Small Cubist Ornament
Friday, early morning. La belle inutile. In the bustle of the city’s central market, (a huge fin-de-siecle structure of cast iron girders that soar overhead to join a central lateral beam like the ribcage of some giant whale,) tradespeople rush back and forth to replenish decimated heaps of artichokes and smoked peppers, garlands of ripe tomatoes and aubergines, sausage, piles of steaming baguettes and salt cod, as a dark-haired barwoman capably accommodates a surge of customers desiring cafe cortado and a slice of tortilla, eager to get out of the heavy rain shower which can be heard hammering the ornamental roof of the market building overhead. Glistening jumbled footprints dance across the concrete base, a trickle of rain drips down from a leak in the roof above, puddles gather from the umbrellas of businesspeople leaning at a bar.
I have been waiting for the passing of the shower pocketed at a plastic table in the busy central thoroughfare. My hands are flat to the table. I feel myself breathe. I am not stone, but still. I am hardly collecting myself, but rather watching my own dispersions occur, vaporous conjectures forming droplets against the shallow planes of my cold personality, condensing against the visual plane of ocular reality in which my bias is distilled. The words that follow, no doubt vaporous and insubstantial. Yet in this pattern of subtle convulsions which fringe the edge of my being like Andalusian lacework draped carelessly across a bare knee, I feel as if to recover sensibilities occulted by my familiar point of view, sensibilities that surge and multiply with exponential orgiastic delight those bundled strands of more fragmentary existence experienced through the retinal domes – strands loosely threaded together, knotted and pulled tight. This process more fittingly describes the way I sit at this plastic table waiting for the rain to pass, and so I turn to my passtime, my toy, which is conveniently located in my pocket, for just such a spare occasion.
In my pocket is a thing, a good thing. It is a gift I possess. Little things like this make all the difference. It is kept in my pocket and it is never, for any reason whatsoever, removed from the pocket: this is so that I can never know truly how it appears, how it would appear to my eyes. When I must change coats, I tend to fumble around with my eyes closed as if I were in a photographic darkroom in order to move the thing from one coat pocket to the other without seeing the thing fully exposed. It is my theory that, having never seen this thing, having never committed an impression of it to my eyes, (but nonetheless having examined it very thoroughly with the tips of my fingers and palm,) that my understanding will be much more intimate for this act of petty concealment: for should I ever have reason to remove the thing from my pocket, I would no doubt reveal any number of disappointing outcomes – I might look down to see a small plastic frog in my hand, or a bottle lid, a little tool of undefined purpose, a mangled parcel of cigarette-ends, or an architect’s maquette carefully constructed from painted cardboard angles and sellotape – but regardless of the assigned identity of the pocketed thing, this gift I possess would invariably become just as common a thing as anything else, were I to grace it with my looks, so to speak, and would lose that scented, compulsive interest that currently is enjoyed. The mystery of not knowing, and my ritual of not seeing, help keep this thing in privilege.
[Note: Just how it got in my pocket, this pocketed thing, is the topic of another story.]
As my fingers renew their interest once again in the pocketed thing, the occulted thing, for certain my imagination unfolds through it to follow vectors of imagery very far from those subtle impressions imprinted on fingertips, very far. How far, should you ask? As far as a small cubist ornament from its object of analytic representation, poured into the concrete folds that form chasms between ‘this-moment and that-moment’. This is a good instance. My pocketed thing mentally unfolds like layered interruptions in an urgent, vital process, or like distinguishable patterns buried under rough textures and the lint that accrues on it, or like a sequence corrupted by the very act of recording it, and of each new subsequent reproduction and act of corruption. This question of reproduction and corruption, as false and mendacious as prophecy itself.
Arising from these first impressions, decked in pink-grey bands, labyrinthine arches form a flattened cylinder, an enveloping colonnade upon which are stacked arcades some thirty stories high: a cloister has formed in my inner pocket, cloister fit for spiritual repose during my rainstorm meditation, emerging from a fingertip examination of the pocketed thing under suggestion. These architectural impressions are organised as in a temple, where the main complex is arranged around an inner yard of fair proportions, with an emerald green meadow at its centre. A small table can be seen at the entranceway to the meadow, upon which is a folded cloth with a bell standing on it. Beyond that meadow, through sweeping arches supported by pillars with grotesques carved into each capital, doors and passageways lead toward the heart of the temple complex, a structure which itself seems to be more of a grown thing than a piece of human architecture, perhaps resembling certain cellular arrangements under a microscope, redolent of the creature housed within this holy architecture. The worship of violent totems does not belong exclusively to the past: it has already swamped our futures. It is the habitus of the creature within.
In this bizarre labyrinth, as if waiting for the bell to toll, lies such a creature. Though it is a ruddy creature, a foul and unpleasant creature, a creature that itches the dry patch above its knee until it scabs-over, a creature that eyes a coveted thing the way a jackal does, that grunts and muzzles the way a jackal does – and at its own tail, too – a creature that has resort to impulses which must be pocketed from the blushes of broader society, the patina of civilisation: but yet a creature that must evolve, craves its own overcoming, craves change, mutation, mutilation of existing forms, and annihilation in the same. One can almost hear the grunts and cries of the creature in its cell, its vault of needless heaven, the envy which veils that pocket of private existence, that monad, from curious eyes, eyes which in any case are veiled and distracted by the general ignorance of being, the general unimportance of being: of we who cannot be seen –
This being, a cubist ornament hidden from view in my pocket, a private love retaining the inexplicable association and embrace with a lover: that is the gift I possess. From obsidian shade, from the heavily textured and indistinct ground which is cast in shadows and chiaroscuro, flashes of colour and form begin to emerge; yet always against this dark ground of hallowed obscurity. All subsequent apprehensions must account for this ground against which, if one remains very still, one cannot see – or be seen – at all.
Looking up at this ribbed structure, my pocket could be the belly of that leviathan and I, but a writhing beast digested by it. Harsh market forces predicate such structures of consumption. But now that the rain shower has passed over already, now the layered hum of conversation, of service and of purchase at the market stalls has quietened down almost to nil, and the void quickly filled with the sound of work, of plates, glasses and cups being hurriedly loaded into steaming dishwashers, of litter being removed, tables wiped down, floors mopped, pigeons chased away, one may watch the leviathan pass into another routine phase. I continue to huddle into my plastic chair like my pocketed thing: indistinct, a mockery of simplicity or good design, an anarchy of form and motion, of perception-as-realism, or as ornamental market structure. Between you and I, between the apparent forms revealed by this cubist depiction, right at the seam between intension and extension: these observations are less revealing in themselves than the motions one must pass through on the way to reach them – the needless penitence, the thankless humility, the belle inutile – except as modes of self-tolerance, as technique for heaping resistance upon one’s relation to the world in order to increase the strength required to apprehend it. And those apprehensions, gilded but degraded, are the topic of my execrations.
Daniel O’Reilly | Author
[archipelago] Literature Mill & Small Press