept my plurality; that I can trap and be trapped. I spread into my container and fill that space between two blocks of land. Calm, I suppose I could just continue calling him ‘dad’. Nothing could push this man out of the box that ultimately makes him my dad, apart from a blood test that showed he wasn’t my biological dad, and even then, I’m not sure that’d do it. Addiction or no addiction, this man played a large part in my upbringing and deserves the title, ‘dad’. Briefly, I come up onto land. The fly is dead. I am apparently absolutely certain that this man is my dad.
Lâ€™Homme qui marche by Tianmei Chen
Now and then, day and night, here and there... Short as the day, long as the hours going by it, In my early morning half-awake dreams, The shape of you remains true. For Olivier Osty
Sentient Beings? in search of animal consciousness by Jonathan Newhouse The border between human beings and the rest of the animal kingdom has long been a disputed one. For every Cartesian insisting that it represented a clear and distinct line between mindless automata on one side and ‘thinking beings’ on the other, there have been many traditions willing to endow our fellow creatures with minds and souls equivalent to our own. In the contemporary world things are no clearer, with many of us regarding animals as ‘instinct-driven brutes’ or ‘sentient beings’ with remarkable inconsistency. Although the Western tradition has often emphasised the ability to reason as the dividing line between humans and animals, it’s this question of sentience which is the most pressing in ethical as well as epistemic terms. As English philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote back in 1789, “The question is not, ‘Can they reason’ nor, ‘Can they talk’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” First things first: a working definition. ‘Sentience’ tends to be defined as something along the lines of ‘the ability to feel or perceive’. The element of subjectivity, implicit in the word ‘feel’ and perhaps less so in ‘perceive’, is crucial here, as this is the distinction people are making when they label something ‘sentient’ as opposed to not sentient, and it’s what gives the term its moral implications. It’s important to remember at this point that there are two quite different components to what we call an ‘emotion’. Firstly, there’s the subjective ‘feeling’ of it, what philosophers call a quale, classically described as the ‘redness’ of red or, in this case, the ‘painness’ of pain. This is what people usually mean when they talk about their emotions. Then there’s the physiological state initiated by the brain as it prepares to respond to a stimulus, a famous example of this being the stress response where cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones thicken the blood, increase oxygen supply to the muscles and pare down the digestive system as the body prepares for fight or flight. For the purposes of sentience, it’s the first one that’s significant - physiological states are biologically interesting and many are certainly essential for survival, but in and of themselves
they’re not of any great ethical interest unless there’s some experience involved with them. Of course, it’s not that body and mind are separate, far from it: in a very real sense, we humans when we ‘feel’ an emotion are experiencing both our ‘appraisal’ brain states as we react to an event and, via feedback to the brain, the effects these have generated in the rest of the body. The point is that body states and the action tendencies that go with them don’t take on moral import unless they entail subjective ‘feeling’. And this brings us to what David Chalmers famously labelled the ‘hard problem’ in philosophy of mind: consciousness. Before tackling the problem of animal consciousness head-on, it might be wise to take a step back. How do we know that anything is conscious? The obvious place to start here is ourselves. We as individuals are in the unique position of having direct access to our own experiences, and therefore to our own conscious minds. After all, that’s what consciousness is. Unfortunately for us, that’s where direct access stops. I can’t directly access your experiences, and unless you’ve discovered the secret of telepathy you can’t directly access mine. This is known in philosophy as the Problem of other Minds, and it’s the source of both intricate and often heated academic debate and of that weird feeling you get when you suddenly think what if I’m the only real person there is? Thankfully though, this problem doesn’t bother us most of the time because we have a very useful tool at our disposal: analogy. Given that this person acts and talks like me, the (usually unconscious) thinking goes, and has a human appearance and presumably a human brain like me, it seems fair to assume that they’re conscious like me as well. As with the all good arguments from analogy the resemblance between the two things being equated (that is, the self and other people) is very strong here, and as people can also selfreport consciousness it seems rather far-fetched to imagine that they are actually what Chalmers calls a ‘philosopher’s zombie’ – a seemingly normal
person without a conscious mind. Note though that it’s only because I have conscious experiences of my own that I can get any sense at all of what you’re talking about when you describe yours, making self-report too dependent on the analogy tool. To illustrate this dependence, imagine for a second that a highly sophisticated but unconscious robot has materialised in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Leaving aside the question of whether conceptual understanding without consciousness is possible (which has itself spawned a small forest of debate in the literature), the question is this: how would such a being know that any of the people around it were ‘conscious’? How would it even begin to process such a concept if it were told? Thinking about it this way, the totality of our reliance on analogy is clear: without our own experience we would have no way of understanding what it was to be conscious, indeed of knowing that such a property could even exist, let alone working out who (or what) might have it. The question of animal consciousness is therefore the question of how, and how far, it is appropriate to apply the analogy tool to the breathtaking array of other creatures with which we share our planet. So how do we go about testing the analogy? In order to do so, it is first necessary to see how
comparable the minds of humans and other animals really are, and the most intuitive metric for comparison is behaviour. This is the one we tend to use without even realising it, and it seems to be the basis for many people’s claims that they just know animals are conscious. A spider tries desperately to escape from your bath, you watch a video of a parrot solving an intricate puzzle, your dog stares lovingly into your eyes and it just seems obvious that these animals must be having conscious experiences, must be thinking and feeling and experiencing the world more or less as we do. This is where it’s important to remember a couple of things. Firstly, it’s true that if a human tries to get out of a bath or solves a puzzle or looks lovingly into your eyes, it’s fair to assume that the person is having a conscious experience. But again, that’s only because the analogy is so strong. Nature is a manysplendored thing, and just because human brains do things a certain way doesn’t mean other animal brains have to do it that way as well. This brings us neatly onto the point I mentioned above, namely the distinction between the physiology of emotion and the experience of it. If we’re looking for physiology, for biochemical changes and a tendency towards certain behaviour in response to stimuli, then we’ll find it everywhere we look. At the most
Brain + CNS
Great apes, whales and dolphins, elephants, some monkeys
Close to very close
Fully-developed limbic system and large cortex
Other mammals e.g. bats, rodents
Similar basic plan to above
Birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish
Simple to moderately complex
Core sensory and arousal nuclei, no limbic system or cerebral cortex
Generally simple, may form complex colonies with ‘emergent’ complex behaviours
Very small and simple
Figure 1: Ranking of groups of organisms for various factors that may bear on consciousness
SPINAL CORD CEREBELLUM OPTIC LOBE CEREBRAL HEMISPHERE
CEREBRAL HEMISPHERE OPTIC LOBE CEREBELLUM SPINAL CORD
Figure 2: The ‘emotional’ limbic system and ‘higher-order’ cerebral cortex which make up a large part of the mammalian brain are completely absent in birds. Whilst it is possible that ‘lower’ brain areas are involved in consciousness, there is no reason to infer that their experience would be similar to ours. basic level, bacteria will spontaneously move up a gradient of a substance conducive to their survival, and down a gradient of a substance that’s harmful to them, and similar responses are found in basically every living organism in existence. This being the case, it’s obvious that any criterion for inferring felt pain and pleasure which relies simply on apparently ‘motivated’ behaviours isn’t going to get us very far, unless we’re willing to grant consciousness to bacteria. OK, so what about more complex functions, like learning and problem-solving? These seem tempting as badges of consciousness, perhaps because we associate them so strongly with our own species that it’s hard not to project a little human consciousness into the head of the parrot as we watch it work on a puzzle. But this criterion isn’t going to work either. For one thing, computers can learn and problem-solve better than most humans in many respects, and the vast majority of people see no reason to imagine they are conscious. Of course, one objection here is that a computer isn’t biological. In that case, how about the humble slime mould, a strange bright yellow organism with no brain at all which nonetheless seems able to learn from experience and progressively modify its behaviour over the course of its lifetime. Apparently ‘strategic’ behaviour? There are species of worms with only 300 neurons in their bodies which seek out food on their own under certain conditions and in groups when that is more likely to produce a favourable outcome. Obviously, it’s easy to go on listing examples and debating the relevance of each one but the fundamental insight is this: there
is no requirement for consciousness or the felt experience of emotion in order for certain patterns of physiology and behaviour to be produced in response to certain stimuli. All that is required is that these patterns have effects which cause them to be passed down over many generations in evolutionary time, and this is equally as true for animals as it is for the slime mould. Could it be that when a small lizard runs away from a big lizard that it has a conscious, subjective experience of fear? Certainly. But it is equally possible that the tendency to run away from big lizards has simply been adaptive without the need for any kind of consciousness coming along for the ride. Remember, any insight into the fact that there is a thing called ‘consciousness’ at all comes from direct experience of one individual of one species, far out on one branch of the evolutionary tree. As discussed below, this doesn’t mean it makes sense to throw out the idea of animal consciousness altogether, far from it, but it does mean we’re going to need a better paradigm than behaviour if we’re going to start coming to any conclusions about it. What might that paradigm be? If you objected to the examples above on the grounds that when simple organisms behave a particular way there’s a totally different biological system behind it than with us or other complex organisms (and with computers no biological system at all), I think you might be on the right track. As discussed above, it’s logically possible for apparently ‘emotional’ behaviours to occur without the need for
consciousness, but as the system producing those behaviours gets more and more similar to ours, it makes more and more sense to think that it’s producing subjective experiences along with them. In fact, this seems to challenge an assumption I’ve implicitly been making up to now, and which is all too often made in discussions of consciousness, namely that consciousness is an all-or-nothing state which is either ‘on’ or ‘off ’. There are a few reasons why this is unlikely. As T.H. Huxley pointed out in his 1874 response to Descartes: evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer – it cannot go back to the drawing board or suddenly introduce a complex new system simply because it’s had a ground-breaking ‘idea’. With this in mind, it seems much more plausible to think, as neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has suggested, that consciousness developed in stages from more basic forms of ‘proto-conscious’ awareness before (presumably) finding its fullest expression to date in modern humans. From this perspective it becomes clear that the exercise here need not consist of looking at a duck and saying “Is it conscious or not?”, “And this rabbit?”, “How about a snail?”. The idea of a sudden evolutionary ‘leap’ remains possible, but with our current state of knowledge it makes far more sense to think in terms of a sort of ‘continuum of consciousness’. Approaching the problem from this angle, we can estimate the degree of consciousness an animal likely possesses based partly on its behaviour, but more tellingly on the closeness of its evolutionary relationship to us and the similarity of its brain and nervous system to our own. To save both myself and you a very dense and confusing paragraph, I decided it was probably best to represent this putative ‘continuum’ as a table (Figure 1). Obviously, there are several qualifications to add to the representation above. I’ve left out a lot of groups and ignored a lot of diversity within each, and most importantly the hierarchy is in reality most likely a spectrum, which I’ve divided into rough buckets for convenience rather than accuracy. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that the above represents what can be tentatively inferred with the analogy tool and doesn’t necessarily represent the degree of consciousness enjoyed by each animal or group of animals. None of this rules out the possibility that creatures radically different from us (such as
the octopus with its neuron-rich tentacles) or even computers could in principle be conscious. But as I’ve repeatedly stressed analogy, imperfect as it is, really is the only tool at our disposal here. In the future I hope that neuroscience, evolutionary biology and who knows maybe even philosophy will shed new light on the problem which will allow us to move beyond this crude picture, and it’s certainly premature given how little we know about the brain to declare that consciousness will forever remain a mystery. But until then I think there are a few take-home lessons from this messy journey into animal consciousness. Firstly, and most importantly, it seems very likely that at least some of our animal cousins have something we would recognise as consciousness. The great apes and cetaceans, for example, are genetically very close to us, with brains which, though proportionally smaller than ours and with a smaller cerebral cortex, closely resemble our own and certainly those of our recent ancestors. This means that, while it’s probably not fair to say that putting a chimp in the zoo or keeping an orca in a tiny enclosure is like doing the same to a human, it may not be too far off. Given the compelling similarities between us and our closest relatives, it seems to me more remarkable to think that we have full, vivid consciousness while they are completely ‘in the dark’ than that their experience is something approaching, though undoubtedly different to, our own. In view of this, even if we never find out how conscious they are, if at all, it behoves us to treat them as if they were, especially when there is no pressing human need involved and mistreatment arises more or less from caprice. Still having trouble with the idea of varying degrees of consciousness? Here’s an experiment for you: when you wake up tomorrow morning, think back to tonight and try to pinpoint the exact moment when your consciousness suddenly ‘switched off ’ and you went in an instant from the height of conscious awareness to the oblivion of sleep. Of course, you won’t be able to do it, but if you’ll indulge my fancy for a moment you might be able to do something much more remarkable: to gain a sense of what it might just be like, if such a thing were possible, to experience 3.8 billion years of evolution in reverse.
a new one by Eoin Bentick
I was sat at my laptop at 3:33am. Thinking of she who escapes me. My perpetually absent she, who knows me not. Memories of her dropping glances whisked my heart and whipped my brain into meringue. I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t write. The folding fabric of her oceanic dress drowned me. Her shooting-star eyes burnt me, less than a moment, a visual scream, and then nothing. Were these memories or fantasies? It didn’t matter. I bore her, but only in my mind. My scattered books promised her to me. They told me of her, they helped me form her. But while the black lines of print taught me hope, my white screen mocked her absence. My eyes, flitting between full pages and an empty Word, began to fuzz. Black shapes and white clouded my vision till all was static. It was weird. I saw nothing but dancing black and white dots. My room receded behind this hiss. Slowly, out of the grainy monochrome, two figures appeared. A longish blob and a squat blob. As they zoomed towards me, they took shape and, in no time at all, I was standing awkwardly close to Laurence Fishburne and a red Chesterfield. Neither of us really knew why we were there or what we were meant to do. I had thought about giving him one my caramel digestives that was on my desk, but I could no longer see my room for static. He let out a voiced exhalation, smiled at me quickly, and then looked away. Shuffled his feet a bit, smiled a bit, nodded. Bursting the silence, I started to whinge of my love. I told him how I’d been working on her for three years now, how she had once been so fresh and clear and everythingy, and how she just wasn’t there, and how I doubted if she was ever there, and how I thought I was close to ... and how far she seemed from me, and how I just couldn’t get her out of me, and how she was muddied and confused, and how ... I began to sob. I begged Morpheus to bring her to me, my quintessence of beauty. I begged him to give me my perfection. The god of sleep silently thrust forward two closed fists. He turned over his left fist and opened it to reveal a pearl. He said something important. He then turned over his right fist and unfurled it to reveal a rose and he then said some more things. I couldn’t really follow. When I realised that he expected me to do or say something, I bowed, thanked him and took the rose and pearl from out outstretched hands. Which wasn’t what he wanted. Livid, the dark armless-sunglassed god Wushu-ed me in the back of the head with a flurry of fists and
legs. That sent me to sleep well enough. And so, I started to dream. I was walking along the banks of a crystal river. A beautiful river full of rocks. I couldn’t speak their colour; all the colours, not white nor black, but more, more than colour came from inside the rocks or was reflected from the light of the generous sun. I saw everything through them but her. With them I could see everything but her. In them I saw everything but her. I saw Shropshire’s golden fields of rapeseed. I saw Snowden’s heady fog. I saw London’s scudding clouds through gaps that should have been blue. I could make out Brighton’s burnt-toast pebbles behind Llangrannog’s hazy cliffs. There was a honey-coloured Cotswold home with a turquoise Harborne door. My attic room had an old Old Street skylight, which opened out to a wide Man City-blue sky. There had been two big extensions: one massive kitchen and one orangery. I could see them all from my attic skylight. I could also see the shoddilyfenced garden, with a strange and thick and square concrete pole that tapered into a pyramid at the top. Like a big square concrete pencil. I climbed out of my skylight onto a crenelated balcony, then clambered up to the valley of the roof to sit and have a cigarette and think of my love. The garden was concrete as well. All of it. Slabs and a concrete obelisk. As soon as the house ended and up to the indefinite horizon, it was a road, a car-park, something to do with the council, and everything else boring and grey and expansive. I finished my cigarette, keeping my eyes away from the distractingly uninteresting garden and set on the house’s syrupy intricacies or the sky’s colourful trompes-l’oeil, but as I went to flick my butt, I turned back to that dour garden and was sullened. It was so boring. I stared at the monotony of it. I allowed myself to be drawn into its mesmerising dullness, its not-even-nothingness. I stared blankly at its blandness. Half-heartedly engrossed, I started to make out embossed grey shapes against a slightly-darker grey relief. Eight of them. They were images, not carved, but set into the concrete. They must have been made in moulds. Tedious images of tiresome people. When my mind was sufficiently numbed, I realised that the slab I was staring at depicted Work. The toad, Work, took up the majority of the slab she squatted on. Behind her bulbous body, you could
only just about see four corners of background relief. She stared back at me, fixing my gaze with the corners of her mouth slightly curled upwards. She sat on a meagre pile – more a scattering – of notes. She was fat and heavy and inevitable. The artist had taken pains to depict a secretion seeping from her warty skin: a hallucinogen. A lick of this stuff and the toad transforms into Helen of Troy, Venus, or that one from the Sugababes. In the top right-hand corner, behind her paratoid glands, you could make out a man waking up as the hallucinogen wears off. His expression was one of repulsion and resignation as he stuck his tongue out to have another lick. To the left of Work was Habit, who had once made such brilliant choices that she didn’t need to make any more. She wore an interesting outfit; it was the same she’d worn ever since that time someone said she looked good in it. She held her hand out in an interesting gesture of greeting, the same she used the first time she introduced herself to her only friends. She was spouting interesting opinions, political, artistic, and moral, which hadn’t changed since she’d read her first novel. Habit led a comfortable life. There were no surprises for Habit; every day was similar to the last. I must say, the slab’s depiction of her did catch my eye. For a moment. It dulled fast. On the other side of Work was Bureaucracy, sitting at her old desktop computer. She had a vacant, glazed stare and a deep-rooted hatred for mankind. She had thick glasses and a hunched back. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make others’ lives difficult. She wasn’t poor, Bureaucracy; she wore a gaudy necklace made of silver and semi-precious stones, she had a sleeve of bracelets, and wore an Ascot-ready hat. What little of her skin you could see was covered in an inch of make-up. The hatefilled eyes, turned-up nose, deaf ears, and cat’s-bum lips were all I could see of her. I didn’t know what she was. It was far too much faff for me to try to understand what she meant. Drawing my eyes upwards to the horizon, I saw Unhappiness, miserable young beauty. She faced Old Age, set beside her. The cruel artist had compelled the two to stare forever at each other like the Duke and Duchess of Urbino. These concrete paintings held no dignified solemnity. They wore no proud expressionlessness. The one scorned the prime of her life; the other lamented it. One hated the other for what she had done; the
other hated the one for what she failed to do. They scowled with mutual hatred. Old Age’s clothes were stained, her hair was loose, she was barefoot, and she raved. Cracks in the concrete obscured her face. Unhappiness, who wished only to look at and excoriate herself, was forced to look on Old Age. What she saw horrified her and drew her deeper into despair. She was gloriously dressed. She wore the second-best dress in the world with the secondbest shoes and a scent that wasn’t quite the one that she had wanted to get. The two fed off each other’s misery. Unhappiness yearned to have had her life, the last thing she wanted to do was live it, whilst Old Age yearned for the years that Unhappiness was wasting. Poverty was next, all on her own. I almost missed her. She was scrunched up in a sleeping-bag and a stained blanket. Her dark face, sleeping or dead on the floor, was marked with darker bits. The skin of her cheeks barely hung off her soft bones. The slab was split. Some of her hair was missing and dirty scabs clumped the thin hair that remained. Someone had spilled a McDonald’s strawberry milkshake on her and it was starting to drip off the sleeping-bag onto her forehead. A three-legged dog guarded her. There were two more slabs that I could make out near the horizon. To the left of my vision was Fear and to the right was Boredom. Fear was confusing. The thumb of her right hand was placed on the fingernails of her first and fourth fingers. Her little finger was curled but didn’t have the protection of the thumb. This left her third finger powerfully erect, thrust towards me. In her left hand, she held a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm semiautomatic. She was frozen in this position. She could do nothing but point her finger and her gun. If you had nerve enough to look her down, you could just about make out the bottomless hole that the artist had drilled into the centre of her eye. The most pleasing slab was Boredom. On the bottom edge of the slab was an alluring illustration of a forest’s undergrowth. There were fairies sat on rotten logs watching gods frolic in the damp leaves. Above was an inhabited night sky. I saw a hunter piercing a hart’s chest with a phoenixquivered arrow and a young boy carrying water to the planets’ feast. The sides of the slab were walls of books. From my lofty roof, I could just about make out De Planctu Naturae, The Divine Comedy (in translation), Paradise Lost, The Prelude, and Blake’s
Illuminated Books. The Bible was probably there somewhere. The bookcases towered from the forest floor to the top of the heavens. Right in the middle sat Boredom with her phone. Mindlessly scrolling through pages she’s already read and pictures she’d already seen. She refreshed and kept on scrolling, harumphing at the scenes around her with tired eyes. As I was contemplating who could have depicted these depressing women, Morpheus’s pearl fell out of my pocket, rolled along the gulley of the roof, went down the patinated drainpipe, and shot its way out onto Work’s slab. I delved my hand into my other pocket and pricked myself on the thorns of the blood-red rose. I’d forgotten my love. The
concrete must not have been completely set. I saw the pearl sink into the thick grainy grey, into the toad’s wet and wrinkled forehead. I’d completely forgotten my love. But I was fired by something else. From the tiny prick in the end of finger issued a crimson river that followed the pearl’s path. My love had been expunged from me, but now I had these. Each slab was stained. I went to cross the wine-dark river, to retrieve the pearl from Work’s fetid skin, to embrace these images with more blood, to study them, and to find the moulds for myself, to make myself in their image. I leapt in, awoke, and finally started to write my bloody chapter.
SQUARE MYTHOLOGIES thinking borders and enclosed spaces
by Virna Koutla
Samuel Beckett wrote “Quad” in 1981. He described it as a piece for four players. Quad is a square space with a designated centre, a closed quadrilateral system, what Deleuze called a “globally-defined” space. Four players traverse the square following a particular direction and a course of eight movements given in Quad’s script. The players traverse the square with the single aim to avoid the centre and each other. The play consists of four acts, in which the players appear on stage one after the other and leave the stage the same way. Their movement across these acts is unbroken. The play starts with the first player [protagonist 1] entering the square from the top left corner, moving across the sides and the diagonals according to the script and arriving at his/her starting point after completing the eighth movement. At this moment, a second player [protagonist 3] joins the play entering from the bottom left corner. The two players together on stage perform their continuous courses until they arrive again at their starting points, where they are joined by a third player [protagonist 4] entering from the bottom right corner. The three players together perform again their continuous courses and when arriving at their starting points, they are joined by the last player [protagonist 2] entering from the square’s top right corner. All four players perform their courses together just one time; at the point when the eighth movement is complete (and they all arrive at their starting points) the process of leaving the stage begins. The players start leaving the square in the same manner as they entered until there is only
one player left on stage who also marks the beginning of the next act. The same process is followed across all acts. Through a set of instructions Beckett designs an unbroken movement concerned with the limitations of the square. Actions are perceived and performed within Quad’s enclosed space, and are suggested by its boundaries. But as much as Quad is concerned with the “inside” and the “enclosed”, it is also a play about the “outside” and the “relational”. Beckett creates Quad by moving outside the textual form, beyond the representation of things in space. Beckett creates a play not to be spoken or pronounced but to be purely performed. By writing the script in the form of an algorithm, Beckett arrives at the essence of action, of moving bodies in space, of language. Quad is a work about language. A lot more than words, in Quad Beckett is concerned with the capacity of language to fabricate narratives, with the capacity of language to go beyond what is formal to what is variable and to what possibly remains unsaid. In other words, Beckett is concerned with the exhaustion of language per se, as a means to explore the possibilities that unravel within the enclosed space of the square. In Quad, Beckett explores language in terms of processes; the language he uses is no longer attached to objects and meanings, rather it is a sort of system to re-invent the delimited square space and its boundaries. Beckett makes use of the formal to arrive at the formless, he
designs an iterative structure only to explore the potential of the unstructured that comes out of repetition. In this sense, the Beckettian language of Quad is what Deleuze describes as the “image-refrain” (Deleuze and Ulhmann 1995, p9), or what we could else call an “imageunit” (Koutla 2016, p54), a structural element that allows for the composition, decomposition and recomposition of the quadrilateral space. Quad’s performative space is constantly constructed by the play’s textual form. Lacking any other determinations, empty of objects or other notable physical details, the space of the Quad is the space that its script suggests. The language of the script is the language of movement which transforms into the physical space where action is anticipated. The script defines not only the limits, the focal points and the points of reference of a globally-defined square space but also suggests the rhythm, the pace and the direction of players who ceaselessly traverse a locally-defined quadrilateral surface. Through the construction of the macro, Beckett arrives at the execution of the micro; Quad is concerned with the present moment, the construction of an ongoing rhythm, of a site and time-specific space which resides in the relationships between the players within the broader context of the square. Thus, Beckett designs the global – the designated square space – in order to host the relational – the intersubjective exchanges between the four players. In this sense, Quad introduces a condition, a situation of body encounters, a
circular temporality that allows for the plural while acknowledging the singular. Quad is a space continually recreated by action and by the formal singularities of the four protagonists on stage. The existence of Quad’s space is secured whenever the actors gather together to undertake their common project and it disappears the moment their activity ceases. Thus, Quad is not just dependent upon the singular – the individual existence of each player in isolation – but it is a space entirely tied to plurality. As a spatio-temporal organisation of bodies Quad can only be considered in terms of networks of relations. The four players perform within the condition of their co-existence; their deeds describe this coalescence and their bodies affirm it, sometimes in the most dramatic ways, in the curving or the leaning to the front or to the sides as they try to avoid each other. Thus, their being together on stage is the sine qua non. Beckett’s instructions to the four protagonists are a set of simple tasks to be performed. He designed a series of possible environments to be enacted. But at the same time, within Quad’s limited space, Beckett proclaims freedom. Within the restraints of the square, within Quad’s enclosed space, Beckett explores the capacity to begin, the capacity to start anew, the capacity to compose, decompose and recompose. Each time the circle is closed, each time the course of movement is complete the miracle is re-enacted. The four players start
again but their action is unpredictable exactly because it is a manifestation of freedom. Beckett binds the players to the same rules, to fixed positions and known courses, but even in so doing – or maybe exactly because he does so – he manages to create an active space which is never – and in fact could never be – identical to the one which has just ended or the one that will follow, or any other one. In the relational space of Quad the outcome can never be predicted; every action becomes a reaction, every deed a source of future deeds, and what remains is the promise of action. The iterative structure that Beckett designs is, then, what makes that promise possible. Quad’s principal function is to exhaust. To exhaust the players, to exhaust language, to exhaust space. It is by means of exhaustion that Beckett discloses individuality and allows the players to reveal the “who” that they are rather than the “what”. We could argue, even, that Beckett designs the “what” only to let the “who” emerge in the performative space. In the script, Beckett makes explicit that the four players need to be as alike in build as possible. Their sex is indifferent. Their bodies are covered so that there can be no visual distinction. However, Quad is based as much on distinction – in terms of appearance – as it is on equality. Distinction emerges, and becomes predominant even, as the players inhabit the square. As they constantly traverse its sides and its diagonals. As the fatigue of their unending movement builds up and starts to show through their bodies. The disclosure of individuality, the individual voice of the players comes out of this condition of exhaustion; over time the players’ knees weaken and they cannot bear their own weight. They express their fatigue through shuffling feet. The shuffling becomes the affirmation of the players’ existence, the manifestation of their action upon the given space. It is this shuffling that takes the form of a spatialised language and speaks out for the individuals. It is exactly this shuffling
that carries the identity, the personality, and the intentions of each player, through the particularities of their pace, rhythm, direction, movement. And it is, moreover, this shuffling that allows for communication among the players and the actualisation of Quad’s potential space. In other words, the shuffling confirms what is been happening and promises what is yet to come by establishing bridges among the actors. Beckett’s spatialised language emerges from the algorithmic systems that he designs and migrates into the inhabited space of Quad, the space of the lived experience. By exhausting words, Beckett arrives at a pure enactment of the enclosed space of the square. It is a form of dialogue defined by human action which discloses the subjectivity of the actors. Thus, much more than a square space, Quad can be understood as a field of forces, a dynamic space that is not concerned with the single execution but with the processes that allow multiple narratives to unravel. Quad is the Deleuzian “image”, and as such “it stores up a fantastic potential energy […] it captures all of the possible so as to make it leap” (Deleuze and Ulhmann 1995, p11). Although Quad is, a theatrical piece, this paper suggests that the structures enabling the synthesis of its interior space can be applied in other types of interiors. From enclosed rooms in the context of an architectural program – such as rooms with particular functionality or place within the program – to enclosed spaces in the context of the urban environment – like urban squares. What is proposed here is not a single design, but a design methodology which deals with the “enclosed” as a relational space. This space, or rather this field of forces, opens up a spectrum of possibilities for (future) performance. “Square Mythologies” are seen, in this sense, as the systems that enable the process of an always becoming interior and construct its relation to the context within which it is situated.
new specs by Anonymous
Like in American Beauty, a plastic bag got caught in the branches. I saw it blown there yesterday evening and now, through newly purchased lenses (to replace smashed specs), I can see its forlorn flappings caught in a new detail of twigs, just on the cusp of the distortion in the old window glass I look through each day. This morning the sun illuminates the other side of the trunk, Midas touch. From eyes through glass, through glass again to light and from thence back to brain. Why I don’t see upside down is still
beyond me. Hold on to that moment of wonder. Make it last till the pain kicks in. Where will I go when my body is my own rather than this swollen, broken thing contained within a sickly room? Asking no one, I will force down the accelerator of my car, drive to a high mountain, climb to the peak; push through the clouds, stand on the edge of a precipice and lean, arms outstretched, into the wind. Alone. Independent. Free. That’s where I’ll go one day when I’m myself again.
This poem was written whilst I was recovering from a cycling accident, when I broke my back and injured one foot very badly. I was initially in a wheel chair, then on crutches, and only began to walk reasonably normally after six months and a lot of physiotherapy. During that time, I was largely confined to my house, dependent on others for the simplest of things, and often alone for long periods of time, looking out of my bedroom window.
A Tuesday in July by Manos Charalabopoulos Original in Greek, reworked in English
Κάπου στο δρόμο, μια γωνιά: ελεύθεροι στεκόντουν δώδεκα άντρες, γυναίκες δύο χαμένοι ταξιδιώτες. Μια ρίγη ξέσπασε, ή φόβος να’ταν, μαζί μονάχοι στέκονταν δώδεκα άντρες γυναίκες δύο.
On a street, somewhere, a corner: freely stood twelve men and women two – lost travellers. A shiver broke out, or was it fear, together and alone they stood twelve men and women two.
Καλοκαίρι ήτανε, μα ο καιρός άσχημος, μια πόρτα κλειστή μας κοίταγε, με κοίταζε στολιστή, κακόγουστη, βαστούσε μίση και χώριζε ψυχές που αλλού φίλοι ίσως να’τανε. Μα όχι, εδώ ζώο σου λένε• άνθρωπε τα ζώα δεν σου φταίξαν τη δική σου ασχήμια• και αλλού φύγε και βγες έξω, φύγε λέω κι εγώ βάρος φύγε σύννεφο που μυαλό καρδιά και σώμα θολώνεις.
It was summer, but the weather ugly, a door – shut – stared at us, stared at me: ornate, bad-taste, bitter with Tuesday hatred, it separated the souls of elsewhere’s friends – perhaps. But no, here ‘Animal!’ they say – animals needn’t take blame for man’s own ugliness. And elsewhere ‘Leave!’ and ‘Get out!’. ‘Leave’ I say too ‘burden, leave cloud and cloud not mind, heart and body.’
Πρόσωπα, μάτια, λέξεις όλα φεύγουν, μόνο μια ρίγη μένει και η απορία αν δώδεκα άντρες γυναίκες δύο ελεύθεροι στεκόντουν.
Faces, eyes, words are all gone; only a shiver remains and a doubt if twelve men and women two had freely stood.
Frontier Anxieties, Espionage and Privilege by Chris Doyle
Stevie Smith’s Over the Frontier, Edward Upward’s Journey to the Border, Auden and Isherwood’s On the Frontier. All of these were published in the 1930s. Borders and frontiers were a fundamental preoccupation of the decade. Indeed, acknowledgement of this fact is a commonplace. Given the political situation of Europe at the time, we understand implicitly that borders were more than ever a matter of life or death. In Isherwood’s 1934 novel Mr Norris Changes Trains, the titular character breaks out into ‘beads of sweat on his alabaster forehead’ at the mere fact of facing a passport check when crossing a frontier. Moreover, anxiety stemmed not only from the potentially fatal consequences of attempting a proscribed crossing, but also from the arbitrary, temporary nature of some of the borders themselves that sprang into being following the First World War and were prone thereafter to sudden, unpredictable shifts in response to volatile geopolitical circumstances.
border embodied by the Iron Curtain, and illustrated iconically by the image of Richard Burton as Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold being gunned down attempting to scale the Berlin Wall. Prior to this, however, the era of the Second World War brought different border anxieties. We think perhaps of Rex Harrison leaping between cable-cars in the Alps on the Swiss-German border to escape Nazi pursuit in Night Train to Munich, or, more poignantly, we can’t help but recall Walter Benjamin’s failure to escape to the USA via Portugal and his suicide at
The second half of the 20th century provided us with the paradigm of a singular, emblematic
the era of the Second World War brought different border anxieties. 29
20th century. A British passport is frequently a free pass: an automatic escape from the stringent scrutiny that others endure. The British traveller moves unimpeded and his passport is a magical talisman, revered by travellers from other nations. In Eric Ambler’s 1937 thriller, Uncommon Danger, the novel’s protagonist gets into trouble after finding himself asked to smuggle documents over the border simply because he is immune from inspection: ‘You are an Englishman. They would not dare. There is no risk. It is a little thing for you.’ The freedom from anxiety that comes with this is not an achievement of the individuals involved, but instead an accident of birth and a side effect of politics and history. It is not earned or deserved, and is more exceptional to the foreigner than to the Englishman who takes his ease for granted.
Portbou on the French-Spanish border. I work on espionage fiction in the 30s and 40s, so I’m preoccupied with borders and frontiers. As a genre (or, more accurately, a sub-genre), espionage fiction’s mechanisams of plot development rely on the movement of the illicit and the covert: documents, photographs, military plans, people. This creates an ephemera of fluttering papers: passports, ID cards, and transit visas. Legitimacy is textual. Forgeries can be made, and often are, but even these simply contribute to a reliance on the physical object to speak to the authenticity, and thus survival – or condemnation – of the person to whom they belong. Attempts to subvert the frontier without documentation speak unambiguously of guilt, but may still represent better odds of survival than attempting to bluff the agents of the state. In these novels, crossing the border is the moment of peak anxiety for the hunted man, the secret agent, or the refugee. It is the moment at which the passive surveillance and indirect consent of the state to allow unimpeded passage is hardened into an explicit examination of credentials. It is no longer enough to simply obey the rules as best you can. At this moment your fate is decided. The trauma of violation by bureaucratic violence is baked into the moment. As a British citizen, it’s curious to note in particular one recurrent trope of border crossings in the early
Musing on borders and frontiers, it’s been interesting living through 2016 (and 2017) whilst having my head stuck firmly in the 30s. The parallels of populism, demagoguery, and rising intolerance are obvious in the forms of Trump and Brexit as well as events in Turkey, Russia, Syria, and beyond. In the specific case of Brexit, I’ve been thinking a lot about passports – about the diminution of that once magical British passport and the re-establishment of faded borders.
Certainly there are innumerable other negative effects of Brexit which are of far greater import than my personal sense of frustrated internationalism
The reactionary nostalgia that followed up the Brexit referendum with calls for a return of the blue passport, the use of which preceded EU membership, was a nadir in the barrel-scraping obscurantism that characterises the rhetoric of its most vocal supporters (though, to be fair, identifying a nadir here is basically a case of finding a needle in a pile of needles). The logic of the Brexiteers’ reactionary yearning is to demand a return to and hardening of borders with an expectation that this will be a situation which holds for Them and not for Us. In the oftcited Good Old Days, somewhere between 1815 and 1973, crossing borders on trains held no fear for a British citizen, but even before boarding the train itself, scenes that encapsulated asymmetrical privilege played out, and often appeared in the 30s espionage novel. Foreigners queued and waited to board packed third-class carriages, while the Platonic form of the sardonic Englishman looked on from the first-class dining car with detached superiority, and worried that the jostling of the train would impede the taste of the more expensive wines on the menu. The nostalgists imagine such situations will arise again. They are, of course, deluded to think such a thing possible, even before we admonish them for idealising such regressive visions. In reality, of course, such borders never vanished. While the reactionary nostalgists complained about those who were newly granted rights to enter and live and imagined in horror that the English language was being driven out of suburban trains, EU membership worked to ensure that the most visceral examples of frontier savagery were kept far from home, out of sight and out of mind in Greece, Hungary, and Italy. It takes a particularly potent strain of selfdelusion and privilege to oppose the systems and structures that insulate these small-minded folk from their worst fears, but that is what has occurred.
basis of our expectation for travelling without hassle is almost diametrically opposed, there is that commonality in expectation. After the horror of the referendum begun to sink in, my first response was to wonder how easily I could leverage my Maltese heritage to be allowed to stay a member of the EU club, rather than remain marooned on our fading “other Eden” forever. Absolutely, it’s something that is personally important to me, but it’s not (yet) life or death. It feels seismic, but I’m constantly reminded by my work that the 20th century saw such extremes that in many respects this pales in contrast. Certainly there are innumerable other negative effects of Brexit which are of far greater import than my personal sense of frustrated internationalism, but reflecting on the criticality of borders and their inherent danger in the fictive narratives I study constantly brings me back into confrontation with the fragility of not just comfort, but safety. The privilege and comfort lies in barely needing to acknowledge these borders exist and their crossing holding no anxiety, while, not so far away, frontiers are still impassable objects, mounted with barbed wire, searchlights, and machine guns. Espionage fiction can help remind those of us insulated from such worries that not so long ago, they were very real, not just in distant lands, but on our doorstep, though it may be the case that soon we will not need reminding.
This train of thought teases out an awareness of my own sense of privilege. It is not the privilege of the Brexit nostalgists who essentially long for the return of Empire, but rather another sort: that of having always been European. Though the
the oldest graffiti artist in the world by Marc Carver
I had a thought so I walked into the apple store and went to notes On the first machine I put ARE U ALIVE? No answer. On the second I put ARE U ALIVE! Still no answer. And on the third I put ARE U ALIVE. still nothing so I walked out I thought about getting an aerosol can and doing it in the road while everybody was asleep so they would all drive past it on the way to work but no one would know it was me, still I think, there would be no response none from man and none from machine.
The Entropic Custodian by Tessa Glinoer
What is the trajectory of crying? After so many hiccups it just becomes a soulful blunder through time. Entropy prevails, as the tears to the sobs to the crinkled skin all merge into one. Invisible becomes the delineable.
Night They were examining each other’s eyes, sitting at a table in a restaurant. Nothing to be done, thought Girl. She thought some more, nothing to be done but look. A slight smile fractured the line of her lips. She watched the corners of Boy’s face warm in faint self-consciousness. Footsteps. A waiter cleared his throat, preparing to speak. Girl raised her hand to him, the meaning of the gesture dangling from her fingertips. The footsteps retreated. Girl and Boy returned to each other’s gaze, the interruption threatening to depress the volume of their moment. It would be nice to think that the moment inflated back, but the moment had already passed. Fugacious as they are, they clump time and simultaneously stretch it out. From afar, the couple were indeed looking at one another. But squint a little more: the couple had sighted themselves in the other’s reflection. The boundary had looped back around to the subjective, to the ego, to the I. No longer was Girl looking at Boy or Boy looking at Girl, they were using the other to rediscover themselves. The couple left the restaurant. They kissed goodbye on the corner of a street and disappeared into different edges of the night. As Girl walked, she imagined a watching shadow beside her. She turned to look. A stranger slipped by, squeezing through the narrow gap between Girl and a brick wall. The stranger fused with the darkness.
the rest of her body. It was difficult to make out the attachment in such dark light. She pressed her thumb to her cheek, a tactile reminder of her presence in the present, even if she could not see it. The tip of Girl’s nose tightened as a raindrop met its end. Water lacerated night, soaking the velveteen silence. Girl began to droop under the weight of the rain, yet from each drop dripped an idea that trailed from her skull to her mind. As she wilted, the night suddenly flared alive. Girl stared across the street and saw a mass of running hooded figures. She glided over the road towards them, and found herself walking straight through them. A nearby light ate a chunk of night. Girl ventured onwards, towards the outline of an aging, gritty building. She entered a tube station, sliding onto an escalator, waiting for descent. Someone behind her tried to squeeze past. Girl angled her drenched self, remembering Boy’s warm face in the restaurant. Girl shifted back upon the person passing, and was confronted by the huge pupils of a tiny human being. The baby was almost all eye – swallowing the world. Girl touched her
Girl brought her hand up to her eyes, trying to connect it to
cold and damp coat, but her fingers came away searing, burnt by the stare of the baby. A thick shoulder bumped the little thing up higher. The baby’s gaze crawled to the top of the escalator. Its clasping mother pressed into the handrail as she heaved herself onto the station floor, forcing her movements with low hauling breaths that did nothing to galvanize her sweat into suspense. Girl overtook. She noticed the mother’s swollen belly and her hard, stoic face. Girl overtook. Girl came to a halt outside a small house. She stuck the key in the door and twisted. The house shifted on her entrance, her presence disturbing the opaque, memory-ridden air. The living room light was on. Or had the dark just become familiar? A single pair of slits watched Girl from the sofa as she drew closed the living room door. The slits became eyes, became a figure, and then the figure stood. Knuckles red, a languished mouth: the man was a state of man. Girl advanced up the stairs to her room, leaving the metaphor behind. Girl threw herself across her bed and closed her forlorn eyes. A tune caressed her throat. Her hum went on and on. Night yawned, its breath turned into dawn and dissolved her melodious itch.
Day They studied each other’s eyes, sitting at a table in a restaurant. In looking at Boy, Girl saw only Girl, and Boy only Boy. ‘What are we going to do?’ she asked. ‘About them running out of olives?’ he replied, eyeing the empty bowl. Girl blinked. Perhaps it was only in her mind that when she looked at him she saw herself. She squinted at him, exerting herself to realize him in all his selfhood. Meanwhile, Boy was substituting the empty bowl with a glass of water. He, she thought, is an autonomous being independent from you, not simply a manifestation of some inevitable subjective projection. She looked at her five fingers, flat on the table beside the bowl. She sighed and watched as the airy atoms of her exhalation were inhaled by him. Now, with her inside him, maybe there was an edge of hope that Boy would see Girl the way Girl was trying to see
him: whole. Boy sneezed. Girl rolled her eyes at futility. Was there not even an edge of hope that somewhere in the meat of existence hung the possibility of experiencing from another’s point of view? ‘Why does it have to be this way?’ spoke Girl, her voice a hairbreadth from a cry. Boy covered her hand with his own and called the waiter to fetch more olives. Thought Girl: I hope one day I’ll have the strength to tell you that olives are not the reason for my strain.
Night A couple of scabbing knuckles, a sealed mouth, and a single pair of slits looked up. The ceiling was squeaking. Back and forth and forth and back and back and forth its creamy skin groaned, the sound stretching out the paint. The living room door was shut, its lock slipping into the hole in the wall. The corridor listened, then slowly proceeded up the stairs, with each step a greater moan, louder, more sizzling, until the top step was reached and there was no sound at all. Boy collapsed on top of Girl, shining in the night. She stared into the darkness, thinking of the tube station and the swollen mother. She shivered. Boy coaxed up his spine to see her more clearly. His arms straight either side of her ribcage, he perused her and wondered. He drew away from her until he was standing by a sliver of wall between the bedroom windows. And suddenly there was a crack in the wall and his knuckles were softly broken and bloody. Girl missed the sound; her thoughts boomed. She dressed herself and maneuvered through various bedroom outlines until she reached the window. Boy, in all his stentorian breathing, was but a shadow to her. She pushed open the window. The smell of otherness arrested her, and then the very girl was gone. She knew why he had hurt himself, he was offended by the perpetual far-off look in her eyes. But he didn’t understand that this was necessary, for Girl knew that if she looked at him, she would only be looking through him to herself. It stung more than not looking at all.
Girl drifted across streets, smooth lines of concrete curling the split-ends of her mood. She ran in time…
Day …to the rhythm of her mind. Her mind humming, humming, forgetting from where the song originated; a film perhaps, or a voice. Even if she did know the source, what difference would it make. Perception perpetually wrings out indifference in servitude to sentience. To gauge the root of her song would have been to delineate between a droplet and a tear.
Future They groped at each other’s eyes with their own, sitting at a table in a restaurant. The optic action was maniacal, desperate in intent. Girl could not stand to sit still. She inched her hand across the table as Boy tried to lift his from his lap. But his hand, now occupying a bandaged habitat, lay dormant. Girl’s hand stopped just short of Boy. She grasped a little overflowing bowl, and, whether devoid or not of intent, overturned the cold object. Oily olives slobbered across the table surface as Girl bowed down her head to the bowl. Her face touched the viscous liquid. She closed her eyes, coated in the residue of profound indifference. The waiter cried.
CARTOGRAPHER'S FEAR by Colin Bancroft
The lane skirts cliff tops tonight;
Treelines a rubbed out smudge of lead.
Those by the road stencil the choroplethic hue, As though the toner of some metaphysical printer Has run dry. Leafless, they are as rivers are When photographed from space.
Branches become small tributaries
Running off into the swallowing pool of sky. The border country beyond is unmapped. All we know is now and here.
Each step forward reveals something new, And all the while, the ways we passed,
Are enveloped by ever darkling clouds.
by Colin Bancroft
From the bedroom window it shoots straight up, A wall of green and yellow that slowly turns Over at the top, a collar folded cusp. The line-graphed summit is plotted with trees, Below them, ragged hashtags of furze and fern, Bluster in the breeze. Pylons trellis the clouds, giants confined By wires that rip off into the distance As though the sky has been underlined. At night, odd lights flicker; as if new-formed stars Stud the hillside like a solar system, Streaked by the headlight comets of cars. One Saturday I made the climb. The path, A scree of butter-yellow broken biscuits, Zigzagged through the gorse’s thorny haft Until it levelled out on a heather beaten plateau, Where the alarm-clock call of crickets Mixed with the softer riff of traffic from below. I placed a rough-hewn stone on the cairn, Heaved breath back into my fire cracked lungs, And stood, hand over eyes, trying to discern The landmarks of the world I had left behind. Looking down at the place from where I’d come Realising how far I’d actually climbed.
It was spray painted on the last wall in town
In huge green letters that had dripped at their edges,
A ragged logo of youth, a hashtag thrown around Amongst the discontented, a fraternity pledge
To live life to the max; veer off the beaten track, To try everything new. “Fuck tomorrow!”
Someone had daubed beneath it in black.
I can imagine Horace writing to Leuconoe, Graffitiing #carpe diem on the stalls Of the toilets in The Academy.
Kids yelling it as they dived off city walls Into the waters of the llissos. An apidae
Of buzzing youth. But I read it differently,
As I escaped my hometown, after years ensconced In its dead end grip, an epiphanic syncope,
A truism formed. “You Only Leave Once”. And if you do it right then it is enough, So that even if you do have to return,
Like Odysseus, it’s out of either conquest or love -
by Colin Bancroft
But always entirely on your own terms.
on the borderline of living
by Grace Fearon
I’m bordering on the edge of life; am I bordering insanity? I’m in-between survival and defeat; which side is the way out? What is the border between the living and non-living? In April 2016, I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. Not realising the extent of my illness, I had let myself reach the point where I hadn’t stepped outside in two weeks; I hadn’t showered, nor had I changed my clothes, and I found it a challenge to eat. Quite frankly, I felt as though I didn’t belong to the living, and more than just wanting to die, I believed I had to. During this time and often since then, I have thought of myself as on the border of living. Some might think that resisting suicidal thoughts propels you further into life, as though an increasing feeling of hope is pushing you away from the irreversible way out. In actuality, resisting those suicidal thoughts does not necessarily take them away. Instead, reality becomes a medium between wanting life and seeking death, which creates a confusing desire for both. In cases such as this, it becomes difficult to understand what marks the boundary between living and dying. But by affirming the rigidity of this border, especially for those who are significantly mentally unstable, I believe we lead someone more to suicide. That is, as a result of feeling at odds with the laws and expectations a living society enforces, society excludes the mentally
ill whom it deems insubstantial, and frankly, not really ‘living’ at all. Humanity is forcing the mentally ill to question their existence by stripping these individuals of their sense of fulfillment and belonging; the pressure of adhering to societal expectation is pushing the unstable to choose death as a more suitable option, because quite simply, that existence suits them best. Ultimately, society proposes that if you seek to die, you cannot be truly living, and as a result, you no longer deserve to. Perhaps then, there is a mental border between life and death. This boundary is not defined by medical terminology, but rather, by mindset; it is a mental border that determines if you exist as part of the living, or as part of the dead. Created by society, it divides the stable from the mentally ill by placing those who are unwell in a deadened reality, and on the margins of life itself. Society presents the idea of ‘living’ as a realm of possibilities, of different emotions, of wanderlust, and of enjoyment. For instance, on social media there is an abundance of life mottos, inspirational quotes, and other existing aspiring anecdotes. In fact, so common is it to find suggestions on social media, or even in daily conversations, that say we should strive for a happy mindset and a
positive outlook, that we have come to believe these ideas are the key to truly living. Only the other day I came across an Instagram trend known as ‘#notestostrangers’ in which people posted anonymous aspiring messages throughout London. These messages included notes such as ‘hard times wont last’, ‘confidence looks great on you’, ‘ride out anxiety’ and ‘rest, don’t quit’. For those suffering with mental illness, these ‘positive’ societal ideals are damaging, as in a depression-ridden existence none of these life aspirations are possible. You feel as though you are dying internally, and perhaps without realising, society is reaffirming that you are. Too easily it alienates those who do not fit into the social parameters of life as it forces one to choose a place of belonging, or should I say, a place in which they cannot be a hindrance. It is in this sense that the border between life and death becomes representative of a choice you must make; you can’t be in two places at once, and so you must cross into the one that accepts you. Unfortunately, death always will. Many of us might not realise it, but society is pushing the mentally unstable to suicide as it tells them their life is not a worthy existence. I understand that social trends, such as ‘#notestostrangers’ were intended as positive
messages of support, but they miss a fundamental point; you don’t have to eventually be ‘cured’ in order to carry on living, nor might you be able to. Suffering is still a form of living, and you are still living a worthy existence. You should not have to wait until you feel better to feel as though you are a part of society. Despite their words of encouragement, these sort of inspirational messages still convey the message that in order to live life, you should be able to ‘ride out’ that anxiety, to ‘restoff ’ that depression, and eventually reach what we all strive for: stability and happiness. But in cases of severe mental illness, these words are empty. Stability can be impossible to reach and life is, and perhaps always will be, tinged with numbness. However, such a situation does not mean you are ready to cross from the land of emotion, the land of feeling and of experiences, known as the land of the living. No, it is society’s restrictive borders that are forcing people from this land and into another. Society’s ideal of living a full, enthusiastic, and productive life, can be damaging to those who are incapable of doing and feeling so. That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for a positive way of living. Instead, I believe we should begin to incorporate into our way of life the message that life is extremely difficult, and that sometimes you can be
living but feel as though you are not. There is a boundary placed around those who suffer from mental health. Despite common perceptions, this is not necessarily created by stigma, but rather by an inability to adapt to and accept alternate ways of existing. After all, as society teaches us, how can people who cannot feel, think, or even motivate themselves effectively, be a part of a functioning world? When you don’t know how to cross the border between life and death, and you’re stuck on the margin itself, society offers no safe crossing; choosing death becomes the only viable option. Society’s idolised vision of life is causing people to believe that their own isn’t really ‘existing’ at all. So where do these people belong? Can you live a life on the border? As for me, I do not want to be on the border of living, but I fear that if I must pick a side, if I must pick either life or death in order to feel some sense belonging, I would feel forced to choose the latter. All existences are different. We can’t all be stable, but in our own way, we can all be living. inspirational messages still convey the message that in order to live life, you should be able to ‘ride out’ that anxiety, to ‘rest-off ’ that depression, and eventually reach what we all strive for: stability and happiness. But in cases of severe mental illness, these words are empty. Stability can be impossible to reach and life is, and perhaps always will be, tinged with numbness. However, such a situation does not mean you are ready to cross from the land of emotion, the land of feeling and of experiences, known as the land of the living. No, it is society’s
restrictive borders that are forcing people from this land and into another. Society’s ideal of living a full, enthusiastic, and productive life, can be damaging to those who are incapable of doing and feeling so. That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for a positive way of living. Instead, I believe we should begin to incorporate into our way of life the message that life is extremely difficult, and that sometimes you can be living but feel as though you are not. There is a boundary placed around those who suffer from mental health. Despite common perceptions, this is not necessarily created by stigma, but rather by an inability to adapt to and accept alternate ways of existing. After all, as society teaches us, how can people who cannot feel, think, or even motivate themselves effectively, be a part of a functioning world? When you don’t know how to cross the border between life and death, and you’re stuck on the margin itself, society offers no safe crossing; choosing death becomes the only viable option. Society’s idolised vision of life is causing people to believe that their own isn’t really ‘existing’ at all. So where do these people belong? Can you live a life on the border? As for me, I do not want to be on the border of living, but I fear that if I must pick a side, if I must pick either life or death in order to feel some sense belonging, I would feel forced to choose the latter. All existences are different. We can’t all be stable, but in our own way, we can all be living.
by Dana Ariel
to cross the border with a pomegranate to cross the border with a grenade to split the border with a grenade to divide the border over a pomegranate to halve the border with a grenade to split a pomegranate on the border to divide a grenade for the border to cross the border for a pomegranate
pomegranates Two pomegranates were offered to me on one of my visits to the village of Fasa’il and the settlement of Peza’el in the Jordan Valley. It was a token of hospitality when I feared to encounter hostility. The desire to take the precious gift back to London with me led to the writing of this text. In the summer of 2015, August to be precise, I visited the Jordan Valley once more. It was 44 degrees that day. A cool down, the radio forecast declared. The week before registered a new record as it measured 51 degrees in my chosen site. Though one does not wish to yield to weather conditions, it has definitely restricted my visit to very short outings in the vicinity of my car. Midday presented acute danger. My negatives did not react fondly to these conditions either. In fact, black and white negatives shot that day revealed ghostly marks and stains. I suspected the heat might have played a role. North of Peza’el, on Route 90 heading north, we turned right at the sight of two trees: a palm tree and a cypress tree in a cultivated field situated on the border with Jordan. We stopped to take photographs. I took a single shot of the trees as they stood there side by side. Galit was interested in the two trees for another reason and from another angle, at which they were concealing one another. This, I thought, resonated with her stubborn desire to photograph in Jordan: to see and photograph from Jordan looking towards Israel. She desired a reversal of the gaze, I thought, as I observed her observing the trees, taking her time to position the camera in the right place. A blue car spotted us and was now driving towards us. I was afraid. Galit was out in the field and I felt helpless, not knowing how this encounter would unfold. My presence in this field
presented a double intrusion. First, I could see that this belonged to someone, and even though my intentions were not harmful I nonetheless questioned my right to stand there. Secondly, the ethical and political reality that shadows all my visits to the West Bank and is also the motivation for my visits, was now dominating this encounter. I feared being identified as hostile, I feared being identified as Israeli in the occupied territories of the Jordan Valley, and I feared for being a woman. All of these thoughts above could, to some degree, be diffused or deferred through reason. Nonetheless, in the fraction of the moment leading to that first encounter, these thoughts, grounded or not, were violently present. In an attempt to release myself from them I decided to surrender any gestures that might seem hostile. I smiled, and waited. It all proved to be incredibly silly and irrelevant as the man approached with a smile of greeting, no signs of suspicion as to my presence here. There was only hospitality. We spoke in Hebrew and he never asked for my name, only where I was from. Jerusalem, I said. I regret never asking for his. He told me of the fruits he was growing in his field, and that the field belonged to his father and his father’s father before that. After a while he left, and I remained there, sweating from the heat and my shame at fearing everything I tried so hard to resist. Still waiting for Galit. Moments later he returned with palms full of dates and two pomegranates. Back in Jerusalem, on the afternoon before my return flight to London, I decided to take the two pomegranates with me. They had become a precious souvenir and I couldn’t leave them behind.
Fearing they might be confiscated at the airport I decided to photograph them in my parents’ garden. I photographed in black and white because I was interested in the scarred surface, the marks and scratches. I placed them on an improvised set, covering the garden table with a white sheet of paper which, when lifted against the sun, provided a beautiful back-light for the pomegranates. I took a few shots, each time rotating the pomegranates to reveal different marks. By the end of the film I paid more attention to the slightly faded colours of their skin, and to how different they were from one another. The colours, I thought, seemed to reveal their exposure to light, and differentiate between fresh marks and older scratches that have healed already. I decided to take a few photographs with colour negative as well, trying to retrace the previous positions and rotations.
I left for the airport with the two pomegranates and this sentence in Hebrew in my mind. When asked by the security officers at the airport if I have received any gifts, I will have to say yes. When asked who gave them to me, I will have to say that I don’t know the name of the person. Then I will probably be asked where I got them from, and I will have to say, from the West Bank. I was crossing the border with a pomegranate, but in Hebrew, means a pomegranate and a grenade, and the verb means to cross, to halve, to split, and to divide.
‘Rimonim’, c-print, 2015
The Still Point journal Issue iii Contributors
Dana Ariel is currently a PhD student at the Slade School of Fine Art with a postgraduate studentship from the London Arts and Humanities Partnership. She has also been working on the research project Sites of Unlearning: Encountering Perforated Ground.
K. H., 26 y/o Brit-Asian. Likes to spend time trying to understand things that she doesn’t understand, snacking, and not reading enough. Tries to find authenticity and truth through writing.
Tianmei Chen, preferably being called Mei, was born in a small village in Hubei, China and considers herself as a passionate life explorer. She was also the first Chinese entrepreneur who was awarded as a Chevening Scholar by the Foreign Office, UK, which fully sponsored her 2nd Master Degree studies in KCL.
Jonathan Newhouse is a soon-to be MA student in Cognitive Studies, and his main interest is in incorporating insights from neuroscience and psychology into a philosophical theory of the conscious mind.
Eoin Bentick is in the fourth year of his PhD in the UCL English Department, writing his thesis on ‘Alchemy and Verse in Late Medieval England’.
Virna Koutla studied Architecture and Architectural Engineering at NTUA and holds an MA in Information Experience Design from the Royal College of Art. She is an active researcher with a particular interest in the materiality and performativity of spaces. Virna’s projects have been awarded and exhibited internationally.
Manos Charalabopoulos is an artist whose work explores the overlap of music, poetry and drama. He is an award-winning composer and pianist, currently looking forward to the completion of his PhD in Composition at King’s College London.
Chris Doyle studied for his BA and MA at London King’s and Birkbeck.
Marc Carver has published around two thousand poems on the net and some ten collections of poetry but what he really likes, is when someone he does not know, tells him they enjoy his work. So he knows he is doing something right in life.
Tessa Glinoer is a writer and filmmaker. To date, she has written three novels, made three short films, and crafted a stack of poetry. She is currently trying to take over the world.
Colin Bancroft is working on a PhD concerning an eco-critical reading of Robert Frost’s poetry. Under the tutelage of Jean Sprackland, Adam O’Riordan, Michael Symmons Roberts and Carol Ann Duffy he graduated from MMU with an MA in poetry in 2013
Grace Fearon All submissions underwent a process of blind peer-review: the result is a journal that represents institutions across London, with a truly interdisciplinary focus. Special thanks go to the LAHP and the AHRC for making the printed journal possible, as well as to all of our contributors and everyone who has supported us along the way.
For Issue 3 of The Still Point Journal, we asked contributors to think creatively and radically about how borders play a part in our experie...
Published on Nov 5, 2018
For Issue 3 of The Still Point Journal, we asked contributors to think creatively and radically about how borders play a part in our experie...