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Simon Collings

As you were saying

The first move, as you’d said, was just a matter
of chance, and everything followed from this into
an arbitrary ground, a stream of images meandering
out of a particular usage, bearing mineral deposits,
or imagined parenthetically, recalling another 
landscape mirrored in its self-reflexive drift. From
the torn up fragments, a visual artist might draw
an image, a kaleidoscope of tones, heavily pixilated,
an identikit world, fit to stand for something other
only in the impermanence of its making, as though
boundaries existed to be dissolved. There’s a gap
to be negotiated, the flow of associations to leap,
a taxonomy of known tokens we use as a frame
to hang an interpretation on. To refer to something
does not denote its existence. What we meant then
may not stand today as a marker-post on a path
through lexical fields we used to graze. A speech act
searches the past for listeners to share in its definition.
Hearing sound as intentional speech is accepting
coin as legal tender. We must both have agreed on
the import of what we were saying before we said it.

When we say we ‘mean this’ we are opening a door
we cannot pass through. Isn’t the non-logical, freed
from preconceptions, an open invitation to see how
choice limits options if only we could puzzle it out?
It’s easy to impute an intention where a sign is hanging
loose, or was over-painted, contrasting shades
placed side by side, eager to contest, to be won over,
the lies neither black or white. This is simply to view
history from the inside, the signs can be read, just as
Enver Hoxha saw Norman Wisdom films as parables
of the class struggle. It’s like the jostling of a crowd.
We’re carried away in the current of intention, grey
and impersonal. We could be anyone, and cannot see
the trees for the forest, such is the strange relation
of a name to the thing named. What’s resisting us?
Your invisible denials, the almost correct impostures?
‘Something’s in there,’ you’d say. ‘But I can’t make it out.’
Eyes adjusting to the gloom, did I imagine seeing
what I didn’t wish to see? Odd associations follow
at a distance, mimicking the shapes of those we pass
in the street, figures that cannot be counted and have
no use beyond themselves. Too many choices may be
overwhelming and, in the end, a distraction. Many
desire to stem the tide of contingent variables, keeping
a finger in the dyke. It’s easy enough to play loose
even against the odds, calculated precisely with the
measure of the distance remaining, inviting in retrospect
a novel twist to the plot, a ventriloquist’s dummy struck
dumb with astonishment, held up as it once was.

We justify this in hindsight with a nod to precedent,
the tried and trusted application of a poultice or plaster
to the first cause of our discomforts. When the carpet
is shaken out and turned to the wall in the hope a truth
will be uncovered, isn’t the object lesson plain for all
to see, once the dust has settled? We’re each of us
inclined to downplay those actions which shame us,
lest they take on a life of their own, free from
the normal constraints imposed by tact, social mores,
and insurance premiums. Group psychology, we know,
demonstrates the power of social proofs to influence
the actions of others. We'd better claim ours now,
acknowledging that what we hear in a sentence is like
a musical phrase, the shape depending towards the
horizon of an explanation, as in a conversation
between equals, the moves pre-meditated, crossed
like difficult passage work, leading back to a loop
where the theme finally returns on itself. But does this
mean that the phrase has no meaning, as when we try
to grasp something and it just dissolves, in the way
Swedenborg, dissecting a human brain in search of
the soul, found nothing? We look to the experts
for explanations, but why should we believe them?

The games we play are for real, an eye for a tooth,
and people become lost trying to find a way out.
The compass separates what’s at the core from what
is circumscribed, and without a name we’re in free fall.
It’s not that we don’t see threats, or know comfort,
or remember to buy the week’s groceries. The hand
recoils at the touch of something moving without
a thought for the consequences. And people usually
think it best to follow the behavioural norms allied
with the particular situation or circumstances most
closely matching their own. Approximations will serve
for survival, but what’s good enough for you or me
invokes a code others may struggle with. ‘Speech
is rooted in the compact soil of interaction,’ you said,
‘contested on public ground we take from others,’ tools
invented or adapted like the proverbial grindstone
staring us in the face, a non-prayer, to a non-existent
god, of whom we have no need to ask forgiveness. 
Of course I’m playing devil's advocate, and assume this
is only provisional, that retracing the same old ground
we discover details we had missed, relationships
our attention overlooked the first time we passed,
particulars which we pause now to examine, seeing
how they tie the development section together. But then
this is the place we started from, the roads travelled
a circuitous justification of a point we knew we’d arrive at,
as in a familiar song we haven’t listened to in years.


Copyright © Simon Collings, 2019