CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 6/4/2014
ON WHAT FOLLOWS
Why was there in the beginning a word? Where were the stars, the birds, and the night? The mountains or moonlight? Did anyone see this word coming? Was it long and difficult or short and direct? Can a child pronounce it? Can a man remember it? Who can tell us where it came from or what it is supposed to mean? Does it sound like a word, or something else, like fireworks or the chatter from a rational parrot? What is a word?
Here the beginning was pictures. They were painted over several years, on weekends and nights, and whenever time availed itself, on book covers stripped of their pages. The first one I painted had three mountains. There are no mountains anywhere near my studio, and my Internet connection was down, so I had to paint from memory. After I finished I realized I had never seen those mountains in my life. I have been on mountains, and have been lost on a few, but not these. They were foreign to me. And the way they floated ever so slightly off the surface of the book only made them more alien and crude. They felt mocking, divine, and serene.
I kept painting. Time passed. Nothing much happened.
Later, I felt that these pictures were incomplete, no matter how finished the works were. They needed something to accompany their essential incompleteness. I began to write a text for each work composed of words I have come across and remember but have largely misunderstood. Unlike the first word, these words came from somewhere: Athens, Delphi, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Vienna, New Orleans, Königsberg, Rome, Jena, Beijing, New York, Venice, Basel, Amsterdam, Corinth, Alexandria, Tokyo, Jerusalem, Cambridge, and so on. The words used to mean something particular: they had an address in mind. But as I wrote with them in mind they lost something crucial: their place-ness. This did not bother me. I wrote by marooning words in lexical fields that deprived them of their place in the order of things. The texts began to shimmer and unravel, becoming like what someone who did not know how words were meant to work would compose: by feel and by necessity. What is worth being words? The more I wrote, the more I realized the texts began to change the nature of the pictures. They took on an otherworldly quality.
But there is no other world. What took place or was said before the first word—the place that was, for the longest time, understood as the true destiny of your kind—is no place at all. This is it. You have been marooned here. How will you get by?
"On What Follows" is the Introduction to New New Testament.
Paul Chan: New New Testament
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