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RICHARD MAKIN’S WORK OF MOURNING

I can’t remember. We’re just below the hospitality hoax at the riverend.

By then I was sold: low ebb of gravity hence had already the vision.

The things that hatched out of the eggs resembled lizards.[1]
Readability bears this mourning: a phrase can be readable, it must be able to become readable, 
up to a certain point, without the reader, he or she, or any other place of reading, 
occupying the ultimate position of addressee. This mourning provides the first chance 
and the terrible condition of all reading.[2]

RICHARD MAKIN’S WORK OF MOURNINGby David Vichnar

Richard Makin’s Mourning begins on a note of an inability to remember, of forgetting, and re-remembering: lizard-like hatchings. Makin’s “riverend”, parallels but contrasts the opening “riverrun” of Finnegans Wake in that where Joyce’s river is “running,” Makin’s “ends” or “rends” instead, its induced forgetfulness and finality invoking the Lethe river. An opening gambit to throw the reader off-guard: isn’t remembering the precondition of working through the trauma of a felt absence of the dead? Isn’t remembering the precondition of all mourning, an activity in which the subject is “sold” over to the dead other whom it cannot but re-present, re-deem from Lethean oblivion? The precondition of speaking/writing in the other’s name, restoring the dead to life through language?

This restoration contains much iteration: in mourning we refuse to let go and accept the passing, we cling and hold on, we re-enact the no longer repeatable presence of the absent dear one. In The Work of Mourning, a seminal collection of his necrologies-cum-homages, Jacques Derrida meditates on the ethical dangers involved in such iterations. And from his very first text, “The Deaths of Roland Barthes” (my emphasis), the iterative work of mourning and the pluralities of even a singular death of a single person lead Derrida to reflect on questions of responsibility and fidelity, of staying-true in mourning. Thus, for example, Derrida opens his obituary for Emmanuel Levinas by admitting that “for a long time, for a very long time, I’ve feared having to say Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas” (WM, 200). This opening indicates that certain words must have already been half-formed, that mourning must have already been at work, virtually at work, long before the death that is now mourned, in fact, Derrida suggests, as long as there was friendship. In mourning, the non-qualifiable event is repeated; the proper name bespeaks a singular death and yet allows us to speak of that death, to anticipate and prepare for it, and, as Derrida shows in his text for Jean-Francois Lyotard quoted as one of the mottos here, it also allows us to read it.

In other words, the mourning that follows death had already been prepared and anticipated—and thus had already begun—well before death itself, the anticipation of death coming, as Derrida says, “to hollow out the living present that precedes it” (WM, 151).

This dialectics of mourning, in the marvelous introduction penned by Derrida’s translators Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, presents two chief pitfalls – the danger of misidentification and the risk of appropriation. Since all mourning tends to work as it were ahead of itself and also repeat itself with every next death, Brault and Naas point out, we should “not assume that we can ever identify with absolute certainty the object of our mourning”. Or perhaps the rub lies elsewhere:

 All our mournings are but iterations of the one death that can never be identified—the first death, 
the total, undialectical death—so that what is mourned is a singularity that exceeds any proper name, 
making posthumous infidelity the very work of mourning. Perhaps what we mourn is thus always nothing other 
than our very ability to identify, our mastery over the other and over death, as we yield to a force 
that is not ours, a force that always exceeds the rhetoric of mourning. (WM 17, my emphasis)

In other words, every mourning contains as much (if not more) of the mourning self as the mourned other, and it is the force of death and our impotence in its face that turn “posthumous infidelity” into “the very work of mourning.” There is, however, a graver danger running parallel and opposite to the trauma of irretrievable loss; the danger is

not so much that we lose the friend after death but that we can no longer lose them; they who were once 
so distant become all too close, too close because now only within us—in us as a part of us and of history 
and no longer as the singularity that called us out of ourselves and first made us responsible before them. 
[…] Since we can no longer turn toward them, no longer say “Adieu” 
to them in an apostrophe, 
they become simply present to us, no longer our friend but just another name in the cemetery. (WM 27, my emphasis)

The trauma here is not the unbridgeable gap between the living and the dead, but the proximity, indeed the collapse of the mourned other that is no longer able to speak back into the mourning self that speaks instead of and for it. The mourning “I” can be “sold” to the mourned “other”, but the latter can no longer accept or refuse to buy the former.

***

With these Derridean aporias in mind, what first leaps to the eye from the pages of Richard Makin’s Mourning is the steadfast rejection of any proper name: “We’re all going to die down here, you realise that – I’m just saying, how do I make use of this object? And after all, you must feel it, otherwise you wouldn’t know without looking” (M, 55). The dramatis personae here as simply personal pronouns: the I outside quotation marks, the narrating subject, and the I within quotation marks, the speaking subject. Still on page one of Makin’s text, one reads: “I once was named, now I go about the earth uncalled for; I’m one of the thirty-six. No one seems to care or notice. I’m the past dug up and lost again, forbidden archaeology” (M, 1). There is even a third I, that of the italicised interruptions – letters, scraps of journal, or, if you will, “brief notes on how to convert oneself to a visionary state” (M, 4).

Then there is a “he,” who was (his is the past tense) and is no more – his passages are strewn with intimations of injuries & demise, at one point we get a medical inspection of what presumably is his corpse: “He was dragged screaming into the light he was kicking. He is yet more blissed than I, a thousand times. What grew at the centre until it burst out in what year? My deepest sympathy to you all” (55). And there is a “she”, the “yes-filterless” performer of the mourning: “She’s sometimes seen riding a chariot drawn by horses or dragons, sometimes walking. Every separation is a link […]. She is yes-filterless” (M, 10). If every separation is a link, then finally, every now and then, there are “we” – a chorus, a collective polyphone of the characters’ voices, usually a group of four: “We now intend to give the reader a short description of the century, as far as we have travelled it. A perfect square formed in the very early middle, a sacked enclosure or precinct” (M, 23).

On every page there are images of death, disease, decay or at least debris (“The central theme is debris. I’m going to place this with a dissolve” [23]), such as this burial scene from p. 52:

This is a place where a dead might be buried, a place where a life taken might be hid. 
What grew at the centre until it burnt down in what year? He reveals to me that people are not the sum of their actions.
‘Just looking at that spiral pattern, these are not the victim’s fingerprints.’
The top of the skull was missing.

Throughout, Makin’s text keeps mourning other texts, replete with heaps of “dead” language: found texts, quotations, paraphrases, clichés (“It was an April, the cruelest.” [M, 28]), but also invocations of the dead, instances of ventriloquism, whether thematic or formal. There are long catalogues of expert and scientific vocabulary: botanical, meteorological, anatomical (injuries, traumas), geometrical, numerological, arcana – “the encyclopaedic voids of the world” (M, 24). Throughout, language’s powers of evocation are juxtaposed with and likened to that most mimetic and reproductive of arts: “Not obvious from the photo, but it’s probably to do with language, an empty mouthful […] New light has been thrown. Then the egg was reintroduced back into the womb” (M, 14). Can a language rigidified and fossilized to the point of resembling a photograph still move, still mourn?

Plants are one of the persistent themes, and their obscurity keeps sending the reader to the cemeteries of all words (dictionaries) and museums of wisdom (encyclopaedias). The most common of these is, of course, the funereal lily, which makes a few notable appearances:

Severable heads, the heraldics – injustice, semée of crosses of lilies. I’m not very good at describing things; 
this has given rise to errors of up to five millennia in our dates. We have lost the antagonistic function. (M, 192)

Yet Makin’s is a textual field upon which such exotic word-hybrids as “moondoggling” (69) and “circumzenithal” (238) grow, so all is perhaps not just barren recycling? And, after all the mourning, perhaps a resurrection? Mourning’s conclusion is all but conclusive on this note:

Grey equals the neutral, counter-spirit – the ocean in mourning – chain-mail, the landing-craft, 
caterpillar tracks in oily sand: an invasion.
From beneath the ridge she hurls stones at his sex.
Set above the tympanum of the temple is a sculpted ornament: bucranium.
Ejaculation under u.v. light. (M, 254)

For all its contrastive and conflicting energy, this is an image of balance nonetheless: grey as the “neutral” result of the meeting between white and black, the phallus and/or maleness stoned “from beneath the ridge” by “her.” Makin’s final image may be read as caveat against paranoid reading and over-symbolization: who needs to look for hidden traces of what is happening before their eyes?

For Mourning, for all its introspective reflection, is primarily oriented outward, towards the reader, that unreachable other without whom it wouldn’t exist. Although its focussed, introspective experimental prose is an intensely personal, almost incommunicable process, the text is punctuated by brackets throughout, each time pulling the reader out of a metaphor and seemingly addressing them directly. And the reader must pause and wonder how to interpret these self-reflexive instructions: notes to non-self? reminders of the forgotten? repressions of that which cannot be mourned? Flowing almost as one continuous thought, drifting through abstract notions, meandering through the many underworlds of half-forgotten arcana, Mourning is not only a tour-de-force in interior monologue, but it is a poignant dialogue with all the past ghosts that haunt the present, and the one major spectre hovering over the writing process: the reader.

***

In a perfectly Derridean “before/after” aporetic temporality to be found in every mourning, Makin’s Work both precedes (published by Great Works in 2006) and follows Mourning, as it is now in the process of being rewritten and hopefully republished soon. Work continues the “work” of Mourning in that it textually seeks to reckon and come to terms with “the minutiae of the view, the dissenting details,” to be found within the processes of passing, disappearance, and death. Again, this is writing born out of “the obsession of the I that wants to die without ceasing to be I.” In the excerpt published below, one finds the similar pressing, disconcerting and richly bewildering tone that fills the pages of Mourning, and also something more: “(Go back and find out. Notes rise and fall in a simple, moving progression, those affecting minor modes and shiftless harmonies.”

[1] Richard Makin, Mourning (London: Equus Press, 2015) 1. All further in-text references marked as M are to this edition.

[2] Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003) 220. All further in-text references marked as WM are to this edition.

WORK – Excerpt (Chapter XXVII)

 by Richard Makin

1 We’ll have to find this place on the map come morning. He did not bother to look marked for death with me and this was a relief. A clue is in the minutiae of the view, the dissenting details: four asphodel rooted to green incline of earth, white clapboard house at the crest — the heron has vanished, along with the anticipated scaffold. He says voice is held within somehow the machine. Still we refuse.

Continue: a bleached pallet at rest, brittle cylinder, oil drum angled at four or more degrees — a prehistoric boundary stone — the girls tonguing — part skeleton of a cycle, dark blue with light greys, a smear of crushed light — neglected stone pyramid, the iron rampart that held back the land.

2 Wrist, arthritic upon desktop, snowbound convalescence the only alternative. Two are attending to something unseen upon the ground, an oily black stain bound by iridescence. Who was found one morning entirely consumed by fire except for the joints of the fingers and skull?

‘I’ve got the atomizer in. They had to take the panelling off.’

‘I need to show you this,’ he says, handing his attorney a routemap to the portal. The defendant has cheated death three times now.

3 This is concussion to mine own eyes. . . . The instructions read flood the silo with ink, a sustained arc of tension and release — wingspan of gull, counterpoised to the satellite curve — visions of concrete and liquid rust. We are two light years from home.

Invariably, he stations himself at the same spot in the same room and orders the same dish.

4 Yellow iris, flame planted rose-orange — drawn blind across space, a distant room with ziggurat of books, the mirror image. (But does it seem to me here as if I saw the scene through a pane of coloured glass?) Keep your head down in this passage of fire; there is only one remaining obstacle. And there is of course the eye, with its ophthalmic nerve, swelling to fill the entire field. His company is concerned with memory and summons a solitary figure lying on his back in the dark, in rumination beneath the roar of the waves. I do not fear her as I fear the others.

‘Can you not see that’s only half a face remaining.’

‘I see that as the mouth. I see that as the eye. I see that as the ear.’

5 To retain a bird of peu de créance, of little faith, i.e. one who cannot yet be relied upon. 

And so war is like that it is in constant danger. There is a clearly delineated track running up one flank of the hill. A little further on, purple heather clings to the face of inland cliffs.

Accusative plural from title slip, from labile. I’ve not seen in the flesh.

6 Gilt anther, pistil. (Go back and find out.) Notes rise and fall in a simple, moving progression, those affecting minor modes and shiftless harmonies. A tower looms in my upward sweep toward the horizon. Gradually, things begin to break down: spy-hole into furnace, a hiding place or excavation. He is barely audible. A white of substance is bearing in, opaque in the reddish evening light.

Make a fresh assumption, into the well-defined concept of the book, the congealing mist — repeated rhythms compressed of small cells — language isolates, a lament for something that was never here in the first place, i.e. the perfect occasion.

Ghost of self; a bird wheels in the sky.

7 The plummet to ground level, accompanied by cries from the collapsing air. I was these things I wanted not to be. I will take his place on the journey out. We’re twinned in the dim light, moss behind glass, ever-harrowed from the senses (inasmuch as nothing congruent is ever found in experience). I feel a sickness. A man reading aloud from Luke is suddenly plucked up and flung into the sea.

8 Paint a severed digit. This is a song about used steam, a no-man’s-land: the neutral. Is this one way. She says it is a zone no one can build upon — and purple, everything purple.

9 The crown come night. Origin late century, via beside (expressing alteration) plus naming from to name, from a name. And he comes for the third time and says to them sleep, sleep and take your ease, this moment is enough. The inverted cup yields a praeternatural forest and constellation of stars in the form of an egg. Origin is early — denoting an ancient oak used for barrel staves or wainscot — partial translation of low, from to crack, plus ‘Halt, wood!’.

The need to orient, eased back to earth in a sequence of tiny clicks. All time riot the strapline said.

10 On surgical removal of the tongue. (As I mean this, it can’t be a proposition of metaphysics.)

‘Hallo goodbye let me embrace you.’

How does one suppress. Whatever isn’t superseded decays. I’m an unworthy member of the indefinite body, from having no visible calling. The men are building a fence.

Another entry in the journal reads hello where were you. Then: you cannot assassin me, I told my pursuer in the fog, I’m dead already.

And a curious one comes — starch, high-collared (the female of the species is named ‘reeve’ or ‘nerve’). The narrative is vinyl all the way through and should have no reason to warp or rip. Want a toy to peer into?

11 List.

(i) Somewhere in time.

(ii) Deathtrap.

(iii) Rear window.

We had a fun weekend. Nonetheless, he suffers the obsession of the I that wants to die without ceasing to be I. The stringent demand for commonplaceness which governs literature at present results from a sudden realization that the dilemma of fiction is connected with the very survival of language.

A single note is preceded by two grace notes (double-stroke ruff or drag). Dead space opens up. Empirics may ease and sometimes help but never be thoroughly rooted out; wealth was not to be vaporized in some colossal potlatch. They deliver the promised arterial cut, and grant him the rest of the day off. He is famously blessed.

They used to keep one of us in each room. I think I’m coming over to your idea of the counterscarp. Put some clothes on. You can’t talk. Do you want to walk up the steps? You can feel the years piling on. I began writing a novel using only invented words — I’ve already said no to that.

He assumes compassion, the failure and the wrong-doing.

12 Athanor studded with eyes.

Ruinous interior with blue gothic and horselover (fact) — crumbling industry, rolling white fists of chalk. Condensation wasn’t always with us.

Why the birds only on certain trees, perching.

13 Something careers about inside the family house. I had abandoned painting and needed to do something with my life. Then the days are cool and the leaves turn and we know the summer is spent.

Distant, dull thudding sound of artillery at the front beyond the pine forest. Under a sunlit bower, someone has tied a shirt to a tree and left.

He reads the same book over and over until the pages crumble in his hand. Someone has carefully sliced a word from the spine with a scalpel. We were in love and there was a war.

Sense two of the noun dates from the early nineteenth century. Train would be instantaneous.

14 Fire comes. The element declares itself — soot stain on whitewash wall. Overhung, he can barely move his fingers for the pen. In the courtyard a man beats time with a plastic broomhead; his poetic line deals its vowel sounds by quality rather than quantity. We need to find new reasons for meeting again, recurrence in the same eternity. (I have to go back.) The novel’s disjunctive detail expresses a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities, such as, ‘she asked if he was going or staying’. Compare with copulative.

He fails to achieve his aim but gains insight. Seal up all the graphs, right now. Did you cut them up.

(Fucking histogram.)

15 Cantata cerement after a fire-storm.

A whorl suspending an inflorescence, whispered hoarsely. When I left, the air was still and closely packed about my flesh. When I talk it echoes. He is stationed to one side, fixed in counterpoint: interesting-futile. The pain has gone — fragility of the bones, sexual fantasies of a cerebral kind. His chosen animal is the lemur. He flows in and fills up, gains advantage. Lichen and moss press behind the glass while daytrippers mill to scrape samples from a concrete groyne.

Haul him over into the malignity of labour, cursecraft. Let’s devote time. He is winding down his estates, immersed in the obscurity of others. He relates that it was the custom among them to make a treaty binding by interlocking their thumbs, squeezing the blood to the tips.

Make it rain. We were gripped with panic by the cramped space (nonstick doesn’t last forever). Take precautions, the blue strobe. Look after your teeth.

16 Ten acres of land, clots of electricity — a stone outcrop — those tiny white flowers pouring from her head. . . . Not I, not I shall meet with her, not in time.

All this has been well documented, the risen burr of a precise moment. I had to live in a separate dwelling while I bled. A millstone is hung about the volunteer’s neck and he is cast into the sea.

Let us analyse thus: shadow in lee of bird of prey, a dining on iron and manganese (ninetysix percent of men). You will never finish this.

As soon as this happened, evidence of the machines would be unmistakable and everywhere; they would spread throughout our solar system in just a few million years.

17 He has not long since spread. Revolution withdraws inside the earth and waits. The communards claim time to have been a justifiable error. Nearby, a tower of pallets is stacked upon a barrow, cocaine within. He’s hauled across on a Polish merchantman, a small, two-masted vessel. But that’s not my own view of architecture; I want buildings who are uncanny.

Now this man, I suppose, was as little inclined to nervous apprehension as any fearless creature on land or sea that you can imagine, gentlemen — he has been through so much these past months. I run into him as by chance, and he tells me father dies yesterday.

‘No — yes right — I feel it is a unique category, the naming of colours.’

‘So they’re a random factor.’

‘Did you find any semblances?’

He has suspended all the notices. (Are they authentic.) The roulette chips are in my purse; for the first time in three years, you have the necessary perspicacity and courage.

18 We travelled a long way up above the rapids, even in the calmest weather. We wait and watch for the slack; they are still building a landing stage under the bridge, adapting ancient wooden piles. Everyday objects startle and awe — once you notice Pyrrhic victories, they seem to abound. Why would anyone say that.

His voice, one among many (unheard) — if only he will give me the shelter I ask, the unaccountable witness, respite from the rend that will not heal. Just then we passed a vast body of still water, cobalt blue, hung dead perpendicular in the air.

‘What are we afternoon, aren’t we.’

Turning away from the present moment — the pulse beat, accident — permit me to say that incomprehensible diction equals the Divine.

In fifty-five minutes he was famous. He was one of the first people to fling himself from the ferry.

‘Because I’m very deaf, you don’t have to worry yourself about narrative et cetera.’

19 His symphony was written during a three-day hangover. I shall see you back here in time; we travel from yesterday into today along a distance which appears to us not to exist. I see you here as base-matter memory, a glimpse of the soon — just family, three grace notes played with alternating sticks, a four-stroke roughing-up.

20 She wore a peg on her nose as they made her walk around and around the ward until she dropped to her knees, exhausted. Stuffed into her pockets and underwear, the nurses found thousand of pounds in cash, her winnings from routine success at the lottery.

Then we saw two safeties sneaking up and called an audible.

 

21 Imagine, you’ve just been given your own cell. There is no number on the door. Loneliness is abolished. Any distinction no longer binds. The decision adopted by Congress removes from us the possibility of perfecting our act of provocation. They took the captain away with them right up into the snow, up the mountain.

22 Was she at the funeral. Now I know who you were talking about; I never foresaw having to do this. You could tell by the footprints that nothing of spirit had passed through.

The area had a feeling of menace about it — some of the deadliest are parasitic plants engineered to take root in human flesh. These strange seasons here.

23 The unthinkable clash has still to come. I followed the numbers horizontally, according to the dictates of reading: woman with flower, rusting pyx, scattered tail feathers — and here’s one tiny bit of bone that needs a helping hand; there is reason behind these things found swarming out of my territory (first wife). Space is not timed so much as painted. The greatest boon of these disjunctive rhythms is to verse us in slowness.

This opens well, then falters where she, at her oculus, gazes out with such contempt. I have just courted something abject; there is a crevice in your teeth.

24 The case wore a peg on her nose as they made her walk around and around the ward until she dropped to her knees, exhausted. Stuffed into her pockets and underwear, the nurses found thousand of pounds in cash, her winnings from routine success at the lottery.

Then we saw two safeties sneaking up and called an audible.

25 She carries a grimoire for calling down and a universal seal. With maximum effect, force acts on a cylinder rotating in a stream of perpendicular fluid, force driving axis and flow. I expected symmetry. (It’s only seven hours.) I proceed through the strip cartoon — these mad ideas, reenacting language, whereupon they pricked each other’s thumbs with a needle and sucked blood.

Only now am I alone and not yet young. The engraving revealed the female organs of a flower; spontaneous, the hymen ruptured.

26 An incision has been made in the back, the dorsal slit. She taught me this and I value: hierarchical control of stasis, organization of the motor stem, the cortex and skilled moments, basal ganglia in cerebellum. . . . You can tell by my cylinder it is prime of day. The world was once her will — the reds, the ochres — but what good would it become one, suffering a fit of the cycles? It’s rumoured something not yet seen before has broken out in the market place. There was no noise in the windows.

27 A groat’s worth of music, please (this is a very small sum, proverbially). Give us a speech. We will shortly be arriving.

Plumb-lines suspended from the arms of a cruciform frame are used to construct right angles. Between the atrium and western wing rose a very tall and slender square chimney of ceramic bricks, alternately black and red. Whatever the truth, the killing caused great indignation among our loyal troops.

He once slid as golem into the pit. We should all work until we’re dead. It’s said to take a four-hour march to reach the hub of the empire. His most terrifying case could be his last.

28 When stars implode, and so on.

They look like giant blackberries. I’ve been asleep most of the time. I do not know why I am such exhaust — I can’t even stand. I will surely find. I will not pass over, he says, slipping into his wallet with unfamiliar style.

A bell rattles — an army of tintinnabulists is summoned to remind the greasy citizens of the time. Recordings are transmitted over public loud-hailers in the town square; it would be wonderful to hear from excavations, or whoever feels needed on the day.

I keep thinking dogs, but it’s just other people’s heads. I cannot depend on my sources any longer. In those days, small maps of Europe were tightly folded and stuffed into fruit.

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About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
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