Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time and Puppets

A question from Vanessa Place, regarding time and delay. Dilation of time. And a (delayed) answer, or not: delta (change in the form of a triangle) (transition of water from river towards ocean), leading me to remember: change in time vs. change in place. Certain geographies having certain speeds, rate of change, types of motion or transit. I was going to write about transitions and then the question of time. Dilation? Is expansive, but still in the same dimension, often. But I should be asking you about the dilation of time, dear Vanessa, you of the one-sentence book. Hai An wrote me and asked where the eight poems were, in the last file that you sent – he only saw one, and together we counted. Time as taking up how much space. How much time equals one poem? This is what appeals to me about the Cortazar/Dunlop book, that the time (& space, & duration) of an entire novel is the time (& distance, & days) of what is normally an 8-hour drive. I think I am more prone to consider time as material, as stuff, piles of it. Having been given time or having taken away time. The time of an ant vs. the time of a human. One of my earliest ant pieces (written before I knew I would write so many more) is about the narrator crossing a large, busy intersection with an ant, the two tied to each other by a string. If dilation is a starting point, then there follows some kind of algorithm that allows both the narrator and the ant to cross the intersection together, the great challenge and beauty.

I’ve read more Beckett than Proust. Krapp’s Last Tape. An explicit articulation of time as layered and accumulated - a pile of speech, language. Scorning while also being one’s own younger rendition. I imagine the act of recording it: Now speak as yourself, but 30 years younger, and more confident, though equally critical of yourself, than the version of you that you will later perform. Or I think about Happy Days. The mound of dirt on the enclosed space of the stage gets hugely enlarged in the film version by Patricia Rozema (on Beckett on Film), where Winnie’s mound is in a huge, ever-expanding sand dune that breaks my heart even more. (Wait I’ve never even seen it staged…) But here it is space that is at once dilated and compressed, while the time, (I think I recall…), is trapped Miss Haversham-like…

One of the instigators to the current thought, a performance of bunraku – Japanese puppet theater – the literature of its script is interesting in that it is intended for one person, the tayu (chanter), to speak/sing/narrate all the characters in one particular scene, accompanied by shamisen (lute-like instrument). Though there is an absolutely impressive synchronization between the three people operating each puppet, the tayu, and the shamisen player, the nugget of convention that felt new to me is that for each new scene, as a new chanter appears to replace the old, the new chanter picks up in the middle of the last sentence of the preceding. Nevermind the curtains closing and re-opening, the set change, the announcement of the new chant/shamisen pair – the text is continuous. It reminds me of something Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop claim to do, which is to read exceptionally long novels during times of transition (like when moving to Paris), so that amidst all the numerous changes and instabilities, the text continues. I've been reading VP’s book, Dies, but was not able to complete in one sitting – and each time I part with it, the incomplete sentence hovers, suspended, waiting.

This thread of continuity all over western choral music – the soprano part holding on to a single note while all the other parts shift below it – less a segue, more a transition – which is how I feel after having moved, yet again, to a new country, for for the first time not alone but with someone, a partner, a big fat thread of continuity amidst transition. On a smaller scale, hamburgers, or to be more “precise,” hamburgs. Some degree of shock, upon moving to the US, that the meat in hamburgers usually consists of meat and nothing else. In Japan there is no bun, lettuce, nor tomato, but the oval of meat is presented in its own right, a poor-man’s steak, if you will – often topped with sauce. For as little as I cook, I’ve always known that Japanese hamburgs also contained egg, milk, bread crumbs, and that the term for such additions was tsunagi, or connector – lest the particles of meat try to come apart while cooking. It is also used in the making of other low-elasticity food items, like soba. It could also be useful in earthquake-proofing buildings. Maybe. Other tsunagi: rebound-relationships, DJs and their beatmatching, a time when I thought of a segue as some sort of “way.”

Something else I like in bunraku is the reversal of scale. In most western puppetry the puppet is a fraction the size of the puppeteer, hence articulating a power dynamic between the controller and controlled. In bunraku the puppet is almost life-size. The fact that all the puppeteers (three per puppet) are visible feels like a process/product relationship I’d like to think about later, but for now, their size – the three puppeteers scurry around with a subtle madness, in order to accommodate all the movements of the doll, which is controlled not from above, with strings, but from behind and below. (And, dressed in black and crawling about…they do look a little bit ant-like, too.)

And a note from China, last week: in a show of officially enforced mourning, three straight days of earthquake coverage on every TV channel, worrying the NBA basketball fans.


Jen said...

Really interested in the bunraku. Seeing lots of puppet shows w/ the kids and there are a lot of spinoff bunraku which have made me curious about the real thing.

VanessaP said...

Yes, that is the temporal project of my sentence, as you know: a sentence of stasis, a unit of time in which nothing and everything happens. Like the moment before death. Or like TV in an earthquake, reassuringly on. Temporality is such a given in writing that the stall's the thing, and in order to have stall, one must have movement, or at least its threat. I am very interested in a literature of impotency. Derailment seems too easy. Though in the larger sense of writing, I think all our puppets are much bigger and better than we.

Amina said...

This is such a beautiful image/these are such beautiful images: a pair of beings (a person and an ant) crossing the street together attached by a string. One thing it makes me think of is this from Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths": "I sensed that the dew-drenched garden that surrounded the house was saturated, infinitely, with invisible persons. Those persons were Albert and myself-- secretly, busily at work, multiform-- in other dimensions of time."