surrealism in ashfield

Yesterday in the Ashfield library I felt the earth move. I was sitting in one of the courtesy seats looking at a book on Surrealism. Great book, wish I'd borrowed it now. It wasn't the writing, it wasn't the pictures of the artworks, it was the photographs - excellent b & w pics of all the main suspects, including the women. Especially the women. I've just read Ruth Brandon's wonderful Surreal Lives, whose only defect might be a paucity of pictures of the people she's writing and you're reading about. Elsa Triolet, Helena Diakanova . . . and more. And then the earth moved. I'd just come off a heavy three day stint driving, 1 pm to 11 pm or thereabouts; five or six hour sleeps, left over adrenaline still coursing through my veins, the peculiar ear thing I still have that manifests as a feeling that at any moment I am about to pitch forward onto my face . . . but don't. Or will I? So I thought, whoa! This is worse than usual, am I about to come to grief? Laid the book down and sat still for a mo'. No-one else seemed alert or alarmed, it must have been just me. Picked up the book again . . . there it was again, a definite lurch. I felt the beginnings of panic, manifest in the thought: I need to lie down, how will I get home? Didn't bring the car, it's a kilometer walk, hot day outside, how? And then, the third displacement and I thought, no, that wasn't me. That was the world. I stood up very carefully, replaced the book on the shelf and walked as steadily as I could towards the exit. Distantly I heard the sound of heavy machinery and remembered, too late, that they are constructing a new municipal building next door to the library, to replace the old one that stood there, the one they tore down. A line from a poem about Gilgamesh came to mind: He walks the tilting earth / unknowing . . . On into the furnace of the afternoon, the tipping, changeable world, the conditional uncertainty, the false certainty of our perceptual, conceptual, accommodations.



Elisabeth said...

My fantasy, Martin, as I began to read this post was that the picture of the beautiful woman displayed first up has something to do with your experience of the earth moving. That suddenly you recognised someone you know, a ghost from bygone days, your dead grandmother or some such significant person, nothing as prosaic for me in my fantasy at least, as the earth moving equipment.

I love reading this way. The setting up in my mind of an early image that makes me guess where we might be going and then even in non-fiction to find I had it all wrong.

Adam Aitken said...

The effect of the delicate portraits against the violence of the narrative of urban destruction works!!!