Rim­baud Ex­hi­bi­ted

Art Press - - RENCONTRE -

Li­te­ra­ture, and books as ob­jects, have al­ways been cen­tral to Do­mi­nique Gon­za­lez-Foers­ter’s work. Wri­ters, too. This text by no­ve­list En­rique Vi­laMa­tas was writ­ten on the oc­ca­sion of her show at the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal, Ma­drid. It will be pu­bli­shed in Car­ta, the ma­ga­zine of the Museo Reina Sofía.

1 At the be­gin­ning of 2008, a fun­ny mi­sun­ders­tan­ding made me think that Do­mi­nique Gon­za­lez-Foers­ter was as­king me to work with her on TH.2058, a mo­nu­men­tal ins­tal­la­tion about the end of the world that she was pre­pa­ring to show at Tate Mo­dern’s Tur­bine Hall in London at the end of that year. That mi­sun­ders­tan­ding may have been en­cou­ra­ged by the fact that a year be­fore, even though we had not yet met, she in­vi­ted me to “in­ter­vene” in the book car­pet she was going to ins­tall in the Lor­ca fa­mi­ly home in Gra­na­da in the fall of 2007 as part of the group show Evers­till. As it tur­ned out, I didn’t have time to “in­ter­vene” in her car­pet, but I at­ten­ded the ope­ning of Evers­till in Gra­na­da on November 24, 2007, and so­me­thing oc­cur­red that would put its stamp on our re­la­tion­ship: the world conspi­red so that the two of us would ar­rive at the Gra­na­da ho­tel re­cep­tion desk at exact­ly the same ins­tant, at noon on November 24, 2007. We were both as­to­ni­shed: life it­self took charge of in­for­ming us that we could be good fel­low conspi­ra­tors in art. Sur­ely the pre­cise ti­ming of that mee­ting al­so contri­bu­ted to that mi­sun­ders­tan­ding. It oc­cur­red a few months la­ter, when Do­mi­nique wrote to me to des­cribe the ma­king of

TH.2058, the ins­tal­la­tion about the end of the world she was pre­pa­ring for London. I got her e-mail and I thought that once again she was in­vi­ting me to “in­ter­vene,” this time in the gi­gan­tic Tur­bine Hall. And since that was what I un­ders­tood, in my own fa­shion I in

ter­ve­ned in the fol­lo­wing man­ner: al­te­ring the da­ta she shad sent me, or, in other words, ba­sing my­self, in a ra­ther un­re­liable way, on what she had told me by e-mail about her plans for the Tur­bine Hall, I in­clu­ded in Du­bli­nes­ca (the no­vel that I was wri­ting at that time) a cra­zy des­crip­tion of a work tit­led TH.2058 that had ve­ry lit­tle to do with what Do­mi­nique Gon­za­lez-Foers­ter fi­nal­ly sho­wed in London. A few months af­ter­ward, when, while in London, I went to see the re­cent­ly ope­ned ins­tal­la­tion TH.2058, I did so consi­de­ring my­self a dis­tant col­la­bo­ra­tor or a co-par­ti­ci­pant in Do­mi­nique’s piece. To my great sur­prise, what I saw did not cor­res­pond to how, in Du

bli­nes­ca, I ima­gi­ned that ins­tal­la­tion would be. In my no­vel I des­cri­bed it like this: “On each bunk there will be at least one book, a vo­lume that, with mo­dern cor­rec­tive treat­ments, will have sur­vi­ved the ex­ces­sive damp­ness cau­sed by the rain. There will be En­glish edi­tions of books by au­thors al­most all pu­bli­shed in Spa­nish by Ri­ba: books by Phi­lip K. Dick, Ro­bert Wal­ser, Sta­nis­las Lem, James Joyce, Fleur Jaeg­gy, Jean Eche­noz, Phi­lip Lar­kin, Georges Pe­rec, Ro­ber­to Bo­laño, Mar­gue­rite Du­ras, W.G. Se­bald…

“And playing an un­de­fi­ned sort of music bet­ween the me­tal­lic bunks, there will be mu­si­cians who will be like an echo of the or­ches­tra that went down with the Ti­ta­nic but playing acous­tic string ins­tru­ments along with elec­tric gui­tars. Maybe what they play will be the dis­tor­ted jazz of the fu­ture, pe­rhaps a hy­brid style that, one day, will be cal­led elec­tric Ma­rien­bad.” Need­less to say, I am still awai­ting the per­for­mance of that vi­brant band that has ne­ver exis­ted. Throu­ghout all of 2008 I wai­ted for a concert by that po­wer­ful in­vi­sible band, but, lu­cki­ly, aside from that, I al­so did other things, among them seeing Do­mi­nique, still in Pa­ris, at the Ca­fé Bo­na­parte, where we made an im­pli­cit pact to meet se­ve­ral times a year, at the same ca­fé if pos­sible, and ex­change in­for­ma­tion about wha­te­ver had come to our at­ten­tion in the art world, or wha­te­ver, wi­thout ne­ces­sa­ri­ly being ar­tis­tic, had sur­pri­sed or dis­tur­bed us and see­med to us to have the po­ten­tial to be tur­ned in­to raw ma­te­rial for our res­pec­tive work. Then, at the end of the year, when I went to London and saw what Do­mi­nique had done there, I was stu­pe­fied, just as­to­ni­shed, no less sur­pri­sed than I would have been if life had chan­ged a few lines in Du­bli­nes­ca in the same ut­ter­ly wild way. 2 Our mee­tings at the Ca­fé Bo­na­parte have been ve­ry crea­tive, at least un­til to­day, November 3 of the year 2013. Ve­ry li­ve­ly mee­tings full of ideas, so­me­times even ha­ving an im­pact on the lives of other people. That was the case with the New Yor­ker Eduar­do La­go, who in all in­no­cence ac­com­pa­nied me to the Bo­na­parte to meet Do­mi­nique one day, and she told him that his style—she had read a text of his—re­min­ded her of Na­bo­kov, the Na­bo­kov of The Ori­gi­nal of Lau­ra, which made La­go run right out and buy the book, with all the conse­quences that flo­wed from that, be­cause Na­bo­kov’s in­ter­rup­ted text en­ded up gi­ving rise to Siempre supe que vol­vería a

verte, Au­ro­ra Lee, the stun­ning no­vel my friend wrote in the fol­lo­wing months. But, with Do­mi­nique, not on­ly have the mee­tings at the Bo­na­parte been im­por­tant, there have al­so been the mar­ve­lous e-mails all these years: pills with which she and I—al­ways in three or four brief lines—have kept each other in­for­med about in­ter­es­ting things that were cros­sing our minds or that we bum­ped in­to in our res­pec­tive work Here is an example of an email from Do­mi­nique (which, when read to­day, ob­vious­ly takes on more si­gni­fi­cance than when she sent it): “What do you think about Ho­tel One, the one-room ho­tel that the ar­tist Ali­ghie­ro e Boet­ti es­ta­bli­shed and ran on the outs­kirts of Ka­bul in 1971? This e-mail of a few years ago seems to pre­fi­gure the Splen­dide, the one-room ho­tel Do­mi­nique spoke to me about for the first time yes­ter­day. This is an es­ta­blish­ment, which, if I un­ders­tand cor­rect­ly, she is thin­king of put­ting on top of Ma­drid’s Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal in March of next year. The name,

Splen­did Ho­tel, comes from the fa­mous lines in Rim­baud’s Illu­mi­na­tions: “Ca­ra­vans de­par­ted. And the Splen­dide Ho­tel was built in the chaos of ice and po­lar night.” A few mi­nutes ago, concen­tra­ting on the

Splen­dide Ho­tel that Do­mi­nique has concei­ved for Ma­drid and about which un­til yes­ter­day I knew ab­so­lu­te­ly no­thing, made me re­mem­ber The Ro­ger Smith Ho­tel, a text that in Sep­tem­ber 2009—this time I did not mi­sun­ders­tand, she did ask me to work with her—I wrote for the New York ca­ta­logue of

Ch­ro­no­topes & Dio­ra­mas, the ins­tal­la­tion Do­mi­nique did at The His­pa­nic So­cie­ty of Ame­ri­ca in Wa­shing­ton Heights. 3 It was on­ly yes­ter­day that I found out that Ho­tel Splen­dide is going to be put on top of the glass-wal­led Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal (I use the words put on top, but it re­mains to be seen what Do­mi­nique will real­ly do there; what I’m doing here is, as ex­press­ly ins­truc­ted in a text mes­sage that she just sent me, is to “write a se­cret his­to­ry of the ex­hi­bi­tion.”) But while I had heard no­thing about the

Ho­tel Splen­dide un­til yes­ter­day, to tell the truth, I did al­rea­dy have some in­for­ma­tion that Do­mi­nique had been gi­ving me about what she was up to. Not much, just a few scat­te­red notes in e-mails, but pe­rhaps enough to be get­ting an idea about where things in Ma­drid might be hea­ding. In the first of her scat­te­red notes, she had tal­ked about an in­ter­na­tio­nal ex­hi­bi­tion at the end of the ni­ne­teenth cen­tu­ry in the Spa­nish ca­pi­tal (fol­lo­wing the fa­shion for uni­ver­sal ex­hi­bi­tions that be­gan with the Crys­tal Pa­lace in London) and about the “Igo­rot.” I didn’t un­ders­tand, so I po­red through en­cy­clo­pe­dias and then tried the Google search en­gine. Fi­nal­ly I was able to fi­gure out that the Igo­rot were a grou­ping of Phi­lip­pine eth­nic peoples who li­ved in the steep cen­tral high­lands in the north of the is­land of Lu­zon: “In­di­ge­nous people brought to the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal in Ma­drid, built in 1887 for the Ex­po­si­tion whose theme was those dis­tant is­lands then un­der Spa­nish rule.” The dis­play of the Igo­rot in the zoo near the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal, an open-air ex­hi­bi­tion as if these in­di­ge­nous people were wild ani­mals, en­ra­ged Jo­sé Ri­zal, the great Phi­lip­pine lea­der tou­ring Eu­rope at that time, who was fu­rious to find out that his coun­try­men were being trea­ted that way in Ma­drid. Af­ter I found this in­for­ma­tion about the Igo­rot being shown like beasts, I didn’t feel like I knew any more than be­fore, be­cause I couldn’t ima­gine what role those na­tives could play in a con­tem­po­ra­ry art ins­tal­la­tion. But fi­nal­ly, af­ter tur­ning it over in my mind, I thought I un­ders­tood that Do­mi­nique had been tel­ling me all this be­cause she had loo­ked in­to the ear­lier ex­hi­bi­tion that took place in the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal and was soun­ding me out on va­rious pos­si­bi­li­ties at a time when she was about to put to­ge­ther a still-ha­zy fu­ture pro­ject. Had she consi­de­red re­vi­si­ting the 1987 Ex­po­si­tion, pe­rhaps al­lu­ding to it with mo­dern ele­ments? I put this ques­tion to her at the Bo­na­parte ear­lier this year, 2013. She chan­ged the sub­ject to Rim­baud, a wri­ter whose name came up at the start of our conver­sa­tions about the Ma­drid ins­tal­la­tion. “Rim­baud in the Phi­lip­pines?” I as­ked, trying to find out more about her plans. Lost as I was in the Phi­lip­pine jungles, I found it im­pos­sible—which was of course more than lo­gi­cal—to think about any­thing but the Splen­dide Ho­tel the poet had ima­gi­ned. Ins­tead of ans­we­ring, Do­mi­nique just smi­led, which made me­sus­pect that I had

been right about one of her ideas, al­though it was still ve­ry un­de­fi­ned, pe­rhaps for her as well, which was why she couldn’t ans­wer me yet. I felt that we were both slight­ly bo­the­red, so I be­gan to go in­to so­me­thing I had men­tio­ned to her on pre­vious oc­ca­sions about my fas­ci­na­tion with Rim­baud, who was a key poet for me ever since I read his fa­mous watch­word, “I is ano­ther,” a de­cla­ra­tion of prin­ciples that is more com­pre­hen­sible if read in the context of the com­plete thought: “It is wrong to say: I think. One ought to say: people think me. Par­don the pun. I is ano­ther.” 4 Rim­baud? His “Je est un autre” was about an in­te­rio­ri­ty ca­pable of eve­ry kind of trans­for­ma­tion. As if for Rim­baud to write it was ne­ces­sa­ry to get out of him­self and li­te­ral­ly scat­ter. I was thin­king of be­gin­ning my text for the Ma­drid ca­ta­logue with these words, then conti­nuing with a quo­ta­tion from Lich­ten­berg: “The sa­fest place to be for a fly that doesn’t want to be swat­ted is on the flys­wat­ter.” And of conclu­ding with this apho­rism from the Cu­ban poet Lo­ren­zo García Ve­ga in his

El ofi­cio de per­der (My Job Is to Lose): “To get out of the trap one has to know how to get in­to it. One has to put one­self in­to the trap com­ple­te­ly, curl up in it. I am an old man who has been gi­ven the fol­lo­wing watch­word: Don’t die wi­thout a la­by­rinth. The first step in cons­truc­ting a la­by­rinth is to al­ways stay in the trap. Or, to put it ano­ther way, stay in­side the lion’s mouth where one lives. Put one­self in­to the trap. That’s the thing. One must ne­ver ever leave the mouth of the lion.” I had found this long quo­ta­tion from García Ve­ga in an es­say about Bo­laño writ­ten by Ol­vi­do García Val­dés. I said to my­self that even if Bo­laño didn’t know these words, he would have fal­len in love with them. “Don’t die wi­thout a la­by­rinth.” Fi­nal­ly, a good watch­word. But we­ren’t we tal­king about Rim­baud? Doesn’t mat­ter, let’s go on. 5 One day I told Do­mi­nique how in Pa­ris, not long ago, I thought I saw Rim­baud stan­ding, al­most mo­tion­less, at the en­trance to the Pont des Arts, to­tal­ly lost in thought, to­tal­ly “out of it,” I would say—contem­pla­ting the Île de la Ci­té. I took a good look at him. It see­med as if it was a ghost stan­ding there in broad day­light, but it al­so could have been a young­man to­tal­ly spa­ced out of this world. It could have just as ea­si­ly have been Rim­baud as not, so that whe­ne­ver I re­mem­ber that “spa­ced out” young man I think I real­ly did see Rim­baud, be­cause I can’t find suf­fi­cient rea­son to think other­wise. One af­ter­noon a few days af­ter I told Do­mi­nique about this, now back in Bar­ce­lo­na, I was rea­ding La Fo­lie Bau­de­laire by Ro­ber­to Ca­las­so when I came across a ve­ry po­wer­ful men­tal image conju­red up by Rim­baud. What un­ders­tan­da­bly start­led me was its con­nec­tion with the concept of ex­hi­bi­tion. The image arose out of a let­ter to his mo­ther from Ethio­pia where he wrote, “The next time pe­rhaps I will be able to ex­hi­bit pro­ducts from Abys­si­nia, and pe­rhaps, ex­hi­bit my­self, since I think that anyone who has spent so long in coun­tries like this must look ex­tre­me­ly strange.” When I sent this Rim­baud quote to Do­mi­nique, she reac­ted so fa­vo­ra­bly that I was sur­pri­sed. Had I hit the nail on the head or hit so­me­thing else? I de­ci­ded to send her so­me­thing that would rein­force the idea of “look ex­tre­me­ly strange,” choo­sing a well-known pas­sage from“ASea­son in Hell”: “I will come back with limbs and dark skin and a fu­rious look. By my mask they will think I am from a strong race. I will have gold. I will be la­zy and brutal. Wo­men take care of these fe­ro­cious in­va­lids, back from the tor­rid coun­tries.” With her si­lence (she did not ans­wer my se­cond, re­dun­dant e-mail); I thought she was saying: Any­way, keep going that way, you’ve al­ways been good with Rim­baud and his se­cret de­sire to see him­self ex­hi­bi­ted with his dark skin and fu­rious look. 6 One day, I thought about a text that would be cal­led “Rim­baud Ex­hi­bi­ted.” A few hours la­ter, I ima­gi­ned that Do­mi­nique had de­ci­ded to look for a young man who re­sem­bled the poet, to put him on ex­hi­bit at the en­trance to the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal in Ma­drid. Even now I don’t real­ly know why I ima­gi­ned all that. Maybe it was the in­fluence of glimp­sing Rim­baud on the Pont des Arts, or Rim­baud’s let­ter to his mo­ther. I be­gan to work on Rim­baud ex­hi­bi­ted and es­pe­cial­ly the idea, as sur­pri­sing as it may seem (his myth res­ts on his di­sap­pea­rance, pe­rhaps be­cause it has al­ways been un­ders­tood, al­though he ne­ver said so ex­pli­cit­ly, that he lon­ged for ano­ny­mi­ty), that the most hid­den of poets wan­ted, at heart, to ex­hi­bit him­self, and that it was even pos­sible that he would not be aghast at the over-ex­po­sure wri­ters are sub­jec­ted to these days. For all these rea­sons I thought that in “Rim­baud Ex­hi­bi­ted” I would spout off about the need for a wri­ting that could ex­hi­bit it­self in the most li­te­ral sense of the word, as Mi­chel Leiris wrote in Man­hood: “the de­sire to ex­pose my­self in eve­ry sense of the term has consti­tu­ted the first im­pulse.” 7 Thin­king about “Rim­baud Ex­hi­bi­ted,” I couldn’t help re­mem­be­ring La calle

Rim­baud, a text I wrote years ago about my child­hood, so per­fect that I have ne­ver been able to write any­thing else about my ear­ly years. I haven’t gone back to wri­ting about that time be­cause I know I could ne­ver im­prove on the ex­treme truth of La

calle Rim­baud: “Yes­ter­day I went back to the Pa­seo de Sant Joan, I went back to the road I have ta­ken more than any other in my life and that so great­ly hel­ped me cons­truct a per­so­nal li­te­ra­ry world. I know it by heart but it on­ly sur­vives in my me­mo­ry, in my re­mi­nis­cences, now that this le­gen­da­ry and foun­da­tio­nal road from home to school has been so chan­ged. They chan­ged it de­li­be­ra­te­ly, and not exact­ly to make it bet­ter. “The world, the map of the pla­net—what I call my Calle Rim­baud—went from the mez­za­nine at 343 Calle Ro­sellón to the cor­ner of Va­len­cia and thePa­seo­deSant Joan, the site of theMa­rist school that had pre­vious­ly been a Si­le­sian mo­nas­te­ry, which may have been the rea­son for the hor­ror we have in­he­ri­ted, a congre­ga­tion made of desks and docks for the ac­cu­sed.

“It was on Calle Rim­baud—as fat old Le­za­ma in Ha­va­na used to call it—of­fe­red up like se­cret and wild po­me­gra­nate, that the poet’s whole world was concen­tra­ted: the ca­the­dral, the home of the re­bel tea­cher, the school, the Tur­kish hats, the books­tore, the ro­settes, the li­quor as strong as mol­ten me­tal, and, fi­nal­ly, at the end of the street—I think we would fall off the world if we went any far­ther—the squir­rel in a wi­cker cage that he saw loa­ded on­to a Da­nish fri­gate. “We all have our own Calle Rim­baud, and there things have a name. Away from that street, eve­ry­thing seems unk­nown to us, and we un­ders­tand that it will be the end of the world if we go any far­ther in trying to get to know it, if we try to go any far­ther than the street from home to school, beyond our on­ly re­co­gni­zable world. “We all have our own Calle Rim­baud, and if there is so­me­thing that unites us all—I’m saying this from my present pers­pec­tive, from the point of view of my ad­van­ced out­post in the de­sert—it is the kind of ge­nius that we knew in child­hood when we were going down that street, at that age when we live in a na­tu­ral state, un­con­ta­mi­na­ted, in a state of in­no­cence. At that age we all have so­me­thing of ge­nius, but the road of child­hood, like the street bet­ween home and school, is short, and soon, ve­ry soon, the truth ap­pears, what we call rea­li­ty, and that qui­ck­ly forces us to nou­rish our­selves as best we can with the lef­to­vers from that ini­tial ge­nius we once en­joyed, and then, im­pas­si­ve­ly, cruel­ly and sar­cas­ti­cal­ly has lit­tle by lit­tle ta­ken its leave, fo­re­ver. “In my case, the map of pa­ra­dise, my Calle Rim­baud, was once a wild and se­cret po­me­gra­nate that ex­ten­ded to the six main points on my Pa­seo de Sant Joan, six spaces I can still re­vi­sit in me­mo­ry, like when as a child I slow­ly tra­ve­led with my finger along the maps in my at­las, with the bor­ders al­ways mar­ked in yel­low: the sub­ma­rine light of the en­trance to my pa­rents’ house, the dark and sha­dowy shop ow­ned the old Je­wish book­sel­ler, the bright­ly-lit Chile mo­vie house, the aban­do­ned bow­ling al­lay, the mys­te­rious re­si­dence of the deaf and mute, and, at the end of the way, the fence of the school church. “No­thing re­mains of my Calle Rim­baud. The Chile mo­vie thea­ter is now a vul­gar par­king lot. The old book­sel­ler’s shop is an obs­cene Poppy’s snack bar. Where the aban­do­ned bow­ling al­ley once stood, the old re­pu­bli­can echoes have gi­ven way lit­tle by lit­tle to a fu­ne­real and ta­cky ho­mage to mo­ney: an ar­ro­gant and gray bank, now in cri­sis… “The in­he­ri­tance of hor­ror could mark the de­cline of child­hood and ge­nius. With my first step in­to the de­sert and the dis­co­ve­ry of rea­li­ty, eve­ry­thing chan­ged, and it has conti­nual­ly done so ever since, for the worse. As we go dee­per and dee­per in­to the de­sert of life we rea­lize that in the end al­most no­thing re­mains of our world, of the mo­vie set that was once our own, of our be­lo­ved Calle Rim­baud, where our whole world used to be, and now just isn’t. No­thing, al­most no­thing, re­mains. All we can see is an old street where time, now at the de­sert gates, wrote an abrupt “the end” to our world, the world.” 8 Des­pe­rate in the middle of a dif­fi­cult life, I thought about what Rim­baud wrote in

Illu­mi­na­tions: “I alone have the key to this wild cir­cus pa­rade.” And these words gave me the key to the lock to the en­clo­sure that ren­ders to­tal­ly in­ac­ces­sible the sa­cred road of child­hood, my years of gloo­my ado­ra­tion of beau­ty and po­wer­ful lon­ging for the ab­so­lute. Be­hind me lay the years of child­hood ge­nui­ne­ness, the years in which we all, at one time or ano­ther, vi­bra­ted in tune with Rim­baud, with his rebellion and the elec­tri­cal storms of his mind. It’s rai­ning. In­ter­mi­na­bly. Rai­ning on the ci­ty of Bar­ce­lo­na, and al­so, I’m told, on the ci­ty of Ma­drid. Here I am in my room, an in­ac­ces­sible en­clo­sure at this hour, dou­bled lo­cked, ima­gi­ning a pas­sa­ge­way in­side my re­fuge, a win­ding short­cut lea­ding to my age of ge­nui­ne­ness, the great wild cir­cus pa­rade of lost in­ge­nuous­ness. That would be my on­ly pa­th­way to Calle Rim­baud, to the top of the Pa­seo de Sant Joan. But it’s ima­gi­na­ry. It’s im­pos­sible to see it, or even glimpse it, out­side of the la­by­rinth I am buil­ding. 9 A friend who is al­so buil­ding his per­so­nal la­by­rinth and says he lives in an in­ac­ces­sible room in the middle of his own tangle (built with an ama­zing de­ter­mi­na­tion, de­li­be­ra­te­ly), so­me­times tells me that he has the im­pres­sion, when loo­king at Ed­ward Hop­per pain­tings, of seeing scenes from his own past. “Maybe that’s be­cause,” he ex­plains, “I my­self was a child in the 1940s, and the world I had to live in was in ma­ny ways the same as what I see when I look at these pain­tings to­day.” Maybe it’s be­cause, I think, the adult world that sur­roun­ded him in those days see­med as remote as it ap­pears in Hop­per’s work. “As a child,” he says, “I dis­co­ve­red the world I could see out­side of my own neigh­bo­rhood from the back seat of my pa­rents’ car. It was a world ba­re­ly glimp­sed in pas­sing, and yet there it was, calm. It had a life of its own. It knew no­thing about me and was in­dif­ferent to whe­ther or not I would pass by at any par­ti­cu­lar mo­ment.” In Hop­per’s pain­tings, my friend sees a ten­sion bet­ween two ideas, the idea of pas­sing by and the idea that makes us want to stay. The same thing hap­pens to him eve­ry time he goes to a ho­tel, he says. As soon as he en­ters the room, he hears a voice ur­ging him to leave im­me­dia­te­ly, and ano­ther voice, on top of the urgent voice, tel­ling him to calm down and stay. In the middle of his tangle, his great men­tal la­by­rinth, is an in­ac­ces­sible di­ner (the glass­wal­led en­clo­sure that contains the lunch coun­ter in Nigh­thawks, pro­ba­bly), with three cus­to­mers and a wai­ter. Whe­ne­ver he finds him­self loo­king at this eter­nal win­dow through which he can­not pe­ne­trate, he feels that he has to conti­nue on his way, go for­ward, but so­me­thing in­side him urges him to do the op­po­site, to stay there. He has the im­pres­sion, he says, that no one be­fore him rea­ched the cen­ter of the la­by­rinth and that he will ne­ver share his tan­gled ex­pe­rience with anyone else. When my friend talks with his hu­man lan­guage—so­me­times I would say all too hu­man, it makes me think of the world. And my sis­ters. So­me­times we talk about how we used to see the world from the back seat of the fa­mi­ly car, and we’ve al­ways agreed that what we saw so per­fect­ly—maybe all

too lu­cid­ly—was that the out­side world had its own space. It nei­ther knew nor ca­red about us. There it was, fra­med by a car win­dow, and we could ne­ver step in­to it. It be­lon­ged to the three cus­to­mers and the wai­ter, four unap­proa­chable hu­man beings in a li­tup and her­me­ti­cal­ly sea­led box in the night, four mad­men whom we, the eter­nal pas­sen­gers in the fa­mi­ly car, could ne­ver touch. 10 Yes­ter­day Do­mi­nique sud­den­ly an­noun­ced, to my great sur­prise, that she was going to put fif­ty ro­cking chairs in the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal, trans­for­med in­to the one-room

Splen­dide Ho­tel. “Fif­ty!” I jum­ped with joy in my mind and as­ked her if she knew that ro­cking chairs were one of the ob­jects most of­ten men­tio­ned in Sa­muel Be­ckett’s work. She didn’t ans­wer and I couldn’t real­ly tell if she knew or not. Her si­lence bo­the­red me be­cause it felt much big­ger than it was. Let’s say, to be a bit dra­ma­tic, that I took it for the si­lence that the uni­verse ha­bi­tual­ly re­sponds with when I ask it about the mea­ning of things. But then I reac­ted. It doesn’t mat­ter, I thought. And as if there were no­thing wrong, I tried to give her a couple of quick examples of how ro­cking chairs cons­tant­ly pop up in Be­ckett’s work. 1) Film: a silent short 20 mi­nutes long sho­wing a man (Bus­ter Kea­ton) who goes around ter­ro­ri­zing eve­ryone and then fi­nal­ly goes up to a room and locks him­self in, and, af­ter chan­ging a few things concer­ning the ani­mals in the room, sits down in a ro­cking

chair. 2) Mur­phy: what the in­cor­ri­gi­bly la­zy pro­ta­go­nist of this no­vel likes to do the most is curl up in a ro­cking chair and cea­se­less­ly rock. I was tal­king to her about Film and Mur­phy, convin­ced that she was lis­te­ning to me in to­tal in­cre­du­li­ty, as if she thought what I was saying to her was not at all re­liable. But once again I had mi­sun­ders­tood. In rea­li­ty, she was paying close at­ten­tion and in­ter­es­ted in what I was tel­ling her. Fur­ther­more, she was ve­ry hap­py, as if a new light were shi­ning through the win­dows of the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal. “Isn’t the ho­tel in Rim­baud’s Illu­mi­na­tions cal­led Le Splen­dide?” I as­ked. “Right.” I was reas­su­red, now that she was spea­king again; eve­ry­thing had gone back to nor­mal. I was calm enough to un­ders­tand why, for the past three months, since she be­gan to confide in me about her plans for her in­ter­ven­tion in the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal, Do­mi­nique was tal­king to me about Rim­baud. At that point she men­tio­ned Cio­ran, who used to say about his friend Be­ckett: “I’ll ne­ver for­get his exu­be­rance when he ex­plai­ned to me, one day, the exi­gen­cies that had to be sa­tis­fied by any ac­tress who wan­ted to play in Not I, where a breath­less voice do­mi­nates the space all by it­self and ends up ta­king it over.” Sud­den­ly I un­ders­tood, or thought I un­ders­tood. So­me­thing coming from some wild place en­ligh­te­ned me, and I heard the rain poun­ding on my mo­ther’s hips. Yes­ter­day was a day of “illu­mi­na­tions.” This Be­cket­tian idea of a voice ta­king over space was much more like an “ins­tal­la­tion” than a play. It be­came ob­vious to me that Du­champ, with his use of eve­ry­day ob­jects re­si­gni­fied as art­works, was a pre­cur­sor of the ins­tal­la­tion mo­ve­ment (a con­tem­po­ra­ry art me­dium that be­gan to flou­rish in the 1960s). But, ve­ry pro­ba­bly, so was Be­ckett. I as­ked Do­mi­nique about the single, so­li­ta­ry room in that ho­tel. It would be si­tua­ted, she said, right in the middle of the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal, in the middle of the Mi­no­taur she was ma­king. Maybe it would be a room with glass walls, vi­sible from the out­side but in­ac­ces­sible. I said to my­self: just as in­ac­ces­sible as the street from home to school can be to­day, even though it will al­ways re­main in my me­mo­ry. A few months be­fore, when Do­mi­nique was going to vi­sit Du­blin for the first time, I had re­com­men­ded that she see the ad­mi­rable her­me­ti­cal­ly sea­led glass-wal­led re­cons­truc­tion of Francis Ba­con’s stu­dio in Ma­drid. This re­cons­truc­tion was at the Hugh Lane Gal­le­ry in Du­blin. Maybe that’s why I as­ked her if the on­ly room in the Splen­dide had any re­sem­blance to Ba­con’s glass-wal­led and in­ac­ces­sible stu­dio in Du­blin. She said that it pro­ba­bly did. “What’s the num­ber of this on­ly room at the Pa­la­cio de Cris­tal?” I as­ked. I was ex­pec­ting her to say 1, but she said 19. In some way, I found out la­ter, that room might have so­me­thing to do with a film So

Long at the Fair, cal­led Strange Suc­cess in Spa­nish. Had she seen the mo­vie? Made in 1950 with Jean Sim­mons and Dirk Bo­garde, it tells the sto­ry of Vicky Bar­ton and her bro­ther John­ny, who vi­sit the 1889 Uni­ver­sal Ex­po­si­tion in Pa­ris. They go to sleep in se­pa­rate rooms at the La Li­corne ho­tel. When the sis­ter wakes up the next mor­ning, she dis­co­vers that her bro­ther and his room, num­ber 19, have di­sap­pea­red, and, worse, no one will ad­mit that he had ever been with her at the ho­tel. 11 “Af­ter he di­sem­bar­ked from his drun­ken boat, Rim­baud was able to be­come one of those wild sa­vages who es­cor­ted him along the ri­ver banks. If the suc­cess of his work has ex­ten­ded far beyond the re­gion of poets, it is part­ly be­cause in the end Rim­baud trium­phed and at­tai­ned his goal: to ex­hi­bit him­self, like an eth­no­gra­phic sample cap­tu­red in the jungle.” (Ro­ber­to Ca­las­so) I re­mem­ber my mee­ting with Do­mi­nique yes­ter­day as I fill in what I ima­gine could be the sto­ry be­hind her ins­tal­la­tion. In March I hope to feel at home there, in the Splen­dide Ho­tel, and come and go as if I were going from home to school and back again. I al­so hope that when I’m in front of the glass­wal­led room, I’ll be able to see a great wild cir­cus pa­rade with an in­vi­sible Mi­no­taur, an ima­gi­na­ry fi­gure with dark skin and a fu­rious look, and at the same time, a hu­man fi­gure, all too hu­man. I’m ho­ping that with the “equi­li­brium of the he­ca­tomb” Do­mi­nique will place this fi­gure in the middle of the middle of the la­by­rinth, a Rim­baud hid­den, but al­so ex­hi­bi­ted there. An un­tou­chable and se­cret fi­gure, in­ac­ces­sible as the win­dow­less door to our age of ge­nui­ne­ness. And I’m ho­ping to not for­get any­thing then, but re­main alone with so­meone and a dia­logue. “Why two? Why do two people speak to say the same thing?” “Be­cause the per­son who says it is al­ways the other.”

Bar­ce­lo­na, November 2013 Trans­la­tion from the Spa­nish, L-S Tor­goff

(1) Do­mi­nique Gon­za­lez-Foers­ter, Splen­dide Ho­tel,

Parque del Re­ti­ro, Ma­drid, March 13–Oc­to­ber 19, 2014.

En­rique Vi­la-Ma­tas. Bar­ce­lone, jan­vier 2014. (Ph. E. Blan­co). In Bar­ce­lo­na, Ja­nua­ry 2014

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