20100318

Martin Edmond


from : Hypnogeography : A Journal
I
I am on a two day visit to Auckland for reasons that are both specific and unknown: some kind of business. While there I go to the art gallery and see a Philip Clairmont painting that I've never seen before. It is a floor painting: not painted on the floor but spread out over it and designed to be viewed in that way. Irregularly shaped, like a jigsaw piece or something torn from a map. At first sight abstract, patterned, rather more like a late Jackson Pollock, which were of course painted on the floor before being hung up on the wall. I remember repeated motifs of red and black bars. A curator, who is in fact an art gallery owner I met here in Sydney a week or two back, tells me this is one of two (never saw the other) and points out that there are figurative elements: concealed profile portraits of women in Phil's life, a startling bird's-eye view of the city, in black and white, that recalls the 1974 War Requiem #9, The Destruction of Germany, which includes collaged elements from a book called Early Engravings of German Towns. There are a few people lounging around the painting, stretched out reclining on the floor and with some surprise I see that Phil is among them—he died in 1984, but knowledge of his death is only part of the dream. I go and sit down next to him, we exchange greetings and then he asks me to come and visit him at home. A few hour's conversation with you will keep me going for weeks, he says. When I say that because of other commitments I’m not able to do that, he takes from his pocket a small pair of scissors and says, with a crooked sort of grin, Oh, well, I'll have to try the van Gogh solution. While it doesn’t look likely that he'll be able to cut off any part of his ear with the small plastic handled scissors, I still take them from him. Later, after I leave the gallery, I realise that I've also taken a small plastic sachet of white powder which I know to be speed. I start going back to return Phil his drugs then in the doorway pause. The seal on the sachet is faulty and some of the grains have escaped onto my fingers. I rub the gritty white powder onto my gums, fearfully tempted to keep the sachet and take all of the speed for myself.

III

There's a place I keep going back to in dreams. It is a land between two ranges of hills, the sea to the north, the sea to the south, and a complex pattern of creeks and ponds and lakes threading the flat green plains between, which are not uninhabited but not populous either. I can remember specific parts of this dream geography: a long, narrow, damp apartment under a house on the eastern flank of the western hills where I lived with a disaffected Russian medical student turned arsonist and his three-legged dog, and to which I have since tried to return—though only to recover books from the library I lost when I moved precipitately away from there. In the shadow of the eastern hills, beyond the Space Port, many years before, I embarked on an expedition with my youngest sister, in quest of what precisely I cannot now say, if I ever knew; but I remember, as we made our way north through the blue ponds and the green marshes, that we came to a place where the colours bled from the landscape, the features of the map we were on faded to black and white, surmise replaced navigation and we found ourselves adrift on an Escher-like checker-board of figure-ground ambiguities . . . in the way of such things I cannot return there except involuntarily, neither will nor desire is enough, and so those parts of the country I have not yet explored remain unknown; though I can sometimes sense their contours. Now I think that when I have flying dreams it is always this land that I am flying above; and when I crash, as inevitably I do, it is here that I fall to earth—waking in fright just before hitting the ground. Where is this place? Yesterday, suddenly, I thought I knew. And then, just as suddenly, thought I must never say. Even writing this bare outline down here now makes me fear that I will not again be allowed to visit this land between two seas, this green valley amongst low craggy hills, this placeless place, this shangri-la that I feel I know in my bones as much as I do in my dreaming mind.

IV

Although I cannot quite bring myself to name that dream country, I can say this: it is curiously reminiscent of the landscape of my father's childhood and I think perhaps that when I go there I am not so much wandering my own hypnogeography as his; if such a thing can be. There is another dream country I visit that belongs to both of us—the mountain that stands over the town where we lived. I went there last night. In this incarnation the mountain is vast as ever, more conical than in fact it is, and I am toiling past oddly shaped granite outcrops, through snow and ice, heading upwards about the bulge of the peak towards an alpine lake that is always just around the bend. Along the way I find a lost archive assembled by previous explorers, amongst which there are many open receptacles full of moulded figures like dolls that are in themselves examples of various forms of cultural miscegenation. I mean that in their equivocal expressions meanings are revealed, for instance one has the bitterness of racial hatred combined with the self-contempt such feelings can engender in the victim tattooed all over his face. And, in a different part of the barrel, another shows the exaltation of a rare understanding of witchcraft along with the dread consequent upon that very insight into the arcana of sorcery. I can still see some of these wizened moko-ed heads, with their wild and tangled black hair, like something from the profligate hands of an artist (Tony Fomison comes to mind; and Ralph Hotere) uninhibited by previous or protected / views of the way ahead. The same man who's made the dolls, I learn, has published many pamphlets on diverse subjects and a selection of these too lie before me in laminated stacks that I am avid to sort through. But there is no time so, not without trepidation, I take one with me to read later; and go on towards the flashing and glimmering of that seductive silver lake. At this point a ghostly interlocutor intervenes and I turn back from the lake's shores to speak with him. I am trying to justify taking the pamphlet, and in so doing point out that my own father's book is included with those others in the archive of explorers' journals. I find his thesis and open it up; to my surprise it is a four volume work, not the single book, in three copies, one of which I have, which is its real world form. I cannot now recall volumes 2 and 3 but #4, which is smaller, contains poems he has written that have certain affinities with the moulded doll-like figures. My father's poems, structured like a family tree, give voice to those who have no other, to the silent and forgotten among us, those who lived and died and left no record of their lives. He has somehow extracted the memories of these forgotten ones from the recall of those who did leave account of themselves behind; and although his poems are made of words, as poems are, I can sense between or behind the lines the actual faces of these unknown ones, like those of the multifarious sorcerers’ dolls lying somnolent yet also vital in their baskets. I say it is a place I have visited before and so it is; but this is the first time I have been allowed to look into the archives contained there, high up on the mountain, on the shores of the silver lake, among the ice and the snow and the whistling wind.

V

There is a third place that I have been to only a few times and much against my will; although its grandeur and its doom linger in the waking mind like a prodigy. It can be reached only by traversing, one by one, from zero to a hundred, each of the massive steps strung out and bending like the bridge on Jupiter over the methane haunted abyss clouding the planet below. Once you reach three figures you will find there, on the right, an adamantine gate into the Encyclopaedic City. It is laid out on an infinite grid whose streets are designated only by combinations of letters and numerals and whose dwellings, halls, palaces, utilities and vacant lots resemble volumes which no sight can resolve, no eye can read, no thought may comprehend. To enter therein is to become lost without recourse, without hope and without egress. I have been stranded on the corner of K and L in great fear of my life, while avenues of gloom temples stretched north and south into the murk forever. I have seen the shadowy arcades opening before me, with their impossible illusions, their unsaleable goods, their currency that is made up of whispers and sighs, their denizens who are without faces or names or even bodily form—and yet they persist. There is no sky above, no earth below, the air is made of darkness and yet you can still sense through the grey insubstantial atmos the rows of buildings curving away down the endless streets. Perhaps after all it is the city of the dead and that is the source both of its horror and its grandeur. Once I visited a house there, which was my house, or at least it is a house in which I have lived. A rotting mansion built on the side of a gully, where one wall, the east, opens onto the nothing of a vista of roofs like clouds. There are many storeys, five or six, but most of the rooms lack floors and some lack ceilings too: so how could they be rooms? The walls are bare wood where ragged sheets of scrim hang and breathe in the wind of souls. There are gowns of satin and ermine thrown over chairs and eaten away by mould; piles of paste jewellery gleaming before mirrors on falling down dressing tables; wardrobes in which black undertaker suits green in the damp; velvets whose plush has been rubbed by rodents. We who live there are the outcast, the deranged, the unregenerate, the unfree; we never go out. Brezhnev and Hood and China West; Jenny Tits, Help Help Me Rhonda, Lud & Lexie, Jed; Dean and Cameron and Lawrence and Phillipa; Andrew, Kepa, Tiri and all the rest of our mad crew. To keep ourselves entertained we make extravagant costumes out of that lordly and ladylike detritus; play music that comes from I don’t know where; take drugs of whose nature only traces remain in the demonic visions of PCT; and comport on beds that float somehow above those rotten or absent floors, beneath those rumoured ceilings. Our lives are made of confected drama and real grief, we are fictions in search of a plot that will restore us to meaning, bodies without souls or souls without bodies, who knows? And when, in a terror that has no cause but which I recognise from my most alienated waking moments, my worst dreams, I try to flee that place, down a hallway of infinite extension, pursued by ghosts, I run. One of those nightmares from which you beseech your own self to wake you; and wake I do, but only into another fragment of the dream. On the north side of the house, below the crumpled iron of the balconies, tough pale grass grows among tumbled white stones water pipes of grey lead, festooned with defunct taps, step down the hill to where a letter box leans on its splintered post; there is a wire gate half off its hinges and through that I go into the nameless beyond: turning once to look back at the ruin looming above me: white faces, red mouths, black eyes, imploring at every window for my return.



Martin Edmond has interrupted his studies to spend two months at the Michael King Writers Centre in Devonport, Auckland.

 
 
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