Devereux Fortuna is a writer and visual artist. They are a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York University and received their PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston as a Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts Interdisciplinary Fellow. Their work can be found at TAGVVERK, bæst: a journal of queer forms and affects, Triangle House Review, and elsewhere.
I N C L I N A T I O N S T O F A I T H O R I N [
. . . ]
THE RESERVOIR OF THE LIBIDO
null, oil on board, May 2020 [ Grey essay ]
One afternoon, I crawled to the backseat of my car, full of library books molding under piles of gym clothes. I repeated aloud Randall Jarrell’s line about a decapitated chicken--“it ran in circles it knew not of--the circles weren’t its own idea”--and fell asleep thinking of mimetic helplessness. I dreamt of Miss A.’s counting--her “And” beats, “And-uh,” or a number, mediating between time-signature, melody, and choreography. And was a searing lexicon. One-two-three-four. And, and-uh --, --, and--. One-and-uh-two, three-and-four, --- and-uh two, --, and-four. Five. Six. Seven.
But, leading révérence--the ritualistic end to class--Miss A. silently improvised. She strikingly seemed not even to be dancing but lost in errant gestures of affection. Her obedience, so ours, to the 8 beat score loosened. None of us existed outside an increasingly small space between her hand and neck, until it touched, and ours touched ours. I have learned little from my commitment to find a frequency that enables linguistic tread--but I seek a ricochet as in such a narrowing--how anticipation stretches, releasing different attitudes of time.
Miss A. often played Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune for révérence, but more often inclined toward Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, I think for their atonalities or inertia-prone dissensions. Years of my life I imitated her subtly swaying to Chopin’s Op. 9 No. 2 or Liszt’s Consolation No. 3. In both, 12/8 time vacillates and folds ornamentally back. Chopin’s trills and mordents went choreographically unaccented by Miss A. as she rolled her body over their quavering blur. Movement-signature extended beyond that of a musical phrase’s time-signature, and we separated from our role as notational devices. In hesitant increments we recovered postures of loitering, of standing. I wonder if she did this to help herself--and us--recover a willingness to walk. Or so that we could appreciate the slow fall of what our bodies had light-filigreed above us in the air.
Chopin and Liszt’s compound time-signatures stretch open opportunities for tonal chromatic embellishments, what Johann Goethe might call the desideratum of permanency. Rapidly shivering notes of a kind faithful to an atonality of static--a warbling that disrupts harmonic linearity. In the realm of the visible, Goethe forsook vision’s instrumentality for iridescence, taping grey sheets up to deter cognitive-perceptual constructions of dimensionality and enliven awareness to mechanisms of vision that act otherwise than to those ends of clarity or cohesion. Miss A.’s send off was this confession. I wonder if a ballet dancer’s craft is to find means of worshipping a panicled trill, or if at least hers was, and mine.
My dream concluded in a variation on the last memory I have of B. We were in the midst of what would be a long day--rehearsing fragments of numbers--practicing the accuracy and velocity with which we could acquire impromptu choreography of the kind given in auditions. That day, he taught a class of kindergarten-aged girls during break and asked me to join. I liked filling breaks with lower-level classes to hone technique. When he got to floor progressions, he came to me and said softly, when it’s your turn, dance wildly. These are kids, he said, they don’t care. He thought my shyness was a setback. When my turn came--I stared at my feet as I walked quickly across the floor. B. hardly looked at me for the remainder of the day. But, in my dream, he took me to a room with a chalkboard and sat me down. He proceeded to draw circles. Every one he drew, he looked at me and said, this is not love.
re fungible ;
a cuticle of trust
J. fed wrigglers papers of old poems and food--
jean cuffs. I kept forgetting
what to ask. How do I get
the trauma out? Sometimes your mind needs it
hidden, J. said.
But the mind forms pockets of waiting around what
it hasn't understood. Depression’s exhaustion
becomes practiced in
journals of those years in which I suffered violent
opposition to persistent errors of
mind, on many pages I find I’ve only traced
whatever shadows fell.
I try now to agitate
words, like a shaking, whose
accretions bind particles of light--as if to verify
sensorial attentiveness. I fear the
thrill that comes from minor
only an intolerability, built
on my immured and inured
sense that mobility is struggle
through a dense element.
What’s bedded down
shaves off a mist--
untitled, oil on paper, June 2021 [ Grey essay ]
What’s odd about (the act of) painting is the liquid, the paint, immediately transmits depth. It’s meant to--or, at least, one’s trained (as painter and viewer) to use it as information about depth (through its consistency, transparency, coloration, etc.).
Because, contrarily, as a painter (and viewer), my primary relationship is with the surface, and that instance of contact with it, the mediating layer (the liquid, the paint)--which, even as it’s necessary in preserving and making the effort and outcome of that contact discernible--becomes adverse: I develop an antagonistic relation to that which enables me to do what I want because it also impedes, by subordinating, my desired outcome (this is because the visibility of space proffered through paint, according to a learned optical protocol, supersedes a recognition of a surface and its variations; one actively suppresses, as a requirement of seeing a painting, a kind of topographical attention in favor of visual synthesis).
The struggle, then, becomes how to react--emotionally and physically--to the paint’s immediate transmittance of depth, and to the ongoing (or irresistible or ingrained) assumption that scenic space is being constructed by it (in its seen application). This projected depth is so very there, so very present--as soon as I (being trained as a painter) see paint (applied to the canvas), my mind begins to construct space around it and to determine (to calculate) my subsequent moves (moves which are impelled by the desired realization of that projected depth).
What I have to figure out is how to see the paint differently--so that I can understand what my (other) options are, both in using the paint’s consistency, its thickness (its own surficial properties), and in using the kind of projection of space it activates, to construct a visual field that, instead, refocuses anticipatory looking and, in so doing, enhances my (and a viewer’s) relationship to the surface of the canvas, or to the paint, and canvas, as surfaces.
This is complicated--or rather, the point in my work is to record a (and to make palliative a recorded) dialogue between--by which I mean a simultaneous desire for--‘realism,’ a relation to the canvas through an illusion of depth, and the plasticity of the visual field to move between two- and three-dimensionality.
What that ends up looking like is a partially dimensional space, an ambivalently represented depth; or, the conflation of a recognizably solid substance, like cement (a greyness connoting density, impassability), with an experience of distorted seeing (greyness also connoting opacity and visionlessness in loss of light). It’s unclear whether it’s mist or a stone. It’s meant to relieve.
e n d n o t e s
the reservoir of the libido
The title, “The Reservoir of the Libido,” is from Sigmund Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: “Narcissistic or ego-libido seems to be the great reservoir from which the object-cathexes are sent out and into which they are withdrawn once more; the narcissistic libidinal cathexis of the ego is the original state of things, realized in earliest childhood, and is merely covered by the later extrusions of libido, but in essentials persists behind them” (84). My engagement with Freud’s notion of a libidinal reservoir is informed by Fred Moten’s reading of Freud in In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition; Moten writes: “(And yet [the] spatial indivisibility [of the drives] is almost immediately undermined by the notion of the ego as the ‘great reservoir’ of the libido. How is this to be reconciled with the omnipresence of the drives? […])” (29).
The correct lines of Randall Jarrell’s, and in full, are from “Washing”: “When Mama wrung a chicken’s / Neck, the body rushed around / And around and around the yard in circles. / The circles weren’t its own idea. / But it went on with them as if it would never stop. / The expression of its body was intense, / Immense / As this Help! Help! Help! / The reeling washing shrieks to someone, Someone” (330).
Goethe mentions the “desideratum of permanency” in “Extraction,” from Theory of Colours: “We may here, too, mention a minor art, to which, in relation to dyeing, we are much indebted, namely, the weaving of tapestry. As the manufacturers were enabled to imitate the most delicate shades of pictures, and hence often brought the most variously coloured materials together, it was soon observed that the colours were not all equally durable, but that some faded from the tapestry more quickly than others. [...] [G]reat pains were taken to define the technical processes which promised durability. And thus, after considering the artificial extraction, the evanescence, and the perishable nature of brilliant appearances of colour, we are again returned to the desideratum of permanency” (241).
w o r k s c i t e d
Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Basic Books, 1963.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Theory of Colours. MIT Press, 1970.
Jarrell, Randall. The Complete Poems. Sunburst Books, 1969.
Moten, Fred. In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.