On Nilling, Transitional Vertebrae, Homo Erectus, Starseeds, Humid Gardens, Gold Spraypaint, Abramovic, Pem-Skool, Videosouls, etc.

Nilling: Prose by Lisa Robertson 
 nill  (nl)
v. nilled, nill·ing, nills Obsolete
v.tr.

Not to will; not to wish.
v.intr.

To be unwilling; will not.

[Middle English nilen, from Old English nyllan : ne, not; see ne in Indo-European roots + willan, to desire; see wel-1 in Indo-European roots.]
I’ve been carrying around now for a few weeks Lisa Robertson’s new book, Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, The Codex, Melancholy, Lucretus, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias, with strong desires to write about it, but busyness at work and a pain management regimen have got in the way of that endeavor a bit.

I recently learned to my great surprise that I have a “transitional vertebra,” which has likely been contributing, for decades, perhaps, to my spinal discomfort. It’s a relatively rare birth defect that connects me to our homo erectus ancestors, who had six vertebrae in their lower spines, whereas normal contempo-humans have five; what I have is something inbetween, neither lumbar nor sacral. According to this website, it may indicate that I am a “starseed.” A starseed!

The worst thing I can say about Nillingis that its cover is a beautiful off-white card stock that doesn’t fare well in one’s purse over several weeks, which is something of a pity since it is a book that should be lovingly carried around in order to read it in different places.  The first place I read it was in my co-op garden amongst the bleeding hearts and ferns, and the coral roses blooming on the bower. The day was humid like the prose.  I read it as I was waiting for the gold spray paint to dry on some cheap frames I’d bought to frame some antique French postcards of roses.

It was in the garden that the cover acquired its first fingerprints, and despite some discomfort – the stickiness of the weather and attendant mosquitoes, the feeling that something sharp was poking through my left buttock, the gold spraypaint that had stuck toxically to the thumb and forefinger of my right hand – I felt myself hypnotically inducted into the whirling galaxy of this book, one of whose foci, indeed, is the mechanism (although that is too cold a word) – the miracle, really – of reading:

“…I fall into the lace of the text, the vellum; caught there, I contemplate my masters.” (p. 22)
“As I read my self-consciousness is not only suspended, but temporarily abolished by the vertigo of another’s language. I am simply its conduit, its gutter. This is a pleasure.” (p.26)
I want to say – this is so French! – this languourous Barthesian mode of expression, this ribbony abandonment into texts… I am quite bowled over, throughout, by the construction of her sentences, and by the lacelike steel of her erudition.  I should have been a proper scholar, I think ruefully, reading this.
 
Some of the essays in the book are incredibly opaque and perplexing, which makes sense given the Frenchness and verbal humidity I have already mentioned. I have been wrestling with “Perpectors/ Melancholia” in particular. The more I read it, the more I think I understand it holistically? It addresses the concept of perspectival space and the notion of the viewing subject? “How big is the subject? [she asks] Quite tiny.”(p. 49) I almost feel this book is above my pay grade, intellectually…, but it feels good to read it, like stretching muscles, and there are some sentences that register so personally in me I want to embroider them on cushions and wall hangings to put in my increasingly overdecorated apartment:
“Melancholy is the experiential quota of frictive change.”
“Seeing is also inexperienced. The optical threads begin to entwine, embroider[!]. Melancholy gets detailed, intricate. By ‘the social,’ I mean also the gestural ornament, which is for sight. Everything appears for other eyes.  Being leans into recogntion. The lens is a social ornament.”
“The melancholic eye expects discomfort.”
“In dark space, pictorial depth is guaranteed or twinned by the sensed or introjected interiority of the subject. This interiority could be characterized as an inconsistent system of metamorpheses – spatial extention inwards from the locus of doubt or uncertainty, towards something not the same as the present. Inconsistent because it’s not smooth extension.  In melancholia extension stutters, braids, lurches, fucks, shuns, strokes, and snags in contingency.”
“…ornament perceives.”
With all these mentions of ornament, “Perpsectors/Melancholia” will, needless to say, be on the reading list for Baroqueify!
She coins two terms in the essay, “videowork” and “videosoul.” The first term doesn’t seem to mean anything pedestrian, like something you might see exhibited at PS1.* The exquisite last paragraph of the essay is devoted to the definition of the second term, a sort of I/eye as camera but not just recorder – rather,  “a perceiving perfume that temporarily rejoins intuition and vision.”

Nilling is not literary criticism, exactly – it’s more like philosophy – and at moments it is the sort of philosophy in which this melancholic soul at least finds consolation even beyond the sheer literary/aesthetic rapture at the beauty of her language – she helps me remember why indeed it is that I am compelled to do what I do when (willy-nilly) (as it were) I find myself making poems (sorry, I’ve left off page numbers, but all quotes that follow are from the final “Untitled Essay”):

“Language, the historical mode of collective relationships, is also the aptitude by which humans innovate one another as subjects.”
“Through the poem we receive rhythm, or the specificity of continuance as a disposition, a momentary form, and we receive the urgent call to always renew our vernaculars, to set them melodically adrift in the civis, in the domus, among bodies.”
“…the poem, with its provisional distributions and tentative relationships,its chaotic caesura, temporarily gathers a received and spoken reciprocity, where the I and the you create one another for the pleasure of a shapely co-recognition.”
Get Nilling here.
Consider reading it in a humid garden.
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*I have an idea – do I have to execute it? – of remaking Marina Abramovic’s “Art Must Be Beautiful” video with me brushing my crazy hair with two brushes and saying “Art must be annoying/ artist must be annoying.”  Should I do it? Or is it enough just to have thought of it?
**It freaks me out that Gary has been blogging about music from Burma.  I’m hoping/planning to go there for xmas/new years. Not with Gary, of course. I am looking for travel companions, though, so if anyone wants to go there to meet the INCREDIBLE YOUNG PEM-SKOOL POETS and get a southeast Asian vacation in the bargain, please let me know.  I’m SERIOUS.

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