The Baltic Notebooks of Anthony Blunt
Autumn Calendar: Own Observations, Jalal Toufic and Will Holder
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When I finished reading Two or Three Things I’m Dying to Tell You (2005) by Jalal Toufic I opened the screen, I picked up Jean Fabre’s spade and opened the skull of the dead writer Jalal Toufic where, to my surprise, I found the sequel to Ghost in The Shell (launched in 1995). A top phrase of Jalal Toufic: a collaboration with a dead writer means allowing him to incarnate in the reader’s voice. Later you just have to keep remembering this text-voice. After the writer’s talk, Will Holder presented a programme of works, whose critical station was, to my mind, an airscrew composed of John Barton Wolgamot, Robert Ashley and Jacques Derrida. What was not explained by Toufic was achieved through this lethal combination. It became clear that any writer has serious reasons to be polyphonic, that is, to allow as many other writers in his text as the writing itself may desire.
Description of Samuel Ellicott’s letter from April 14, 1852 (considered to be written using a Fairbanks typing machine for the blind)
Each Roman character consists of a certain number of dots raised above the surface of the paper sheet, and each of the dots is pierced. This makes it possible to read this letter from either side, starting with the same character but then reading in opposite directions. The only thing that binds the character to its double is the illegible aperture – the dot. The aperture is the same on both sides of the paper. In its endless likeness to itself it is the only thing that connects the text flowing in opposite directions.
Words destroy the voice of the one who writes – each letter shows its trail and the curves of letters mark this very disappearance (Roland Barthes). Reading is different: the written text reads the voice and creates its unique copy. Regardless of spatial or temporal circumstances, it never loses this potential to multiply. This is why writing is potential repetition. When there is a text, time is of no importance – the text always begins with a word and endures as long as the voice that is reading it. Therefore the text is an endlessly repeating starting point, or, as Toufic puts it, its time is endlessly vanishing. Both reading and writing strive for a new beginning, but because they move in opposite directions they always meet where one ends and another one begins.
When John Barton Wolgamot decided not to read his text In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women (1944) to the public, Robert Ashley read it instead of him (as well as the public) in 1972. Walgamoth started writing this piece in 1929 after he had heard a series of names in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. The names where meaningless to him, so he opened the biography of Beethoven; and there they were. It took him 14 years to complete the piece. As he said, “It’s harder than you think to write a sentence that doesn’t say anything.” Perhaps Wolgamoth did not believe in reading because without the voice that wrote it, and without Wolgamoth’s ears, the text was a total enigma. But Robert Ashley read it. In the manner the writer asked him – without breathing.
I am still not sure that what happened later is what Will Holder intended. When he showed the first page of Wolgamoth’s text and started playing the piece by Ashley, the condition that Jalal Toufic used to describe writing (“it’s about voices in my head”) became available for immediate experience. The wavelike timbre of reading and the impulses of synthetic sound that reacted to the voice, very soon set its tone, and the elements of the text that reoccurred among different names created diagonals. A medusa. Or a symphony of hints about the text projected on the screen. When it was over, Will Holder projected an excerpt from a dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Helene Cixous for five straight minutes. It was impossible not to hear the only voice in the room (the voice in my head) reading in a silence that then exploded. I noticed my voice before I noticed the text. And when I started reading, I realised that in this text Derrida performs a deconstruction of voice.
In Grammatology he demonstrates that ego constitutes itself by erasing the difference between the word and the voice. Therefore the voice is usually imprisoned in the logical structures of the ego and is therefore serving them. In the text chosen by Will Holder, Derrida argued that only a freed voice can be radically hospitable and hear another voice. Guarding its freedom, “I am the inheritor, the depository of a very grave secret to which I do not myself have access.” Later he says that the secret may reveal itself in writing (Barthes had a similar idea of writing as the formation of an autonomous identity), therefore it is in literature where the main ideas and ideals of democracy are realised. In November 6 I only read half of the text, but its effect was pleasing – it was possible to read about the deconstruction of the text, to deconstruct you own voice while reading, and to observe how a single move of reflection turns the voice into a text or sets it free.
Robert Ashley, In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women (1972):