Wordless Acts

“I’m a failed musician. As a kid I used to punk around with pals and find objects along our riverbank to bang on, bought pawnshop guitars and drums and broken-keyed organs and made music out of our not knowing what we were doing. It was pure accident, those moments when we found ourselves in the middle of some sound spell. We knew it when we came out of it, the times that we went there, the times we were somehow taken. I can count the times on one hand, but I hold those times in my hand still like stones or fossils that somehow manage to float, have found a way to displace space and gravity and have pushed back against the failings of memory and the thinning out of time. Those moments stopped occurring, it seemed, even then, once our hands seemed to know where they ought to go, what chords they ought to be playing, and it was this sense of knowing (or thinking that we knew what we were doing) that killed the magic of our song. The same might be said about the writing that I write, that my hands sometimes travel to dead spaces, dead water so to speak, and I am at my best when I go to the page as if going there for the first time. I think it’s good to forget what you think you know about the act or the craft of writing fiction and poetry and I’m sure this might be true too of most any other art-making process. Here I’ll reach out to familiar ground and make use of a line from Jack Gilbert: ‘We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.’ I mean, why see and say what’s already been seen and said, right? To gaze up at the sky at night should be a wordless act, a moment that is only reduced by knowing or naming what the eye sees and what the mind can’t contain. Why put anything in a container? What’s the use of a beautiful frame if what is framed is the same old photograph we’ve all posed for before? In the end, if I had to say it straight up, I don’t look for meaning in much of anything that I pick up to press my face against, though I’m constantly on the make or prowl for that which will place me closer in touch with that sense of being in a state of awe which can leave us with its own kind of silence.”
Peter Markus, “Fiction as Magic, Language as Spell: Peter Markus with Lily Hoang,” The Brooklyn Rail 3 February 2015

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