“…now the world stands, visible through your body,
and is transparent through your transparency…”
-Octavio Paz, from Sun Stone, 1957
This account, recorded on pen & paper in 1910 at Wiesloch Aslyum in Germany, was done by a locksmith diagnosed with a “paranoid form of dementia praecox.” It survived as a part of the Prinzhorn Collection (1918-1921), a treasure of artworks made by people in European psychiatric institutions compiled by the German art historian and psychiatrist Dr. Hans Prinzhorn.
In my dream, there is the burned-out rubble of a house. Cindered chunks from which smoke has long since left lay pell-mell and scattered across the lot of the former home- a few planks from the frames of walls stand, riven by flame, ash and dust, a stark vigil against the slow crumble that will certainly soon befall them. In the night air, these wall-stalks permit some new harvest, with random roadside weeds standing behind them in a sort of lit but blurry inverted silhouette.
The harvest is an ordering, a movement towards interpretation of whatever may be left- an almost imperceptible tuft of ash billows out as the first burned timber creaks and pops and is raised up, only to be laid back down, just so. What follows is a cacophony of pops, crackles, and hollow rolls as whatever is left of this ruin is meticulously ordered into some symbolic map of what once was there, or what is wished for now to be there. Some distant part of me, the dreamer, has set these motions in place, and decides the eventual new order of the rubble- every stick and pile used to its utmost, to form sigils, secret hanzi- like characters unknown to my waking mind, with a complex asymmetrical purpose, a deliberate interpretation of object, event, import.
Eventually the whole rubble pile is sorted out thoroughly into some sort of message to the sky, or to one standing above. And within the dream, I sigh deep down, somehow knowing that the chaos and destruction have been used in a new and gratifying way. A sense of understanding, a delicate engraving upon the surfaces of an event now past.
Waking from the dream, I get up from my sitting position on the old couch and brew some coffee. I think of the order our minds impose upon things, like lines of exacting graphs placed over something which never knew such angles. Stacking, sorting and arranging- redefining. Whereas this pile of ashen timber spoke simply and clearly of the mysterious event- the burn- the unseen hand that arranged and stacked this residue of an event had a way of announcing the inferiority of immediacy. It reminded me of a conversation with an old friend, in which I was admonished for using words deemed “judgmental,” when in my heart it seemed I was merely seeing into the guts and inner pulses of the event, bearing witness to what had clearly happened. It was as if I had been shot, and, stumbling through the doors of the ER, shouted “Help! I’ve been shot…” and while I clutched the wound, leaning in feverish shock against the swaying wall, the receptionist evaluated not the wound, but the implied judgment of my words. “No- it’s horrible that you say you’ve been shot- that casts judgment against another person. You must therefore say that a wound has occurred.” On the floor now, writhing in pain, I grind the words out in gasps, “Someone shot me. I’ve been shot- please help,” and the receptionist, like some demonic Nurse Ratchet immune to the immediacy of suffering, indoctrinated out of being able to recognize events for what they are, trained into thinking that using any language whatsoever that holds people responsible for what they say and do is a violent language that should be excoriated from all use, stands over me with her hands over her hips. “No- to say that someone shot you is not being fair to that person- they should not be cast in a violent light.” And so interpretations insist on clothing the transparent in the outfits deemed most appropriate. Immediacy becomes cast in a lewd, unseemly light, and events themselves are trapped from being owned or involved with the people who obviously brought them about.
Of course, fussing over deliberate avoidance of clear symbolic representation reflecting an obvious event seems excessive to me- let the flames own the consumed wood, I say; they were there, they took part and are responsible, even if it could be argued that it is the nature of a flame to do so. And though, now off burning somewhere else, they may grimace, wince or shrug, or deny with anger that they ever consumed a home deliberately, as I speak to them it is not my given task to rescind the role that they played, the unadorned truth of the burn itself. I have this inner conversation often- does the frank, immediate account of things done and said reflect some fault, some deficit of compassion on my part? Should I fear the discomfort of people unused to accountability, ownership of what is done or said? Is there some essential nature to kindness itself which requires an amnesia so extensive as to deny the role flames played in the burned-out shell of a house? Is the onus on a gunshot survivor to refuse to say aloud that they were shot by someone, as an expression of liberation from the role that the shooter played in the event?
Just like the random order that the invisible hand in my dream cast upon the rubble and timbers, and just as the German locksmith tried to establish his own meticulous record of an event in some delirious new symmetry, the presentation of immediate events is secondary in meaning to the immediate events themselves- sometimes beautiful, orderly, kind, liberating- but secondary. And so the immediacy, the pure occurrence, the essential stark transparency of a realm like a naked emperor in an imagined cloak, speaks more clearly to me than any nuanced, tiptoe interpretation of the embroidery of this imagined cloak, or any praises of it. The tough nature of this conviction is that the witness to the naked emperor may bring upon himself scorn or disapproval; it may seem that he is being unkind by letting birds scatter as they will from branches, without placing them in careful snowflake-order through re-interpretation. But the echoing events of this world of which we are not separate, reverberate through time like rung bells- passing them off as a phantom internal ringing of arbitrary ears, changes nothing.