Quote selected by
The door closes tightly. She sits there. She sits there and looks back outside to where she was standing. Is the noise she wants to make for in here or out there? She looks down at the mic. Is this noise for you? The mic’s black nub blanks her behind the pop-screen. She doesn’t want to see out so she heaves the door open again and switches off the lights in the outer room then climbs back into the booth. YOU ARE AUTONOMOUS, you can say it out loud – no you really are free – but feeling free enough to use, or even see, the space up in front of you needs to accrete within a relationship, the words in your head are not enough. Someone needs to remind you in sparkling terms, to urge you to remember. Remember! Maybe she can say that to begin with. She says to the nub, YOU ARE AUTONOMOUS! Well that seems to be very much for outside this room, for someone real to hear but it, the statement, is something of a failure of words. Forget it, she will just be silent. BE SILENT. Nope, does nothing, means nothing. Remember! YOU ARE! HELLO! BYE BYE! Figure the rest out for yourself. Nite!pp.27–28
You hope to perform an autopsy. The dead and the nagging questions. The mountain you retreat to has a dirt road with a stream across it. When it's dark, it's really dark, so you're glad she's come. Her words, a pregnant creek. You have some feeling in your right molar. Each timber of the porch a clarified geometer. The gleam of white you find while walking the dog is quartz—the mountain's flush with it—and each and every red dusted stone yields shining flesh. You've come to do an autopsy and at the first excision found a beating heart.
From Proxy (2013) by Erica Doyle
5 April 2021
Guitar! is a genuine wonder. As it discusses ‘finding someone you don’t know’ it resonates with one dimension of heartbreak but also inspires a sense of a new horizon’s possibility. I am re-reading Guitar! for the first time free of my role as editor, no longer checking words on screen but with a finished form in hand. In a couple of hours, I complete it cover to cover and am lifted. Guitar! possesses qualities I would like to imprint in my life: patience and steadfastness, observance and permeability, spaciousness and balance between heaviness and light, a cared for oscillation between the need to be in company and the need to be ‘alone’. In Guitar! one finds a zest for life, derived from making noise, and being heard. (I can’t remember where I read that ‘all of life is sufficing’... not in this book but elsewhere. My friend Aurelia says, ‘You can’t get anything out of life’.)
‘YOU ARE AUTONOMOUS!’
Guitar! traces a process of adapting the need to write around the need to look after a child – the changes brought by listening to and conversing with a newborn become part of a parent-writer’s acquisition of new language. Writing is conditioned by having a dependent, on whom one is dependent. There is anxiety, anticipating the speed of child development, an uncontrollable and only to be encouraged capacity for speech. And so Guitar! mixes urgency and hesitation: ‘I am running out of time to write this, you will be speaking soon. [...] All your questions will need answering. And my answers will lead to more questions.’
I want to juxtapose the final words of Guitar! – ‘You will live for a long time’, with one of the first scenes of Michele Rosier’s 1977 film Mon coeur est rouge: we watch an exchange in a café between protagonist Clara as she takes her pre-work coffee and croissant at a bar beside a jaded man already nursing a glass of wine. ‘It’s my birthday’, she tells him, with the air of someone in her mid-twenties, ‘I’m 103 years old today’. Later in this film (a day in the life of a dissatisfied market researcher – Clara is obliged to go around Paris, making home and workplace visits to ask women about their relationship to makeup), a discussion at a crèche includes a perspective on having a child I hadn’t heard expressed before: ‘The way I see it, you have children to change your life. You do it with your children. By inventing a new way of living along with your children.’ Another woman, employed at the crèche, worries about the limits a child would place on her freedom: ‘I feel like if I had a child, I don’t know what I would have to offer... because my own desire is to meet as many different people as possible, to see as many people as possible, to wander around. Already, working here, I can’t do that, I’m completely stuck.’
The possibilities for change in Clara’s life are embedded in chance encounters that derail her work day. She trashes a charcuterie in protest at the store owner’s xenophobic attitude toward a woman placing her order in insufficiently (to the store owner) intelligible French. Clara re-encounters this woman – she finds her singing on the ground floor of the building containing her office – and invites her to the party with which the film concludes.
The images included here are screenshots I took while watching Mon coeur est rouge for a second time (on 5 April), after finishing reading Guitar! in print. (I first watched this film in December 2020, one month after Guitar! had gone to press.)
The extract from Proxy by Erica Doyle is one I remembered while reflecting on the heart, as both symbol and organ. I dug it up from my inbox – I had sent it in March 2016 to someone I did not know, in response to an invite to a ‘Poetry chain mail’ exchange.
19 April 2021
I am cat-sitting, in a house alone. I have not yet spoken any words out loud. Or, did I say something this morning to one of the two cats I’m feeding – the noisy one who never tires of affection or of being heard. I may have said her name (or, ‘Hello darling’) as I opened the kitchen door, stroked the top of her head, trailed a knuckle around an ear. The other cat, a rescue and easily frightened, barely enters the house and has not made a miaow.
Upstairs, a set of bookshelves covers a wall between the top of the stairs and an office. I sit on the toilet leaving the bathroom door ajar and notice parenting books among the spines: NurtureShock; Hold On to Your Kids; How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk; Listen to Your Child; He’ll Be OK: Helping Adolescent Boys Become Good Men. At the beginning of Listen to Your Child we are asked to ‘Consider Susie’, who within the first few minutes of her birth day ‘had the chance of hearing around her: – over a hundred utterances, containing in total – over 500 words, containing in total – over 2,000 vowels and consonants.’ The author David Crystal writes of the newborn’s inability to close her ears without falling asleep ‘(which came half an hour later) or putting her fingers in her ears (which came two years later). That is the peculiar power of sound, compared with vision. You cannot “shut your ears”, as you can “shut your eyes”.’ Sarah Tripp writes in Guitar! of a glue ear, which leads to a fountain of questions: ‘Is a child deaf? As a child, like them, was a me who dressed as a child. Is a child partially so? What is a child? I was deaf is a child?’
20 April 2021
Learning to speak with and listen to a child is not usually considered together with questions like ‘What Is an Author?’ Or with questions such as how to find a voice in writing. In The Queen’s Throat, under the subheading Some Speculations on Voice as Economy, Wayne Koestenbaum writes that ‘The categories “psyche” and “voice” do not simply record what naturally happens; they persuasively describe what should happen. The most important assumption about voice is that it moves upward, hydraulically, transcendentally. Like libido, voice wants out.’ Just a few pages later, in a Regretful Coda #1, Koestenbaum describes how ‘Free expression is a fiction: when I express a self I am pressing it out by force, as in espresso.’ A question I have been asking myself, as I attempt to find a rhythm and to commit to writing something specific without a deadline or requirement to complete, is 'how to find a way to write that's less reliant on quotation?' I will try to heed the advice of Guitar!: ‘Pay attention to what you do not want to say. Don’t let yourself get cold.’
Lizzie Homersham is a writer and editor, and works as Editor at Book Works, London. Recent/ongoing projects include What's Love Got To Do With Teleportation? and Painters Say The Funniest Things. Her writing has been published in Artforum, Art Monthly, Another Gaze, and elsewhere.
“It is 5.41 a.m. I have been wondering if, with the right listener, you could live with just two words.”
Sarah Forrest I am an early riser. Not all of the time, it is cyclical, although that suggests a pattern and there isn’t one that I can find. It is just a rhythm that I enter. I wake up earlier and earlier until I reset. I was in this rhythm when I read Guitar! – in bed, in January, between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when it was still and dark and not quite daytime and I remember feeling like it suited the book, that I had met it at the right time, in a moment before (before work, before the day, before breakfast, before I had spoken). There is something about ‘before’ that feels important to Guitar! I think it has to do with anticipation. Or improvisation. The moment before words mean what they do so they can mean what you like. In Katie Dove’s animations sounds seem to do things to images and vice-versa: does this shape make that sound, does that sound make this move? Her films have the energy rush of an improvised moment coupled with a sense of play and curiosity that resonated with my reading of Guitar!
Read Next →