"The Castle Does (Not) Appear"
“‘The Castle Does (Not) Appear’ responds to painter Jamie Macaulay’s exhibition In the Hem of Emma Bovary’s Winter Gown that took place at Forest City Gallery in London, Ontario, from January 11 to February 15, 2019. We met that year to speak about these paintings which to Macaulay represent ‘peripatetics,’ or walking, in their simplest most reduced form: the foot. The relationship between walking and thinking, or walking and painting, has been a preoccupation of writers and painters ever since writing and painting became something we do. For me, to be a writer without also being a walker is difficult to fathom. I am lucky to have a body that moves through space and a body that thinks. Walking creates a space in which I can justify my writing, but it also disrupts those justifications. How does living within a society that values the spectacle affect how we move through it and how we are seen moving through it and how we see it move? How does our idea of arrivance change where there is no destination? What is it to wayfare, as opposed to wander or walk, when it comes to moving a brush along a canvas or a pen across a page? What is a wayfaring poem, especially when it wants to wayfare toward an essay or some other fixed genre? How does a painting think? What remains in the space between the poem and the essay, the feet and the mind, the walk and the painting? These are a few of the questions that ambulated through my mind as I examined Macaulay’s work, and I sought maybe not to answer them but to explore them, to follow them someplace unknown, as I wrote about his surprising and contrapuntal work.”
Je dis : une fleur ! et, hors de l’oubli où ma voix relègue aucun contour, en tant que quelque chose d’autre que les calices sus, musicalement se lève, idée même et suave, l’absente de tous bouquets.
What is certain, what is incredible, is that in the poem was the whole enormous palace down to the last detail, with each illustrious porcelain piece and each drawing on each piece and the shadows and lights of every dawn and dusk and each moment, whether happy or unhappy, of the glorious dynasties of mortals, gods, and dragons that had dwelt in the place from time immemorial. Everyone fell silent, but the Emperor cried, ‘You have taken my palace from me!’, and the executioner’s iron sword cut short the poet’s life.
—Jorge Luis Borges
The painting is the distilled action of travelling, or wandering, of movement; it is also its ignition.
Maybe a picture representing an area of the memory’s countryside, the particular blue hues of a mountain that change according to the viewer’s proximity, or the orange edge of light in the eye of a fly who lands on your leg for just a moment… or maybe a bare foot hovering over the grasses, this foot becoming the site where every possibility is played out, each step just a sheer accident, only understandable in its abundance of choices and thus infinity-solving, and in each choice the movement of the automatic gesture into the realm of “happened”—hence, a line penned neatly into a student’s paper: “What has happened will always remain happened.”
The painter and I discuss in his home, which I am late to get to, having walked down the wrong street—a “sheer accident” of my feet and their particular falling, on that particular day, I explain.
The foot, the painter suggests, is a “ridiculous reduction” of peripatetics—a word which frankly means rambling—and is derived from the Greek peripatetikos “given to walking about,” especially while teaching, hence its association with the students of Aristotle, from peripatein “walk up and down, walk about,” from peri “around, about” and patein “to walk, tread,” and the foot, as a “reduction,” which, incidentally, in its earliest usage meant not to diminish but rather specified “the action of coming closer,” holds both the potential for and memory of these gestures, like Empedocles’ bronze sandal spewn from the volcanic belly of Mt. Etna after he tossed himself in unseen one day, or the bent bike wheel leaning against the low concrete barrier on the edge of the Lougheed Highway near Agassiz, in British Columbia—though, admittedly, there is less “potential for gesture” in this example due to the wheel’s bentness, or perhaps just “different” potential, that being jankiness if it were to ever roll again, though one might also argue that a single sandal no longer holds much potential for a bipod, alas—where my father flew off his bike and down a 70 foot drop onto a mountain slope on a then annual three-day ride from Langley to Princeton, a ride I had meant to accompany him on, but chose not to, a choice, like all choices, only understandable if every possibility, somewhere, is played out—the wheel, the tumbling body, in my nightmares, somewhere, still turning.
The reason behind a choice is often unknown, maybe non-existent; Horace dismisses Empedocles’ suicide with the adage “every artist has the right to destroy himself.”
Maybe then we can only represent the unknown by illustrating the veil which hides it. Parrhasius must have thought so: in a painting duel meant to determine if he or his longtime rival Xeuxis was the better painter, his painting of a curtain, for example, was so well wrought that it fooled Xeuxis into thinking it was an actual curtain (behind which Parrhasius’ “real” contending painting lay) thus making Parrhasius the unlikely winner, unlikely because Xeuxis’ prior-revealed painting of grapes was so realistic that a bird killed itself diving headlong into the enticing fruit and what better proof of a powerful rendition (or, more likely, the hunger of that bird) than that? Nevertheless, to fool the painter himself, as opposed to some ravenous budgie, proved much more impressive—though, in the end, the real fooling might be that there is even such a thing as that—a this—which lies behind the curtain, just a figment of the imagination, a mere construction.
Maybe then the painting is a style, a particular flair, in which the unknown is constructed, especially with regard to its problem—that of being unknown; the only actual “progress” in this endeavour would be to enter into the volcanic flames, expiring, as we would, if we were to open Parrhasius’ curtain or discover Borges’ beheaded poet’s “oblivion-deserving” word for the universe; the known is, in this way, predictably holy, and therefore impossible to represent, like some cat’s octopus chew-toy, the padding where its nine brains would be in the centre fully removed, carefully, even, by select teeth, so that the flattened and flattening cephalopod becomes only a worn web of thread upon which hang eight used-to-be limbs, that being six arms and two feet, and those nearly—unneatly—severed, limply hanging in the jowls of a small creature who has never seen the sea; we might call this opening of the curtain, this entry into the volcano belly, the crossed-out thought.
The painter and I discuss in his home on
Mt. Etna Edna St.
Is mis/representation always a reduction and therefore necessarily im/perfect? Or is its refusal, non-representation, made perfect through negation—the veil, therefore, the only possibly accurate representation? The representable can only be approached by way of limitation—perhaps the veil, once removed, only lets the painter through to an endless series of veils; there is no behind (or rather as Parrhasius might call out: there, friends, is the no-behind!), though, powerful representation occurs—in the words of the wise student: what has occurred will always remain having had occurred (though not, perhaps, an occurrence)—hence, one might wonder is the bird truly the idiot for its bold beakward lunge towards the painted grapes? or for snapping its neck on the light-polished high rises of our world’s major cities, the sky’s lethal looking glasses, sleeping kings? and what of wanting the curtain to be open at all—Xeuxis learned the problematics of this the hard way as in John Francis Shade’s poem in Nabokov’sPale Fire:I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the window pane… there is desire, there is no entry, alas.
As I spoke of this with the painter a loud howl at the back door: through the glass, a very round head peers up, opens its mouth to express a fanged desire to enter into the warm apartment, which, I learned to my surprise, it was already familiar with, as this chubby cat, steadfast burglar, in fact, months earlier, had already broken in to this particular apartment, hiding, with some difficulty, considering its girth, its overplump body under the couch, for hours, as if to squat there forever; this waiting, I realize, is a form of repetition—its form is pure force—and repetition is always a type of fooling, it being hard to know if the choice of this creature was erratic or plotted; was it wayfaring? simply wandering? was it joking? is this a joke?
A painter who wanders is always in danger of being confronted by bad billboards, according to the painter, of paintings the painter does not like or, more abominably, of paintings by painters the painter does not like; painting is a matter, as such walking is, of persisting through distaste, this distaste, at times, acting as a crutch, a crutch for one, say, whose foot has been lobbed off, inevitably slowing the walker down, altering her identity, maybe thrillingly, as a pseudonym might, or a bad haircut, in which one feels one must “live up to” this new version of themselves that they have been accidentally offered—for the freedom of crossing out one’s own name brings with it a type of pleasure, the tip before a step, especially if one has stood for quite a long time, maybe poised in front of a canvas, agoraphobic as Heraclitus, recognizing that at the first step, the first stroke, the carpet will begin its eternal unfurling, which one will never catch up to: this then being what thought is, and therefore, painting and, in fact, wayfaring, or thinking, might actually be antithetical to progress, in this light, since there can be no progress in infinity, only permanent ignition, of movement, thought, trace, etc. and on it goes.
Painting is also of course in no way the opposite of not-painting, in the same way walking cannot be the opposite of standing still, for one cannot exist without the other; painting carries within it the trace of stillness, even as the roots of “stillness” hold “release” which of course cannot be still, and the roots of “painting” carry “to cut, or mark by incision,” the cut, therefore, is the negation, the part that imagines things: it makes a foot from a leg.
And who wouldn’t prefer to enter, to exist behind Parrhasius’ curtain, and say go forward and stand in the “thisness” of this, and what, therefore, of the painter whose paintings aspire to the condition of drawing—to the automatic feeling of this, this thrill—and what it takes to get there, to move into its “happened,” to glance at the no-behind of the painting, the ignited space, spilling lava, spewing shoes.