Wednesday, 3 August 2016


"We thought to engage in a very old-fashioned gesture, or one so modern as to still be, like music, in its infancy.  We acted according to a new complex mathematics, one dependent upon the tiniest initial tweaks..."
    -- Richard Powers.

“We laughed, but as little as we could, because we knew it was a solemn thing to burn a house down.”
    -- Marilyyne Robinson

In a dream 30 years ago an angel taught me the secret of photography. She said there are two essential rules: be sure to find the correct distance and always stay as close to the ground as possible.

And for a while I lived inside the wider ambience of those instructions. I turned my home into a soft-logic laboratory, an architectural equivalent of what in India is called ‘frugal engineering’. I had no furniture. The floors were covered with small sculptures and the debris of a nomadic intelligence (books and photocopied fragments, beautiful letters from my friends in Japan). I remember how the act of constantly stepping over things slowed me down and changed the rhythm of my thinking, making it more nuanced, attentive. I remember a Korean zen monk talking about the importance of ritual: he said, when you do something every day your manners become pure, your face shines. 

I remember photographing the books lying on the floor, the corners of rooms that had been ‘softened’ by small piles of cotton wool, subtitled tv images, the radiator in my bedroom. I made audio tapes with seventy minutes of silence wrapped around three or four songs. I understood that the object-world was about to start talking, and that we humans were about to stop doing so, out of a sense of balance, or harmony, or relief. I remember reading Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Housekeeping” during those years. And when I re-read it recently I was amazed to see how much it has influenced my subsequent life. 

I remember waking up one morning with a small poem in my head, a tiny thing no bigger than an address on an envelope: "The young Tibetan monk comes west. He will walk through the whole of Western civilization as if it were snow." But isn't that what all poetry aspires to - being an address on an envelope? Anyway, I got the message and I started walking towards the address, towards my future self, beyond the limits of my imagination and rationale.

Suddenly thirty years pass.

But even now I dream of living in similar experimental spaces: a house with wi-fi but no running water, or running water but no internal doors. A three year solitary retreat - with webcam and ambient OS. Those Hulme years, electrified, reincarnated.

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