Thursday, December 20, 2012

Geographies II

For R.J.

"There were so many boundaries, and so many walls, and inside the walls, more walls. Bastions in which, one morning, I wake up condemned. Cities where I am isolated, quarantines, cages, "rest" homes." -Helene Cixous

"Tell me something, before I sleep". That question always paralyzed me. Do you remember the beginning of Mrs. Dalloway, Rana? "And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning--fresh as if issued to children on a beach." Yes, I agree, that was not the first sentence, it's the fourth to be more precise. How to end a story? You know why I found that question so difficult? Because I never wanted my stories to end. I always chose vagueness, openness, and sometimes even, a certain touch of abandonment, to circumstances, without a final word. It seemed to me as if the ending was always already implicit in the first line, regardless of the content. Do you know what they say about Maalouf's last book? "The novel ends in darkness, solely with the purpose of showing that the disappearance of the past is something one can find consolation for easily; what is inconsolable is the disappearance of the future as well." I wanted ends to write themselves out, when I were elsewhere already, or at least somebody else, occupying the same body, here and at the same time. Did I tell you Abdulrahman loved Istanbul? Yes, he loved Istanbul with the eyes of a child. He could have been like me on the first day, when it took me an entire day to circle the mosque nearby on foot and then a whole another day to go on a boat trip with Anwar. Do you know that moment when you dream of things and then they happen? It was a morning like that. So fresh. With friends, with laughs, on a sunny day, going from Europe to Asia, across the Bosporus and then the Marmara, on a little boat, admiring things with glee, admiring them as if no one had seen them before, the way Magritte would. How would we see things if we were really awake? That was the question of his paintings. Yet never had I been so cold, never had I been so tired.

Abdulrahman wanted to come, because he wanted to feel being in my shoes: He wanted to write Istanbul. But I was afraid, I was afraid that he would come and that then I would find that he is gone the next morning, perhaps to a church or to a little shop, in the Asian side, and then, I would find myself entirely alone. So I didn't let him come. He also wanted to come to Adliya, but again I was afraid that he would see me across that painting, and its scenes of drowning, its surgical colors, its smothered words. I didn't want that to happen either. Nor did I plan for the painting. I had bought an elegant grey jacket, from a tailor, that I would wear only on that day, at the dinner, located somewhere at the center of the map. It wasn't the past what disappeared, but the immediately present and the absolutely future, while the past remained untouched, and just as distant. But yet it was a beautiful day, mapless and all, so I wore the jacket to go to Seef with her, and spend the hours, the most beautiful hours, the hours that still did not end. "I love you so much", she said, and I understood that she was the most real thing in the world, and we understood that some things are better left unsaid. And I loved her too. It was the longest of lunches, in a most singular morning, although it was late afternoon, and when we parted, I began to realize, it was her, in front of me, what I had loved too, from a respectful distance, through the most squalid laughter, through cynical pain, in just a moment, like that. Through a hundred days. "He had never felt so happy in the whole of his life! Without a word they made it up. They walked down to the lake. He had twenty minutes of perfect happiness." Do you know the pleasure of agreement? The agreement that begins at the height of the eyelid and then, like a tear, slides through the corner of the mouth and becomes a smile? The home, the place, the possibility of space, was here gratuitous but never free. How far would you go, just for that, Rana?

Perec writes: "To be far away... To discover what you've never seen, what you didn't expect, what you didn't imagine... Not what, over time, has come to be listed among the various wonders and surprises of the world; neither the grandiose nor the impressive; nor even the foreign necessarily. But rather the reverse, the familiar rediscovered, fraternal space." And everywhere is far away. The closer I came, the further it receded from reach, the more intoxicating that the distance became. There was this sweet tenderness, and it had a body, a body of proof, it occupied the entire room, as if it was the only thing that mattered. "For she had come to feel that it was the only thing worth saying - what one felt. Cleverness was silly. One must simply say what one felt." Once I saw it in Istanbul, actually twice, and I chased it across the hall, I detected this beauty, I knew of its existence, I let it surround me, between the walls, the walls of the cities, the walls of the hills, the walls of the rivers. We had met before, I thought, and yet it was surprised that I didn't recognize it more immediately. I stood there, pretending to admire the artwork, letting it take me on completely, and even walk me to the elevator, speaking a language I didn't understand. It was so fragile, even more than me, I stood for hours; it was the moment, right there. It reminded me of what I never had, with kindness, as if it were the first day after the war, with its bristling air, teaching our limbs, how to live now, and I felt it was still far, so far away, a gaze, a glimpse. I adored the moment, irreparably not mine, stamped on a new jacket that was no longer new, and bathed in this sweet perfume. I circled it with my hands and I faded. It remained.

What is that place? Where is it? From Perec: "I would like there to exist places that are stable, unmoving, intangible, untouched and almost untouchable, unchanging, deep-rooted; places that might be points of reference, of departure, of origin: My birthplace, the cradle of my family, the house where I may have been born, the tree I may have seen grow (that my father may have planted the day I was born), the attic of my childhood filled with intact memories... Such places don't exist, and it's because they don't exist that space becomes a question, ceases to be self-evident, ceases to be incorporated, ceases to be appropriated. Space is a doubt: I have constantly to make it, to designate it. It's never mine, never given to me, I have to conquer it." I told Abdulrahman in a letter that I wanted to go back home. Home isn't a recorded voice note. There's a far beyond. But you need to make yourself comfortable first in the empty space, bask in the privilege of exile, and then, only then, reach for the bodies, first you need to see the eyes and through the eyes touch the hands, and then occupy the words, at last. The sentences. The ends. Do you know the last sentence of Mrs. Dalloway? "'I will come,' said Peter, but he sat for a moment. What is this terror? What is this ecstasy? He thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is Clarissa, he said. For there she was." And indeed, there she was. I wore the new jacket, it was the perfect moment, we drove past the Ocean, Monet's, basked in it, it was worth everything. Even the empty space. The overwhelming empty space coating everything else ever since then.

There're no given homes. All space is but conquered.


Anonymous said...

Amazing as usual, Leo.

Anonymous said...

والآن أنا غيور جدا. تنفس الصعداء. نسي بالفعل.