WINNER: 2016 Anne Elder Award
Series 1, book 2 of 10
In his retelling of the myth of Orpheus – where Eurydice is described as ‘the profoundly obscure point to which art and desire, death and night, seem to tend’ – Maurice Blanchot charts the relationship between poetry and loss, by which to desire is to necessitate, even to invoke, obscurity: to confine the object of desire, along with the poet, to song; to translate life into word, and, through word, into dream. In this conception, to write is always to admit to, but also to dwell with, loss – to experience the loss of a once-loved person as a mode of living. When Nerval writes that dreams are a second life, he not only refers to the dreams we experience in sleep, but also to the dreams that arise as a consequence of lost desires, dreams perhaps thwarted by chance: of lives once meant, but never lived.
These lives often coexist with our own as lost alternatives, counter-experiences or impossible possibilities; they lie within the everyday like a subtext, or a haunting. To transmute desire into language is to erect a monument to that desire, to announce it as permanent, but also to profoundly transform both the subject and the object of desire: to confine them, in their relationship, to the monument and the tomb. Since evocation presupposes loss or absence – as Mallarmé showed – then to write is to desire something that continually slips away, and must once again be invoked in a series of repetitions and beginnings that both conjure and obscure.