Split the ovum – Echo and Narcissus, broken symmetries

When conception begins and the egg’s perfect curve is invaded and made to split, cleft into double after double of itself, diligently producing copies of its soulmate, at which point does perfection cease and the chaos of asymmetry begin? We grow inside the perfect egg, and we become imperfect, even our bilateral symmetry is damaged by individuality, the mistake of living. The egg is the last time we are comparable to the idea of us. After that, we are born, born towards imperfection. Can there be symmetry in faces, in teeth? The potential of it, at least, is written into the idea of teeth, Platonic dentures floating up there in the ether.

*

On his receptive, emptied skin, Narcissus feels the radiant heat of primordial symmetry, and underneath the heat he feels a cooling, feels perfection vanish as it cracks, the burning sphere rolling itself out into the chaotic lumps of a spreading present. We are placed, says Martin Gardner, into “a cold universe of broken symmetries,” and with the heavy book on his lap the thought fills Narcissus with dread.

From a violent imperfection, that is to say from similarity but not sameness of desire, Narcissus was born perfect, a body smooth as an egg, a face as compelling as water to the fading mouth. His body is a star, long dead and compelling in a way that pulls the eyes up into the dark. His perfection precedes the god’s a beam of rage, shot through the soulmates’ spherical bliss. Narcissus carries within himself a fullness, a two-ness, while all others are left with a lack, on a hopeless quest for their invisible, missing half.

When separated from those who believe they are his half, Narcissus finds himself more complete than ever – outward desire has never been more than a lie. His body in the arms of another is an impossible solution; with those of an other his fluids can never mix. In the withdrawal that is his home, Narcissus is whole.

*

And now this thought, that even he was born from a necessary loss of symmetry, from that which breaks after the egg is fertilised. Narcissus’s heart, like Echo’s heart, lies to the left, and breaks at its lack of bilateral harmony. The heart, remember, the man’s heart just stopped. Narcissus knows the heart can be beaten into stopping, by fists whose drumming is fuelled by an unbearable unhappiness. More than that, the food the heart was given was too thin, insubstantial, and the heart bled out.

*

In the mirror of the pool, the symmetry appears so perfect, so perfect it breaks when touched. Touch is the sense that breaks the illusion of perfection, touch is the most worthy emissary of reality, winged at the ankles, flight sprouting from the talus, from underneath the lateral malleolus, useless, demonstrative feathers where the rotation takes place. Touch, the most connective and regulated of senses, and yet how many split creatures haven’t given in to its solace when the strangling embrace of the self entices. We have so long lived with ourselves, the parts of us that are unlovable, and with those parts we have made a domestic cohabitation based in disembodiment.

Echo would, but cannot, touch. The artwork hangs behind ropes, behind refusal. Narcissus only wants to touch, and be touched by, that which can never be held.

The heart was given no more than the mere idea of blood, no longer the blood of life, of love, and in consequence the heart bled out. Life ran from it in streams, all down the left side, the course of its dying crooked. There is so little to say about this, about hearts and the way they fall short, short of what? Their function. And yet so few functions are incontestable.

*

The symmetry of things lies in the fact that one overlaps with the other, and that the appearance doesn’t change after rotation, that the move to a different angle will not alter anything about the way we understand a thing. Narcissus cannot learn because he is born from water, drawn to water, drawn only to what is the same from all sides. Narcissus cannot change his past or learn from it, nor escape it, nor become anything but what he is, because Narcissus believes only in what is symmetrical.

“Water,” says Martin Gardner, “has spherical symmetry. Like a crystal ball it looks the same no matter how you turn it. But when water freezes, under certain conditions this perfect symmetry shatters to produce the lower but more beautiful hexagonal patterns of snowflakes.”

*

The world has been getting colder. Echo feels it in the mornings, and sometimes when she speaks another’s words she sees them appear in a plume of mist before her mouth. She wants to suck the escaping heat back in, and the words it contains. Narcissus came across himself as the seasons changed, and would the water have frozen over, hiding his reflection behind the dull milk of ice? A mountain knows no symmetry, not the absolute symmetry of water, and this is why on a mountain Echo can orient herself on the cracks and peaks, and Narcissus gets lost in the sameness of water, which is himself. From every angle, all Narcissus sees is Narcissus.

In the pool, he finds the symmetry he desires and and he cannot live up to its perfection, not even he after whom so many have fallen prey to the despair of unrequited love. Narcissus wants to undo perfection by reaching into it. Water and light cause the straight line to break, and it is his own arms he sees plunging into and disturbing the dear face. To relate to the world by touching it, pressing into it, rubbing one’s skin against the skin of it, entering its folds, feeling oneself stroked and surprised by it, all this is what takes the many bodies of Echo back into the parts of herself that are available to the light. In a person, there is no such thing as perfection.

*

How can recomposition occur, how can harmony be attained, when what has vanished precedes us all, the universal ovum split and opened itself up to a loss of symmetry? In a centaur, a figure composed of two reconnected parts that found themselves by accident, the problem is one of maladaptation. The lower body is a horse, all power and demand, the capacity for speed and muscular function, and yet the lungs feeding all this power are up there, in the human torso, adapted to the human brain, utterly unfit for the energy expense of a galloping horse. The horse’s legs are hampered and curbed by a human heart and lungs that cannot keep up with their demand for oxygen, for fresh blood. If the recomposed centaur self chooses to live out the drives connected to its lower parts, its heart and lungs will explode.

*

Echo the divining rod spreads open before Narcissus, trembling as she feels the water rushing under his skin. She has found him, the most beautiful spring, born from violent waters clashing, she trembles for him, but water never trembles in return, water only causes the tremor in the seeking wooden spine, only causes the thirst inside the aching throat. Echo cannot make herself invisible enough, cannot let go of her body enough, all she can be is voice, the invisible voice to the face in the water. Narcissus, too, bent over the pool to quench a thirst.

*

Between the stars, the harmony has been torn, and all things wear out and ripple and break. Bubbles and lumps appear in the cosmic flesh, like growths under the skin of the void. What is it that broke us, that tore us from perfection? What is it that made the bumps in our nose, the crooked ribs, the scar on our arm? What is it that pushed our heart to the left?

“You and I,” says Gardner, “are the broken symmetries of fertilized eggs.” Two hearts breaking with desire for that which they want to hold and melt into with their touch. And yet similarity is not the same as symmetry, it is not enough to those who want perfection. When Narcissus, who resisted being held, finally chooses to extend his touch, it is more than a choice, it is his entire body compelling him to, what he reaches into is not the warmth of another body but cold water cradled by the earth. His desire is to spread himself onto, into another body, but this body can never be held. Narcissus’s eyes see something his body is not capable of reaching, a self decomposing, withdrawing itself from the world.

*

Narcissus will not age, says Tiresias, his sight fogged up behind a second lid. Old age comes to a version of him who does not know himself. Only a fate could say that to see oneself is to know oneself, and what about the necessary asymmetry of being ground like meat through the holes in another’s body? The lover’s body grinds the own until little remains of it but parts whose relation must be reevaluated, their webbing rebound.

*

Echo returns the world to its chaotic swirls. Echo the Oread is rock, is heights, is isolation. Her feet crave the uneven terrain. In Echo there are gorges, chasms, ravines. She has seen men fall to their death after the strength of their hands let them go. Echo is the first to see the sun creep from its grave, to see the light lick its way like a tongue across the jagged rocks. Echo feels the coarse hairs of leaning trees creep from the cliffs. Echo the Asymmetric takes the other’s words and returns them halved, sliced apart by electricity. She modifies their sound and meaning innocently, she transforms. It is easier to love what one has loved before, to reproduce, symmetrically, what already exists; producing copies of the same takes less energy, no need to take deviation into account when rotating the clay under the palm, and the whole process is less of a chore.

If Narcissus had not encountered the pool in which his visage swam, if there had not been a drop of water in all his life, if, like Echo, Narcissus had lived on the dry and salty mountain peaks, his hair would have grown grey, his face torn to cracks by the light of the sun, and he would have encountered someone else there, a father figure unlike his own, the immortal water god. A mortal man to love without passion, and he would have moved along.

The unfortunate thing is the match between image and desire, nothing is harder to resist than the illusion of every desire met in a single source. The heart cannot resist.

*

saying again

if you do not teach me I shall not learn

saying again there is a last

even of last times

last times of begging

last times of loving

of knowing not knowing pretending

a last even of last times of saying

if you do not love me I shall not be loved

if I do not love you I shall not love

Samuel Beckett – Cascando

*

Between Echo and Narcissus, the choice isn’t real, and cannot be made. The webbed existence of the two heartbroken children, the chaotic swirls of Echo, the bilateral illusion of Narcissus. Two imperfect creatures, and neither can offer relief. They are not like rams, running into each other like pistons in a world without consequence, in which mutuality does not wear down.

The tragedy of this has already occurred within Narcissus, and the attempt is now to rectify it through a negative symmetry. Narcissus speaks these words to himself, the self he thinks he sees. Spherical Narcissus remains trapped in himself, the cave in which he and he and he all overlap.

*

Echo cannot say this: “Come to me, Narcissus, be my smear, my deviation.” She cannot say it because Narcissus will never say it first, not even an approximation of it.

In all animals, symmetry is broken in some way. Because we rely on each other, need each other, we cannot be anything but broken, in some way. We are alive and fettered to each other in the realm of the imperfect; we are no longer swimming in the globular fire.

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Camel

Camel speaks truly only by means of quiet humidity. The wet babble of her armpits is the cause and expression of her heart’s distress. In the dark folds, two mouths speak in wordless streams.

Camel’s eyes are glassy, two spheres rolling along a wet road, they pick up the blue sheen of fallen rain, turning its flat shadow into spherical gloss.

A snowball is known to make snow curve around its centre; a dung ball pushed by a beetle picks up in rounded layers the excrement that makes its bulk.

Camel is leaking. Her emotion has turned her into a sieve, her skin is the cloth cradling a sweating cheese. At all times, Camel is covered by a vulnerable sheen, which catches from afar the eyes of the approaching, exposing to them her nature. There is no chance of deception.

Camel, beheaded, spends a day without coffee and feels her eyelids throbbing, her eyeballs rolled like dough between the two hot palms of her temples.

A man she knows, perhaps remembers from a stronger bond, sits down two rows ahead of her, closer than Camel to the cinema screen, and Camel shuts her rolling eyes to avoid being recognised by the back of his head, which she remembers cradling in her lap, his face looking up at hers with features hinting at the words, I can’t wait to spend my life with you, Camel, I can’t wait to see your eyes open next to mine each dawn. Later, the man’s features changed, became unreadable, and Camel felt as though she had gone blind.

Camel sees the clouds bunch like struggling tissue underneath the belly of the plane on which she sits in order to escape. A river circles her torso, curling down her flanks like a tongue trying to lick the hurting parts of her.

Camel’s eyes are tethered shut by the elastic filaments of sleep, but she sees through the gaps when she concentrates on the metallic shudder she sits within, the jolts fed into her body by the chair, and barely the length of your forearm between her and the hungry, bright blue void out there.

After that hiatus

After a long period of not really writing, not immersing myself in writing, I become shy around it.

I’ve spent two months with other people’s writing, other people’s ideas, while making very little space for my own. And now my own writing feels like an alien gesture, something that would make me laugh if I walked in on myself doing it. So I tiptoe.

I’ve become afraid of doing the wrong thing. The act of writing, right now, is no longer carefree play, and my momentum or sense of purpose is so easily broken. Writing is external, a turning-inside-out of the mind’s parts, and because I am conditioned to assign greater authority to external assessments of me than into the way I feel about myself, I worry that the more I put out onto the page the more this material will collate into unflattering image of me, increasing the chance that I’m messing up in a way I cannot ignore.

It is then that it becomes more important than ever to remind myself of the permission I have to mess up, to be sub-par, to throw out the idea of a standard in the first place. Returning from the pressure to achieve, dialling back to a state of play and permission to be playful, is hard work. What makes it hard is that it often doesn’t even feel like legitimate work. Alongside my return to the act of writing strolls an unwelcome sidekick: a deep and condescending voice telling me that the part of me that wants to play is the part that’s lazy, seeking an excuse not to have to make an effort. ‘I’m your critical spirit,’ says the voice, ‘and I am here to protect you from the part of you that’s naive.’

But that voice is not a writer, nor is it aware of the amount of good play does me, how kind and rewarding it feels to act without needing to be perfect, to do things without needing to achieve something, and how sad life would be without that feeling of ‘I don’t know what comes next, but I can’t wait to crawl in this direction and find out on the way.’

Two Collages [aglimpseof.com]

Two of my old[ish] visual poems [/collages] were snatched up by a glimpse of [an online journal focusing on hybrid and experimental narratives] for their meandering Uncontrollable Issue [go read the whole thing]

What is it? [Art made/occurring/appearing within the disorderly, the uncontrollable environment/body/self. An incident.]

See my pieces here.

Old Writing

I’m working on old writing, which, like old money, accumulates, only unlike old money the something it accumulates is not value but problems.
Every time I read over an old story, one I set aside on the advice of writing tutors and writing guides, I see more things that make it imperfect, its plot line faint or jumbled, its characters distant or lacking padding. Sometimes, it’s the voice that needs work, sometimes it’s the dialogue, or the underlying urgency needs to be fleshed out.

Either way, beating down the door to their laid after several months, sometimes years, old stories rarely reveal themselves as ripened, easy treasure. They always appear a little rickety, a shack with promise but otherwise in disrepair. True potential, no matter how many drafts in, always requires deeper thinking, yet more engagement, and another layer of paint, another structural redo. If they are to be valuable, the work needs to be done; thus, work lies between me and their submission to a magazine.

And right now, that work feels too demanding. It is easier to spend my time on work that provides more immediate gratification, such as teaching, and teaching prep, or research. Work that reaches outward rather than inward, that deals with people and their very immediate needs, rather than with a dark and dusty tangle of abstract concerns I seem to have forgotten how to unravel. Hopefully, more energy and focus for writing will manifest in the future.

But, hopefully, more energy and focus for writing will manifest in the future. There are deadlines to meet, and part of me. despite all of my whining and digging of heels, misses the process.

Twenty-Five

I’m not sure what possessed me, but I seem to have started NaNoWriMo this morning. There was only minor peer pressure, and there is peer pressure every year, yet this is the first time I’m going for it. I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m writing, and I’m not signing up officially either. So, really, it’s not NaNoWriMo so much as just Write-A-Fuckton-Of-Words-All-Month-And-See-What-Happens. I think I might just be desperate for a project, a project that involves writing new stuff without any pressure to publish or end up with anything in particular (other than a word count of 50.000). This will be good for me, I hope, after three months of doing nothing but editing my own writing.

So far, I’ve written 1300 words. It felt bizarre to flex those muscles again, to write spontaneously in a way that isn’t a diary (or blog) entry. To write fiction without any idea of what the story is or who the character might be. But as the morning progressed I got into it. It helped that I had a 1h break between writing sessions in which I walked in the cold air and took a couple of trains to meet up with friends for our weekly writing session in a café. The break and walk allowed me to think through what I’d written earlier in the morning, shortly after waking up, and see themes emerging already.

I think I might actually be excited about this. Let’s see how it progresses. But to have a project, a set of creative tasks, in November, especially a November as cold and grey as this one promises to be, has got to be a good way to keep any weather-related sadness at bay.