Lost for Words

Home Up The velvet curtain Lost for Words State of the Art

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Is it possible to speak about loss without recounting the story of attachment? The lost object in my case was a book that I had been given as a childhood birthday present and which was subsequently destroyed, exactly how I do not recall. The book was Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' (a text recently reworked by Kathy Acker as 'Pussy-King of the Pirates'). This event was in fact a double loss, since not only had I lost the actual book but had discovered that the story was concerned only with the adventures of masculine characters; the feminine pronoun being inextricably absent from the text. However, I intuitively identified with the very letters and words which carried the story forward, conferring on them a somatic identity. This then was the territory of the feminine. One word in particular remained in my memory, the word 'coracle', describing a small circular boat made of wickerwork, which turned and twisted over the waves. In my early universe of reading this single word seemed to hold the entire text within it while simultaneously moving through the surrounding flood of other words.

Enamoured of this mysterious habit of print I searched endless shelves in bookstores and libraries for the volume which might contain the same living torrent of words. For a time the beneficence of the gift had been mine, yet it was a propriety that was merely lent. My discovery that the gift of the boor; excluded the feminine confirmed my estrangement. I had suffered a loss. I had lost a single volume. I was already lost in relation to the multiple volumes found in a library.

As a result of this displacement my reading acquired a velocity not unlike that of a body of water released into the bed of a river. The rhythm underlying the prose revealed details that seemed to rise to the surface, to merge and to separate. Phrases now isolated on the page were also joined, bound together they collided like waves. I imagined a lunar landscape of dense matter. A panorama littered with objects; precise black letters fixed to the page; words standing in relief; an uncertain geometry of sentences that overlap and fuse.

In my writing the logic of fiction is one that pertains to the emotions, as if a chemical element seeping through the passage made b words were visible. It reveals a proximity between the pronouns; he might be a man whose house is to be sold or a writer contemplating his absence from the world of letters. She might be a figure with a book open on her knees, lost in the act of reading or a girl walking the street in the late afternoon. The figures are entwined, standing upright in a boat on the water or whirling like a dervish on dry land.

It seems as if the whole story might be found in a terrain which was alternatively in a state of flux and yet also stable; which flowed or solidified according to some internal movement.

Recently I purchased a 1927 edition of 'Siddartha' by Herman Hesse. It is written in German and although I am unable to translate the text there is one word which is familiar. The word liebte or love. Once again, I am attached to the foreign type as if it were a hieroglyph taking on the three dimensional qualities of an object. Each letter has a stem and a foot, each word a fluted form, and each phrase a cluster of points like a distant star. I am asked to write about loss and I can only reply with my love of words. Perhaps it is true that I made of these stems, flutes, and strophes a landscape in which fidelity to what was loved became a source of fulfilment.

The search for the endless text has lead to this particular narrative being written. It happened as a consequence of a certain punctuation in my life and work. For months I'd been at a loss for words, as if I'd been left staring at some immeasurable black dot at the end of my last piece of writing. A perfect black form gravid with ink, an obstacle between the pronoun and the continuation of writing. Once again the connections are missing, the bonds unreliable, recognisable pathways neglected. The sentence recedes from the margin where the delicate curves and strange cases made by the script continue to undulate.

Perhaps it is a question of reconciling the many different versions of the same story. There is a phrase that I am fond of writing. I appropriated it from a letter written by another writer. But the texts belong to you. I accepted this gift. I took it to heart. But it is not enough simply to remain a reader. I must replace the original lost volume with writing of my own.

Brenda Ludeman 1997


Page last edited 27/04/03