To Fill Absence

“The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free.”

Costica Bradatan, “The Wisdom of Exile”

 

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The spaces of dream and desire open and imbue what is not with what might be as we travel — I did a lot of traveling last month & sometimes the reality felt more dreamlike than real. Dimitra says we are increasingly “in between spaces” – our internet lives connecting us virtually (and not quite) with what might be understood as a third space – in that triton genos or third ‘genre’ of Plato’s ancient Timeaus, a contiguity of interfaces, we are receptacles shaped by what enters and reshapes. Never fixed, I was never exactly in one place, traveling and talking about the essays in Ruin. But unfixed one can also come undone. What I saw, where I was, could feel flattened into a kind of Baudrillardian simulacra of the real except for when I was with people I knew. The headlines as I passed newsstands or picked up a paper were as surreal as ever, yet in those train stations, airports, subways, they became signifiers of worlds never physically close enough to change anything. I kept moving on, past a prostrate Sierra Leone woman with her devastated expression “Reaching toward her Sister” who is dead, and Olivia Newton John, just below her image, who says “Live Happy.” My subject sense was abject in its porousness as I wept when a metro card machine wouldn’t take cash and I couldn’t remember the zip code of my parents’ address (asked by the machine to verify the address where my VISA had been issued). I was talking of ruin as a dialectic, not a fait accompli of past, or in H.D.’s words from her Trilogy

“there, as here, ruin opens

the tomb, the temple; enter”

Finding entrances in the torn is a way to read and understand being in the world. Ruin as fragment and remains is also ruin as temple. The poet and critic Susan Stewart notes “the inherent violence of all representation, which reifies or fixes its object,” from “The Ruins Lesson.” There were chilling realizations as I traveled through highly digitalized spaces controlled by zip codes, pin #s, passwords & paid time allotments, feeling like a statistical blip in ways that sanitized brokenness and erased connections to the human. In the name of efficiency and safety we couldn’t get out of a parking space because “you’re only given 10 minutes to leave.” We had used up the allotment after paying; we had opened the trunk to rummage for something. After paying for some envelopes in STAPLES I’m intrigued by the ream of paper that is my receipt telling me at the end of various subtractions and additions and online log-ins that I can get a $2 rebate; time is of the essence but time is lost in the minutiae of detached moments.

How we see as travelers and how we’re seen in those worlds that remove the personal (or can’t afford it in the way a surgeon might focus on the medical task at hand, a doctor trying to save lives, not any one particular life), made intimacy precious for its surprise. Besides the surveillanced efficiencies there was the clean chill of the Tacoma hills, the palpable heaviness of noise in NYC, the goodness of seeing friends, pieces of conversation from anonymous passengers … “That’s so cool,” I hear repeated by a woman siting next to someone on the flight to Seattle. I gather he is a musician, I hear him saying “… I’m a single guy… I never dreamed of going to Seattle.” I am suspicious (and perversely envious) of those who travel in complete self-possession. David and I speak of the existentialist nature of the traveler, the resonance of departures as one leaves the known for the open-ended place of the as yet to be named. The psychoanalyst-writer Adam Phillips says there are moments of identification that “collect” one – the gaze that recognizes and empathizes? the kinship in the ‘kin(d)ship’? Susan Stewart spoke of what can’t be ruined as we spoke of states of ruin, that it is in language itself, and poetry in particular. Ποíησις, “to make” in Greek, a verb before it became a noun, the essence of the transformative (and transgressive) quality of language.

Traveling brought on crisis. Again in Greek κρíσις (krisis), means judgment, that the word is used liberally to speak of “the Greek crisis” is ironic based on its etymology – a noun for critical understanding and perception. In one of the talks on my trip a Greek sociologist discussed her shock at coming across the term, “disambiguation” a word apparently used regularly in EU documents. “You might as well get rid of language,” she said. Disambiguity is what one might yearn for in the uncertainties of travel, in moments of krisis, when borders unsettle and the given is given up, probably as true for hedge funders and Wall Street loan sharks as for someone madly in love. Poetry finds its own tongue.

 

 

 

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About akalfopoulou

Author of two poetry collections, and most recently, a book of essays, Ruin, Essays in Exilic Living.
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3 Responses to To Fill Absence

  1. Ruin opens from within and around us………………

  2. Joe Powell says:

    there are degrees of comfort, physical, psychological, financial, inter-personal, etc., and comfort can lead to graver, deeper connections than exile whose hypotheses are extemporaneous and often inaccurate, even trite. We may all be metaphysical aliens but comfort gets things done, lets the imagination work. It probably depends on where that imagination traveled before it sat down.

    • akalfopoulou says:

      Yes Joe, I agree, feel like the ever uprooted can simply spin in a vortex.. a long conversation. On the one hand a sense of the unfamiliar is incentive toward the new and then again if it is alienating it’s also a source of paralysis.

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