By Lorenz Poeschl
Volet Martin; Martin Volet.
The messages arrive late in the morning. A second cup of dark-blend coffee cools on his well-loved desk, and the light shines at a pleasing slant through the window; a diffraction through the pane’s wounds of pollen and rain plays a halo over the wooden walls of his study. At the flurry of message sounds, Martin Volet closes and lays aside Francesco Gioielli’s delightfully bizarre monograph on indigenous forest lore, wherein Gioielli tries to correlate tribal practices across the world to natural disaster relief responses. Volet lost himself in the dense sentence-sausages at around 9.30, after beginning his reading at just before 8.00. What a task to find oneself now: Scribbling mentally on the pain of interrupted reading, he turns to the cacophonous device.
Sartre’s Anny savages the privileged moment: In that world, there are no ‘special’ times, no segments of life that hold greater intensity of meaning than others, nothing to which one might point in a gesture of connective celebration and solace. Volet experiences now the negative, an intensity of despair in absolute disjunction. The screen tells him that a cataclysm has struck his employer, the young country’s oldest university, and, in turn, his life. He reads- -writes- -teaches- to pass between points of purpose and propulsion. An economic meteor has buried the intelligible traces in which Volet piecewise deciphered himself. Bust, burn, bang: the market has crashed, on our heads, once again. The lines on the screen—outrage, panic, impotent remonstration—blur, and Martin Volet feels nausea rising. He trembles out of his chair and manages to reach the sitting room. The sofa cushions catch his tilting limbs and carry them into damp sleep.
Martin flies through fever. His skin pulses, by turns bringing together and separating the lying-sweat-lone-tear-from-dry-eyes-physical and the winged-fabrication-vector-dreamdrift. Western wheat fields burn with gold, rippling gold over tumble-contours, blinding the sun, who shields her eyes behind passing clouds. She sneezes, and the moon, in smoke-milk echoes, whispers of gluten intolerance: »Not so celestial… hihi.« In the wheat fields, a hanging judge holds court. The townsfolk are arrayed about his dais, which is covered in black silks and ringed with sheafs of early harvest. A trail of clouded liquid leaks from beneath his hood, and the orbs behind the eye holes start to flicker. The short-circuited judge falls from his throne, his gavel in a death grip, from which one finger juts, pointed to the horizon. Behind a row of pockmarked barns, a funnel cloud rises in thick, grey madness. The crowd scatters as screams. Millionaires in clown makeup run from among them, toward the oncoming tornado, their musical instruments trailing behind them. One has an electric 7-stringer umbilical-ed to him with a standard ¼-inch cable. The neck of the instrument snaps as it bounces over the ground with pitch-poor groans before fading into the roaring whorl.
The hanging garden’s glossed leaves and herby blossoms quiver in the breeze, pleased and lazy in the warm wind-down of another empire afternoon. Behind the low, smooth dividing walls, a ducted stream plashes its crystalline soothe. Three figures bob across the lip of a dune. The men are dressed in matching pearl-white thobes and keffiyehs of pastel coral that hold fast through their camels’ jouncing passage. When they reach the city outskirts, they are met by a naked herdsman. A sword scar runs across his chest, a sorry valley through greying curls. He takes the men’s camels and gives them three bulls, old bulls that snort occasionally with the docility of the spent. The herdsman ties the bulls to a stake and traipses away, itching his lousy groin. The three kneel down. One lights an alabaster chillum of saffron-scented hashish, and they pass it about as they pray. They rise, give mind to their daggers’ edges a final time, then mount the bulls and ride through the city gates. Royal blood dribbles from a heavy leaf, slow as beads of rarest rain. The drops turn cloudy, smothered, granular. The empire sands are rising; the desert melds land and air. »Habūb!« shouts a lone voice, then all is scatter and alarm.
Enclosures-riots England. Popular ‘stew’ in the metropolis, named The Painted Lady. For a meagre sum, the commoner can pound out his frustration and drink himself deeper into debt. The girls ground the placeless, mapping fair parcels into stained sheets. High-turnover evening. Rows upon end of open trousers and clashing cups. Ashen sweat forms the serein of a land reduced to an economy of bodily motions. The door crashes down, and a donkey’s head appears in the splintered opening. It is carrying a cloaked man. Olive-skinned fingers, thin and veined, protrude from threadbare sleeves. He descends into the stunned crowd, amongst which some are still pulsing inside one another, and raises his hood: he is wearing a grinning theatre mask beneath. He rubs his bare feet, which are covered in shards of road and door, and rasps, »Water! Wine! I beg…« Silence, then laughter. One punter throws the man a flask, while another sets down a bucket of water before the donkey, and all others return to their frantic festival of desperation. As the wine rises to the rider’s head, he grabs a leg of lamb in one hand and a fist of blouse in the other. He falls into a dual frenzy of consumption, his lips and tongue flashing again and again through the slit in his mask, cutting themselves raw against the sharp finish. His blood mingles with spilt wine, and the floor begins to shake. Panic, not unanchored pleasure, marks desperation now. The floor unzips, opening to a dark maw. Several people fall into it, wailing, while others cling to wall fixtures, kicking their legs to swim against the night. As the ceiling collapses, an extreme closeup of the theatre mask: laughter, laughter, howl against the frozen features, a tear in sense and texture, sound echoing in skull caverns.
Martin Volet kicks against the night. He swims for the walls. He clings to the surface of sleep, before the cushion gives way and he hits the sitting-room carpet. Evening now. A brittle sliver of sun plays out the day, briefly flicking his eyes, from which he rubs two tawny grains—canthic pain of sands. He musters strength enough to sit upright against the sofa’s front. Volet picks up his telephone, which must have fallen from his cardigan pocket in his tumble. News alerts clog his notification menu: riots, ministerial resignations, power outages in southern towns, and hastily stitched press releases and proclamations by apologists from various ideo-economic factions. In the capital, a communist collective lynched their leader at an emergency meeting when he beseeched them to consider that the collapse might solidify techno-feudalism instead of dis-solving capital. Volet reads it all as one might a grocery list, with only tenuous traces of purpose. As he is about to flick away the menu, the second-last item cuts through. For years, Volet has followed a dispute, between indigenous inhabitants and the state, over guardianship of a cave system in the centre of the country. Some months ago, after the final court had ruled in the state’s favour, the defeated plaintiffs re-situated the contest. They built a vast encampment on the touristic and conservational sites around the caves, blocked roads to prevent supplies for renovations, and closed over natural entrances that hikers coming from mountain trails used. Today, the land itself unbound the dispute. The site collapsed, sending running protester and government agent alike. The report speaks of a natural phenomenon that no expert, in the obtaining market of panic, has yet addressed. Some witnesses claim to have felt an earthquake, while others speak of intense winds. Either way, the earth around the cave system opened slowly—»glacially almost,« the report cites one official—to swallow recreational fixtures, protester campsites, and government buildings. No deaths, apparently, nor injuries, even. Martin Volet’s legs regain their strength. He rushes back to his study and snatches after Gioielli’s book.
Martin Volet zips himself up. He looks down with reassurance at the golden rill winding down the bare embankment. »A healthy stream at my age…« he mumbles, »…something, today, I suppose.« He leans against the warm bumper and pulls his phone from his cardigan: an update on the cave disaster, the first since he left four hours ago, at first light, with just his briefcase and sundry toiletries. He is only an hour out from the site now. The story links to a video. Martin leans his good ear into the screen to hear the grimacing interviewer ask a witness to the collapse to expand on his account. The man, a wizened community leader from the ranks of the protesters, repeats himself, every syllable patient from his thick lips, »The wind blew down the earth, and the land took back what we couldn’t share, couldn’t protect for others after and beyond us.« Volet closes the application as the interviewer turns toward him with a building sneer. As he settles back behind the wheel, Volet two-fingers rapidly to Gioielli’s section on chronology. There it is, the highlighted passage:
In moving from invocation to injunction, the indigenous power (potenza) loses its grasp on the power (potere) to indigeneity. In direct, situated practice, practitioners are a power (potenza) that unfolds action and connects sense to spatial particularity. In the abstraction of law and its litigation, “situation” is only a distribution of liable bodies. There is no talk of affective momenta or vectors of collective will that ground the body to the earth in a particular/-ising way. The like will get one laughed out of the chambers. In “legalities,” sequentiality is a problem of liability, of responsibility. The hand breaks the jaw and brings us into the courtroom. The collective enactment of a place, an invocation of place, cannot function as a liable body. It must be subordinated to a generalising concept: protection, redress, preservation, and the like. In legalities, the indigenous power’s (potenza) pliable (at times linear, at times circular) sequentialityloses all power (potere) to bring about given conditions, given sit-uations. It is my task in the following case-study chapters to show how the negation, the dis-potentiation, of indigenous power (potenza) manifests physically in the application of law, specifically law governing disaster-relief policies.
Sequentiality, not chronology, Volet nods. He lets his foot plunge and pulls onto the empty highway with a crunch, rear tires spewing loose gravel onto the drying urine.
The road ahead is closed. A lone figure, long, coal-dark hair flaglike in the wind, stands behind a makeshift barricade. Martin Volet pulls to the berm, gets his briefcase, and strides toward the figure, leaning into a strong gust and with his free hand clutching closed his cardigan at the collar. The vigilant is a young indigenous woman. Her coat is covered in stitched patches that carry messages of solidarity and symbols of identity, most of which are opaque to Volet.
»Shouldn’t go on,« she smiles. »Bad scene up ahead.«
»I…« Volet begins. »I must. I need to see…«
»They’ve all closed it,« she shrugs. »You with the government?«
»No. No, I’m here to…« Volet tries to gather himself, leaning on the crutch that an authoritative text might offer when one cannot find one’s own reason. »I am an inter-ested observer monitoring the mechanisms of application for government interventions in an extraordinary cata-ecological phenomenon.« Page 153, if memory serves.
»Sure.« A flickering smile again—subsurface chuckle. »Well, if you know about government interventions and all that kapurangi, then shouldn’t you know that they’ve closed the roads, too?«
»How do you mean, too?«
»First thing we agreed on!« She adds with a laugh: »Not ‘cos of the same reason, of course…« The woman reaches in her pocket to silence her phone, which has started to squeal out a chart-topper. Her eyes grow a touch sterner at the edges, »They’ve ‘declared an emergency’ and closed the roads. If you know the state: ‘no exceptions’ for no-one. Our elders put a [*ʭ҉֍Ð°] on the place and asked us to… well, ask you lot to stay out.« She mimics Martin Volet’s emphasis well: »See, closed ‘em too.«
Volet leans in, good ear leading, and asks, »Put a what on it?«
»[*ʭ҉֍Ð°]« the woman repeats, the left corner of her mouth and her left eyebrow rising together.
He asks her to repeat the word once more, but, again, it remains a tone-blur, a vague, spinning thread that refuses to attach to an apt mental image, there to wind it into the slot between purpose and sense. An empire sinks into a tar pit, viscid broth of its martial-marital-deathwork innards. A mountain guide keeps tempo on his tambourine during a water-break chorus. A mother and son sit in tropical shade and grind tapioca pearls for the evening meal.
Volet shudders his head. »I… well… I must see the caves,« he manages and takes a step backward.
»Can’t stop ya, only ask,« she shrugs. »But you’re gonna get caught with your car. Couple more stops up ahead. Government ones.« She pulls aside a section of the barrier and opens her hand toward the road behind.
»Right, right, of course,« Volet mumbles as he steps through the opening.
He wants to thank her—one ought to… yes? he presumes—but she has turned away, looking back up the road. He takes a few paces before turning back.
»I beg your pardon, but do you have any information on what occurred here?«
Corralling loose strands, she faces him, »Like the elders said: the land took itself away from people. The wind came and the soil rose up to join him.«
»You mean a storm and an earthquake?« Volet shouts through a gust.
The young woman convulses with a laugh-shrug and turns away. After waiting bootlessly for more, Volet walks off, along the centre-line, clutching his briefcase to his chest.
The collapsed area indicates itself clearly. A hazy cloth, woven of swirling cones of dust and coloured currents, hangs over the lacerated rock formations. With the sky stain, like a negative of sidereal understanding, to guide him, Volet was able to cut through the trees to avoid the remaining road blocks, and there to evade a lone forest ranger by hiding behind a thick trunk, and he stands now above the wasteland. His knees, insubordinate, clash. Below, in the distance, there is a patch of black among the browns and yellows. It does not move, unlike all else around it: an attractor, surely, a point of focus in the chaos-complex of wind and earth and overpowering sound. Volet coughs grit from his mouth and descends the steep bank. Near the bottom, he loses his footing. His briefcase slips from his hand. It tumbles and cracks open against a large rock. Papers spill out. Gioielli, too. Rising in brittle pain, Volet watches texts fly, borne away by a strong updraft. As the pages go beyond his sight, one leaf detaches from Gioielli and sails back toward the road. Martin Volet wants to sob. The dust-air, however, does not allow it. There are too many noises in its veins already. He must push on toward the dark target.
The black fixity is a cave entrance, an un-collapsed shaft to underneath. The dim light fades soon beyond the opening. Volet thinks of belly and bowels, of chaos digestion: I need to be swallowed to not be eaten. Dust-breaths choke his nose. Fingers tear at his clothes, pulling outward, to the day, to sustained disintegration. He climbs inside and sits down, some way beyond the lip, in the penumbra between turmoil and cave. His suit pants are torn at the ankles, likely from the slip. The fine brown leather of his shoes is scratched and stained and creased and a fine reason to allow oneself to crumble. The military attitude pushes to the heavens, conquers with the sternum. The pacific brings together alimentation and defecation in a formal continuity of life. Martin Volet folds into himself, his mouth toward his navel, like a wretched buddha, and finds space to weep.
Martin and his late wife, Timpuria Volet, sip from steaming porcelain cups. Snow falls grey-white on December Berlin. The final leg of their 35th-anniversary honeymoon-recreation has been a success. The exhibition currently showing in this last gallery for which they have time is outstanding. At a café table near theirs sit two middle-aged intellectuals. One has handed the other a heavily annotated page of criticism. He, a writer, wants the other, a painter, to create pieces that can enter into dialogue with his own offerings—which would be sprightly and speculative in nature, if one goes by the corduroy coat, Martin thinks with pleasure. The writer wishes to generate works that exhibit that which he found lacking in the annotated page: contradictions. »Mehr Probleme, mehr Widersprüche,« he splutters, gesticulating wildly across the table. He is sitting and bouncing at once, an incarnation of his own project.
The winds will not relent. Even beyond the opening, Martin Volet at times feels their sting, hears their taunting howl, the edges of sound that grate along surfaces of understanding. He must go deeper. I must go deeper inside to find shelter from the land of violence.
He cannot remember when he came into depth. I cannot remember when I came in. I cannot remember, put together, add together the limbs of a body that can think about entry, that can flee, that can figure for itself a reason for fleeing, that can figure with reason, that can reason the time when I came in here, in the deep. I cannot remember when came the deep. Not remembering, though, is not invariably dismembering. The segments might fall-off-on-their-own, yes? My stomach, say: it forms part of the body that cannot remember. Dinnertime, that term that brings together the body and the segmentation of the day. I eat—I ate—at certain times, even when the wind was not blowing, when the land was not unfurling on our side, turning back to itself. Regimen and the clock: these are the limbs of the ruled body. In the deep, the dis-membering stomach does not speak to me. It does not growl; it does not need; it does not constitute my body.
I am a guest here. Though I can hide from the predations of career and economy, these walls are not of my intellect. They are pre-burrowed, borrowed, brought to bear to me, the one who need not bear their weight. A guest, though, is invited. Did it leave the door open? Or have I invaded: hospitality, the host before the gates, the hostile presence, migration entity that erases lines to draw its own body. If I sit at the cave table, will the host’s imperative prevail? A young voice, strong and female, drifts across my reasons: she speaks a word, pulsing, and I cannot grasp it, to pull it to the deep to me. Can I find it further in, in the dark? She whispers that they closed them too: too, two… second and first. Which closing came first? Which state of closure came before? Does the cave grant me exception?
Sleep. I cannot go further just now. Let me wake with reason, with a means to touch the deep of land.
The solidity of the wall strikes me, again and again with each touch. Nothing crumbs beneath my hand as I wipe, through dark, over unrelenting contours absent of any vegetation. A mushroom or a lichen might be a friend in the endless dusk. Light is a dim shimmer, red flickering through its tones in grey spasms, dead heat, an externalising flow, not a vector of direction or aid. Is growth possible here? What can sprout of hard surfaces and death reds? I place one hand to my forehead and keep the other planted on the cave wall. In skin I find the same finality of shape as in stone. The skull is a cave: cavernous, intractable temple of self. The solidity of its walls straightens me, again and again with each pulse of its blood-grid. At least the wall of self is alive with sweat. When I pull my hand from myself, it glows in vicious reds. I’m alive, then, even if you are not, even if I must lean onto you to not fall from myself. If I am alive, can I grow? So run the laws of the outer world, no: If it lives, it can grow—ever more imperfectly over time, perhaps, but grow nonetheless. However, I don’t know your laws. You’re yet to speak to me, so I cannot know them in sound, in your distant legislatures or courts, which I imagine to spiral on in fractal honeycombs far beyond where any feet might take me. You haven’t the light to let one read, so I cannot know them in writing, though I would tremble to look at whatever you might call script. The booming hollow at the base and at the core of everything that I might have taken to be letter, symbol, glyph—gesture, even—would in the codes of your unseen spaces roar in echo. Do not fall for the phenomenological Hustle: Skull caves shatter when their floors fall away. This cave shatters one in potential, in a cloud of its unlaid laws. For law is the laid, the emplaced: layers of thought, of possible action and judgement, where foresight is the ability to not need to see anything in particular—in the particulate—in order to know its place and direction—its bulk mass, a crowd of milling agents already categorised—and to have always to hand the hammer of generality. Might be that your walls are so clean of the vegetal because you have wielded your hammer too well, too precisely, here inditing a neat rubric of punishment, there, with great discipline, removing moss from a closed-over window frame that would open to a vista of more of yourself, and elsewhere, in a hushed shadow, striking through the forceful indictment of the last spore, which was calmly dead already, its execution right and condign in the unified eye of cave stone. Might be that the spore-body needed no part in the completion of its own contribution to your state of perfected law? Is your hammer so clean because it lays without writing? The human body needs writing. It experiences the law in the lines of the page and those of (on) the body. Perhaps the stone law is action(-ed) only, writing as a line of the physical, not a physical(-ising) line. I ask you so many questions in the dark. Still you’re silent.
When one hasn’t anyone else, one tends to turn to oneself. The witticisms on the best possible conversation aside, the inward turn is all too often a thing of desperation. Certainly, I can address myself in boredom or in moral reflection, thereby to deaden time or resuscitate a guilty spirit. In extremis, in the anguished encounter of the body, though, the inner voice is a lifeline. »Help me now, voice!« cry the decaying. Caveridden, I ask myself these questions—that I still know. If you will not come toward me, I have to come to myself. So does my palm. I bring it once more to my forehead, flat to the sweat and the furrows. This gesture, too, is of law, stratified with doing and the done. The Graeco-Roman cult of the god Genius used this gesture, palm to forehead, in its rituals. Genius protects each human as they are born, imbuing them with the qualities that define them as the individualised spirit (personal haecceity). At the same time, he remains in the mind as an impersonalising force, as an antipole to the I/Me construct, keeping the self in healthful tension. The mysteries hold that whenever the confusion of living threatens to overwhelm one, one must return to the bipartite condition of self in the gift of Genius. The cult gesture actions the return. Though a gesture is properly something that expresses, that pushes out into the external a momentary condition of the self, here one raises one’s palm to one’s forehead and returns to oneself. One fends off the external in the gesture to affirm the internal.
So, I, no member of the cult of Genius, practice anew their ancient layered (law-written) movement in order to experience myself, to steady myself, to come again to a sense of particularising position in the looming vortex of <dark—body—stone>. For a pillar of sanity, I ask you, myself, yes, how I might in that gesture find self in this place. Genius is no colonial, though the colonial too often thought himself a genius in savage lands. The mystery has broken its bounds through human bodies, but it has not travelled for itself. Does the land of this cave, your land, have a Genius? If you were willing to respond, I would ask you not to come at me with a genius loci turn. That phrase is another mythos that travels in bodies and is in their violence carved out of a land, so that they might pretend to have seen it written there. I’m asking you about an analogue, not a crime scene. Does a cousin to Genius live here, and what is his name? Can I speak with him if you will not speak with me? Can I learn his gestures and find myself, my positioned self, amongst the deafening solidities of your hidden law?
I run my hand over the wall. I strain in all my senses and try once more to give you voice.
The red of it evens the shape of all, and the unseen straightens to shatter the known temple heat, and crumbs touch to fall to might, perhaps, in walls that imagine alive, are stone, are absent solidity to the light. To so, in even—would of flickering however, wall through the where here? Fall… I’m fall… cannot in shatters… cannot in your lives speak, least the at-hand onto vicious. In core of grow—ever a me: the pulse, again, of phenomenological, of same, of the outer if letter, distant any courts, which in base don’t wall dark, must spasm, with feet read, of the myself. So their take roars imperfectly: grow or me. You find the is symbol, of hard this again: a space, one lichen, myself. From vector yet-I or place hollow booming sweat: light contours world, which for my myself, as finality me, with beneath its nothing-even-shimmer, a cloud away. Grow? Vegetation. One looks in reds. Its growth, I am the beyond might unlaid fractal solidity cave: grey glyph—gesture, in dusk. I of self, endless of if cave. I, not honeycombs. Dim then, laws. Glows sprout cavernous, each writing tremble and more. Intractable skull alive, lean death, so a cave script. Is wall. Run, keep the friend with each in floors. Your I-codes spiral unrelenting. From an in-not to in-though, pull strikes your flow. The far other hustle would can over-direction with the alive, but laws can let sound, potential, again legislatures, again and planted blood-grid be to no. You surfaces when if hand and echo forehead haven’t taken through time, on red hand, externalising to you the mushroom that laws do possible to me, to tones skull, the not-the-skin-wipe.
Not yet, it seems: this is a garbled, distancing lick of my own tongue. But I will not leave. But I will not take my hand from your side. But I’ll hear you speak yet. Help me now, voice.
Due to some everyday challenges, this writing became a solo effort. In early discussion, my potential collaborator did contribute material that ended up informing the piece: the pūrākau of the Kiwi. I am grateful to him for that.
The writing process, however, involved a different type of collaboration. The verb collaborate comes to us from Latin (con– + laboro). Even if, particularly in the noun form, it is heavily freighted with both affirmative and negative connotations in modern history, it at its core means simply to work together, or to “come together in work.” In other words, collaboration is the handing-off (quite literally) of tasks to another, in the frame of exceeding one’s own tasks. That act—of trust and anxiety—between humans is what makes this journal so worthwhile. It is an act, however, that need not necessarily take place between people. Machines and external texts, too, help us to go beyond our own tasks and to produce something that our own labour alone cannot bring about.
The final section of my writing uses the cut-up technique. As the reader might know, this technique involves taking scissors to a printed page and rearranging the resulting shards into a new text. Popular works created in this way include David Bowie song lyrics, William S. Burroughs’ prose, and Dadaist multimodal artworks. Randomly rearranging the words of one’s own writing frees them from habit and syntax, and throws them into a whirl of poetic play. One’s own text becomes strange; one begins to collaborate with language in a more pronounced way than one already does in any writing act.
Further, I was able to get the cut-up effect without wasting paper or trying to find a printer in locked-down Auckland. I added another layer of collaboration, this time machinic, by making use of the online cut-up generator programmed by the talented people at stickbucket.com. Hence, I could not even control the way that pieces of paper might come together. The hidden labour of the coded machine took my work away from me and beyond what I was able to do with it alone: the base-value of con-laboro.
About the Authors
Lorenz Poeschl is an academic-English tutor and independent researcher. He recently completed his PhD in Education at University of Auckland’s Centre for Learning and Research in Higher Education (CLeaR). In his thesis (“De-Naturalising Affects: Toward Intimacy as a Means to Negotiate Settler Public Pedagogies in the Aotearoa/New Zealand Nature Site”), he examined visitor learning in conservation sites. Lorenz’s research interests include Colonial Studies, Public Pedagogy, Affect Theory, Language Philosophy, Identity and National Memory Studies, Collaborative Pedagogy, and Peter Trawny’s Intimacy Theory. Lorenz emigrated to Aotearoa from Germany at a young age, and his European origins motivate him to find ways of thinking about being in a settler-colonial territory as a stranger. His artistic/poetical writing presents a means for him to explore his academic objects of inquiry from different angles. Inspirations for his writing include Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Tabucchi, Thomas Bernhard, W G Sebald, William Burroughs, and Franz Kafka. His work has appeared in zines, online, and in the Journal of New Zealand Literature. Lorenz lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his bioinformatician/medical researcher wife, L J.