The reader to the authors.

The book starts with the first plural personal pronoun ‘we’, oui for multiplicity, in search of a reservoir that we may never find, and ends with the search for the first person, which never existed in the literature of the third person could never be found. I is particularly keen on the contravention of conventions, writerly or otherwise, and travels the world by foot. I cannot. Travel the world. Instead I read about journeys, far away, in the back garden of a rather conventional life. Conformity to what exactly? There is no going anywhere. Not now. Not in the foreseeable future. The world for the time being needs to fit in the confines of a walled backyard, and in the pages of this book. We’ve experienced this before, in Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault explains that during the outbreak of the plague: “The syndic himself comes to lock the door of each house from the outside; he takes the key with him and hands it over to the intendant of the quarter; the intendant keeps it until the end of the quarantine.”

We’re still in quarantine, and reading the Writing Place Journal issue #3 is a defining definite travelling experience. In his essay “L’Espace du Roman,” Michel Butor tells us that reading fiction is a form of travel travail: “The moment what is distant becomes near to me, it is what was near that assumes the power of what was distant, that seems even more distant to me.” When reading this book, my immediate environment, this walled garden, becomes distant, quasi inexistent. I am looking at a place in the distance, somehow aligning my aim and focus to that of the authors.4 Yet I am also acutely aware of the distance between myself and the place of the book, I have become increasingly aware of the impossibility to get there. The places described are all inaccessible places, like the moon sun, or the island of Utopia, they have become, out of bounds, not by their nature, but by way of newly imposed regulations. We can travel, yet we cannot.

This reader is trying to make sense, to piece things together, to trace the connecting lines, to map the disorderly, writerly and discursively.3 But the fragments try very hard not to form a whole, offering instead/persistently/invariably a constantly moving geography: une géographie à géométrie variable. There is no order, no linearity, places and conversations intersect at times unexpected. Conventional mapping becomes impossible and makes the book all the more experiential. There is not one trajectory even as I read it, as every step of the way multiple others interject with their own.

The toing and froing1 between local and global, the visible and the invisible, takes place within and across the essays. From Scaland Wood in the UK, to Cyprus, the masquerading town of Skopje in Macedonia, Baroque churches in Belgrade, colonial Seychelles and its relatives in London and Paris, a workshop in Cape Town, I encounter characters, some anonymised, others named makers ——— people who build our cities and others an alternative reality ——— a city which becomes the key to European identity via prime estate transactions ——— baroque architecture as the conduit for nascent desire ——— woods that resist being surveyed. It all starts with a particular place.

The book ultimately is a search for the author and the text to come, in a place unknown. One imagines how the final text might contain all the others. One imagines how this author, in search of a pronoun, relates to all the other authors. A pronoun, or pronom in French, stands for a name, pro-nom, ‘for’ and ‘name’, erasing altogether the given name of its author. So perhaps it is no surprise if the pronoun can never really live up to this hypothetical condition, perhaps we’re asking too much of the pronoun.

(a) “The first great epoch of the modern realistic novel, the epoch of the Spanish or Elizabethan picaresque novel, coincides exactly with that of the first circumnavigations. The earth is round, and if I continue still farther in the same direction, what will appear beyond the horizon is my very point of departure, though brand-new. The fundamental distance of the realistic novel, then, is not merely a voyage but a periplus; the proximity of the place described to me contracts into itself a whole voyage around the world.” (Michel Butor, The Space of the Novel, translated by Gerald Fabian, Jonathan Cape: London 1970, p.33)



(1) My camera (a Canon 6D) has an integrated electronic level that, by factory default, displays on the back LCD panel whenever I shoot video. The color of the level line turns from red to green when the camera is horizontally level.

(2) Coupling the camera’s level with the spirit level in the head of my tripod, I can level my camera along two axes: x and y. Of course the third axis, z, is defined by gravitational pull and is the point of reference for determining the other two. But while from our grounded perspective we experience gravity as a constant, on a cosmic scale the interplay of orbits and planetary spin produces a constantly moving geometry.a

(3) Leveling my camera and tripod in this way, I’ve satisfied one condition of land surveying—and I’ve got the start of an ad hoc theodolite. But I’m missing another essential component: magnification. While leveling accomplishes the purpose of establishing a local geometric constant (the z axis of gravitational pull), magnification visually compresses the field of view along another axis to enable measurement across distances.

(4) Luckily, I have a pair of binoculars on hand. Holding one of the eyecups to my camera lens, I can align my aim to various points across my field of view that are level with my position on my front patio. Things that are distant suddenly seem near. Then, sweeping my camera to the left, my view lands on the wall of my patio just a couple meters away. Visually flattened and framed by the circular lens of the binoculars, the concrete of the wall looks like a distant planet moon.




Satellite; theodolite; hand sight level; other images by Matthew Chrislip.