Reading The Blue Clerk, (2)

The back of a leaf

Today has already felt interrupted, an idea cut by a practice, a habit paused before it can take hold, and this moment of contemplation already feels serrated, time sliced as though by sugarcane leaves, but I am here.

And reading.

Perhaps distraction is a practice I learn from and with the blue clerk, faced with the impossible task of looking after “bales” that “have been piling up for years.” Bales with “abilities the clerk is forever curtailing and marshalling.” The anxious clerk who “scrutinizes the manifest hourly,” who “keep account of cubic metres of senses, perceptions, and resistant facts.”

abating: make (something) less intense; reduce or remove (a nuisance)

theodolite: a surveying instrument with a rotating telescope for measuring horizontal and vertical angles

tumid: (especially of a part of the body) swollen

And some years the pages absorb all the water in the air, tumid like four-hundred-year-old wet wood, and the dock weeps and creaks and the clerk’s garment sweeps sodden through the bales and the clerk weeps and wonders why she is here and when will a ship ever arrive.

Dionne Brand, The Blue Clerk

I have been trying to stop using the word “arrested” to name how I am stopped and held by encounters with words and images and flowers and leaves and insects and kindness and grace. A word so saturated with violence, with capture. A word of and from the hold. Yet, I am so often halted and held, and I cannot explain why. As with this passage. Halted and held. Told to linger at the scene of encounter, to recognize the encounter as it is happening, not as something that will transform into an encounter in the retelling.

I am distracted.

From a previous encounter with this book, I underlined: “The clerk has the worry and the damp thoughts and the arid thoughts.”

The clerk has the worry and the damp thoughts and the arid thoughts.

Something is withheld.

3 thoughts on “Reading The Blue Clerk, (2)

    1. dear keguro, thanklyou for this, as always. i am very much with you with respect to this issue of words and their semantic baggage, running before them and trailing behind them. there is an entire (see i wanted to say arsenal, which is guess is also a military word??), okay, is repertoire better…, an entire pile of words in post-greco-roman languages which take to mirror first greek and latin imperial arrogance vis-a-vis the world, then theodice (spelling?) then enlightenment habitus of world grasping… all connected by practices of measuring, counting, owning by items (including people), warfare, subjugation and its pertaining techniques, like “interrogation”… the problem is that these terms, like investigate, interrogate, trace, capture and yes, be arrested by, but even the seemingly more harmless ones like examine, observe, describe, inquire – are all entirely non-innocent. it has always been a stunning fact to me that narratology of the last 50 years has gone about this without any level of self-critique, let alone shame. and every next generation writes themselves into these apparatuses created by the very words we use. i remember almost feeling like i want to swallow my tongue in shame when i read some of the words in my writing to myself, and then feeling lonely and helpless and not knowing how to finish saying what i wanted to say at all, if i’d begin this process (another one!!, see…) the problem is, to me that we – meaning we western white educated people in academia and media and politics etc – have no other cognitive way of nearing the world to us, and us to the world, than to order it. is cognition order? can there be un-ordered cognition, or would that be a contradiction in terms. that is to me the wonderful jump into possibility that christina has undertaken with her work, to find words which speak and know, how to say that sometimes stark and sometimes fleeting moment of space/time opening between oneself and the world, a stunning, a mental and psychic touched-ness by togetherness in apartness… i am rambling. but halted and held.

      1. Dear Sabine, Thank you for this wonderful engagement, and I like that movement from arsenal to repertoire. I have been thinking of what it means to live with language weaponized against one. But then people in the streets have been kicking back teargas canisters. Some using baseball bats to knock them back. Arsenals can be raided, as Luce Irigaray told us. And reused. Not without risk. And how to manage that risk and the harm—here, I think of Adrienne Rich’s poem “Power,” and that powerful meditation that Marie Curie probably knew that the toxic substances she handled were killing her. So I think of those who must weaponize language and the risks they take, and the harm they face, and how to care for the people doing that work, not simply to learn from, but to care. It’s difficult. Perhaps a tenderness you can extend to yourself, for inhabiting the languages we have inherited, and forging something else, something necessary, and taking on what those who come after you can be spared, because you did. For that work, what else can we be but grateful?

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