Four of the six events I've convened at Spike Island have been conversations between myself and one or two other contributors. To my mind, each of these conversations has been made up of a number of components, including components that could not have existed but whose absence, for me, is glaring.
Planning for each event has tended to begin with a narrowing in of focus, from a broad invitation (along the lines of "here's what my project's about, here's how I think it relates to what you're doing, what do you think?"), to an exchange of ideas and materials that allows us to arrive at a specific question or starting point for discussion. During each discussion event we see an exploding-out of this narrow starting point, as though the sharp focus of our attention causes our materials to ignite and spark in multiple directions. There's a video and an audio recorder set up to capture the sparks that fly. There's an audience. There are me and the other speaker or speakers who are taking things in as we go along and speaking through this accumulation. The conversation continues, and questions and responses are invited from the audience. For me these events, our preparations and the audience's responses have been hugely productive and genuinely exciting. But the more productive they are, the more there is to lose.
I have written elsewhere on this blog (here, for instance) about the formulation of ideas in the process of spontaneous speech, and (here) about the forking of paths in spontaneous conversation and the impossibility of retracing ones steps, so to speak, and return to an earlier moment in the discourse. But I haven't yet addressed what is to be done with these conversations. I have the recordings and will have transcripts too, but what about the sparks? What about the paths that could not be taken? What about the proliferation of living thoughts that accompanied the breaking edge of speech as the conversations moved forward into the dark, and which are now irretrievable? I'm reminded of the opening lines of Sylvia Plath's Night Dances, and something I read yesterday in a book on art, time and technology.
"The impossibility of technology processing data in real time is the possibility of art [...]. As long as processing in real time was not available, data always had to be stored intermediately somewhere—on skin, wax, clay, stone, papyrus, linen, paper, wood, or on the cerebral cortex—in order to be transmitted or otherwise processed. It was precisely in this way that data became something palpable for human beings, that it opened up the field of art. Conversely it is nonsensical to speak of the availability of real-time processing [...] in so far as the concept of availability implies the human being as subject. After all, real-time processing is the exact opposite of being available. It is not available to the feedback loops of the human senses, but instead to the standards of signal processors, since real-time processing is defined precisely as the evasion of the senses."
Bernard Siegert, Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System (1999, p. 12) quoted in Art, Time and Technology, Charlie Gere (2006, p. 28)
The Night Dancers
A smile fell in the grass.
And how will your night dances
Lose themselves. In mathematics?
Such pure leaps and spirals -
Surely they travel
The world forever, I shall not entirely
Sit emptied of beauties, the gift
Of your small breath, the drenched grass
Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.
Their flesh bears no relation.
Cold folds of ego, the calla,
And the tiger, embellishing itself -
Spots, and a spread of hot petals.
Have such a space to cross,
Such coldness, forgetfulness.
So your gestures flake off -
Warm and human, then their pink light
Bleeding and peeling
Through the black amnesias of heaven.
Why am I given
These lamps, these planets
Falling like blessings, like flakes
Six sided, white
On my eyes, my lips, my hair
Touching and melting.
Sylvia Plath, in Ariel (1965)