Slow Poetry

Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living, but examination is a small and painstaking activity that takes place in the folds of the very ordinariness of our lives. Good philosophy – which is like good literature in this respect – constantly brings us back to ourselves. Andrew Lawless, Plato’s Sun: An Introduction to Philosophy.

I peddle down that long combination of Rivoli and Champs-Elysée that will take me all the way across the city. My lungs are on fire with so much traffic and I am making mental notes of things to write about as they happen on my way. Each note is a galaxy circulating around a group of words. I repeat them until they stick: the woman, the bell, the stag and the star.

I must be here now. Here in Paris! The panic in my body does not rise so quickly. The bits of papers begin to gather on all possible surfaces. The phone rings and there are knocks on my door. I begin to have a routine and I have, after a diversion with Barthes and de Beauvoir, returned to finish my Introduction to philosophy book. The cultural attaché from the Québec Delegation here in Paris, Martine Dionne took me out for lunch this week. She has a degree in Philosophy and suggested some contemporary French poets and libraries to seek out. She said casually, you must know of Wittgenstein. She said it quickly and in French of course, so I almost missed it. I have never actually read Wittgenstein, but now as I finish the last chapter of Plato’s Sun, I get a glimpse of his thoughts about language and how it directs our way of understanding who we are. The idea of language being almost a form of life, a labyrinth of paths crossing and leading in different directions until you almost lose yourself in meanings is something that has always inspired my artmaking.

The woman:

As a young woman, I imagined I was on a search for my identity. I spoke of it as something wrapped deep inside me like the centre of an onion. All I had to do was just keep peeling off the layers and I would eventually find my true self. I don’t know what I imagined I was removing that was not a part of me: indoctrination? protection? camouflage? And I certainly don’t have any idea what I thought would be my ultimate true self.  Then I stopped believing I had a true inner self and that made me sad, because I didn’t know what I believed anymore.

The bell:

I ring the bell on my bicycle as I peddle on and I think, Paul would be proud of me. Noise is a big part of how people move though this city. I have always preferred the invisibility of silence. But, here, unless you claim your space actively, others will. I watched an intrepid young woman ride her bicycle with such complete conviction I wanted to follow her. She had given up on trying to juggle her way between taxi and bus and scooter in the lane that is supposed to be for bicycles and had taken over the yellow line running down the middle of the road. No one wants to give up anything here. The police are the worst. At any moment, blocks-long of blue or white police vehicles will push through traffic, each car screaming their intentions at ear-breaking decibels.

I have good news. My very first video, Mothertext which I started to make some 12 years ago shortly after arriving in Montreal and finally finished in 1999, exploring the loss of my mother will be shown in the Cologne Online Video Festival in Germany at the end of next month. It is a special program on the topic of Mother. My mother has arrived!

In my search for Motherness here in Paris, I look for ways to describe the black and white of her(e) and not here. The white nothing, the black nothing. It was not until Nancy mentioned, that it was possible to look beyond the structure of dualism, that I saw the metaphor I was stuck in. If I imagine the paper I write on as the earth’s surface, I want it to be outside of this duality. Nature is neither “other” nor ground as Elizabeth Grosz suggests. (Becomings)  It is openess, resource, productivity. This is the nothingness I want: the blank page as field, emptiness as resource.

The stag:

Out of nowhere at the very last possible instant, he sprang onto the crosswalk, lean, young and muscular from running. The cars had already begun their advance. His wild body darted exactly like a deer as he leapt onto the far curb.

I begin at last to make work. Slow Poems I call them – groups of words cut out of paper and fixed onto the windows. The sun and clouds move with the leaves of the trees, making shadows and I move the words filming them with the video camera and in the evening, on the hour until 11pm. the bateau-mouches come by and their bright lights spin the words around the room. I look for the simplest, rawest ways to express the almost invisible, the most fleeting.

The star:

Anywhere could be the centre of the world, but Paris spins as if the umbilical cord were attached here. At the Arche de Triomphe where I had to pass through that morning, about a dozen major roads spill into a mad rush-around-the-ring-around-the arch.  It takes a while for a cyclist like me to get the hang of the round-about. You have to jump right into the middle of it or you are forever condemned to wait while traffic rushes around you, pushing you to curb side. France is the European Union headquarters for this year and the president, Sarkozy, the leading star! In the city, we juggle for a bit of forward moving body space. Even when walking, I notice no one wants to step aside to let another pass. Young men are the worst. Crashes happen often. Voices rise. I imagine wearing armour.

Art and philosophy or, this poetry disguised as science as Andrew Lawless describes in Plato’s Sun reflect who we are as a society. Plato’s world of absolutes and pure and true essences looks more and more like a veiled cover for assuming power over others.  With God the father no longer the only one in the driver’s seat, learning to navigate in a world full of the din and the ambiguity of today’s Tower of Babel will take time and perhaps a lot of slow poetry to avoid collisions.