Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Art of Losing—Issue 58, October 2015)

Caroline Bergvall
from “Log” in Drift

Excerpted from Drift (Nightboat Books, 2014).

seofedun vb fed up

seo – if use as vision rather than sea

/ doesn’t work here yet blind for seeing

seon vb seofian vb lament

The drifting gathers pace. I turn to my Nordic heritage. Its deep connection with the cold and the dark seas doubles up on the Anglo-Saxon islander’s own coastal and seabound reality. The sagas are written in a descriptive repetitive prose, most likely from oral accounts. Being both travel and settlement stories, many describe episodes of being lost at sea. They call it hafville, sea wilderness, sea wildering. Initially I simply quote from translations of a few of the Icelandic sagas. Slowly I then let them spin the work deeper towards the heart of the fog.

FOG n. 1

dict of etymo online: “thick, obscuring mist,” 1540s, probably from a Scandinavian source akin to Dan. fog “spray, shower, snowdrift,” O.N. fok “snow flurry,” fjuk “snow storm.” Cf. also O.E. fuht, Du. vocht, Ger. Feucht “moist.”

This new section brings up a tense, performative rhythm to the work. Sailing starts to take place in the unfolding of the graphic work, in the textual scape, in the spatial markers. Writing becomes tracks and traces and lines. Patiently it stays afloat and waits for a time, draws a way back towards language. It emerges from tracking, and from throwing up on deck what had seemingly disappeared from both the past and the future.

FOG n. 2.

dict of etymo online: “long grass,” c. 1300, probably of Scandinavian origin, cf. Norwegian fogg “long grass in a moist hollow,” Icelandic fuki “rotten sea grass.” The connection to fog (n.1), via a notion of long grass growing in moist dells of northern Europe, is tempting but not proven. Watkins suggests derivation from PIE *pu– “to rot, decay.”

Eventually one comes to a point where being lost can signal a starting point and can become its own type of activity. Needing guides, I return to Cixous and Glissant. I look to Sukhdev Sandhu’s Nighthaunts, Yoko Tawada’s Journal des Jours Tremblants, David Toop’s Haunted Weather. Their drifting brings up intimate knowledge of disappearances, oscillations, soundwaves, apparitions. Or Pasolini’s fireflies lighting up a political and sexual-cultural way in the Italian night. Or Edwin Morgan translating his Beowulf on returning traumatised from WW2. Just as I’m closing this work some six months later, Ana Mendieta’s retrospective at the Hayward Gallery retraces the ritualised bodily connection between prehistoric shapes and her haunting live burials, materialised in her silhuetas. To reorient oneself. To go east. To get lost.

se mon ne wat

the man not knows

þæt se mon ne wat

þe him on foldan

fægrost limpeđ

hu ic earmcearig iscealdne sæ

winter wunade wræccan lastum,

winemægum bidroren,

bihongen hrimgicelum; hægl scurum fleag.

Fiær ic ne gehyrde butan hlimman sæ, iscaldne wæg.

Glissant keeps medieval literature and its nomadic sociality always present and at work in his own wanderings. I turn to ancient initiatory journeys, on sea or on land, travellers on a mission. Some strip to the bone. Some count the days. Some sing of strange sights and terrors. All lose themselves. All give up. All lose some life to it. All persist. I go back to Eliane Radigue’s Songs of Milarepa, Robert Ashley’s sleep-awake voice in the right channel, the Tibetan lama Lama Kunga’s voice in the left channel. To reorient onself. To go east. To go lost. To go naught. To north onself. To come to song. What does it mean in practical terms. Magnifying the process. Working at a standstill. Opening up to a drastic vertical drop. Being tilted vertically, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Revolution, dark silvery moonscapes, turn the flat horizon line into a 90 degree precipitation of gravity. The viewing process becomes compressed with vertical energy and a mysterious serenity.


– one in the sense of someone?

manna/monn/mann – human being

Mon – shortened name for the Monoceros constellation

fægrost – rost Norw. røst stemme: voice

// Norw. fager: beautiful

earmcærig – Norw. øm kjaer – dear

The OED mentions the origin of “fog” as uncertain. Points to the long grass and does not mention the weather system. Fog memory loss identity loss. SIGNAL LOSS. Damaged documents. Fog out the voice the words. Formally as much as existentially. Phenomenologically and perceptually: create a landscape of signals. By constantly changing perspectives and viewing distances, Wolfgang Tillmans’ Truth Study Centre speeds up the disparate aspect of the work, yet slows down its cumulative photographic knowledge. Slows down, slows down, slows down one’s absorption of the images. Slows down the viewing process. I work with the photographer Tom Martin at macro magnification. I want to use the surveillance photo of the migrants taken by the French military aircraft at the start of their journey in the zodiac. I need to make sure that we can work through but not cancel out the uneasy sick feeling I get when peering down from the future at this image. Tom as photographed people and faces for NGOs in many difficult conflict zones and has a quiet demeanour about the importance of portraiture. But we are working here with a pre-existing image. It encounters the dead as they are still living and sailing. The macro processing of the image is a process of collapes timespace, of enhances slowing down, of active registering. It lifts the inscription of their sailing pixel by pixel from the fog of incessant newsrush and quick apparitions and swift forgetting. It insists on being seen and rescued. The macros work investigates the traces of other ghosts. One notices rows of yellow dots on the surface of the macro print that hide all sorts of locational information about the printer and printing process.

Navigation instruction

work large, as in sailing large

utilise all skills and craft

look for the wind

To fall in love against all odds is to leave everything behind. Everything planned, known, secured, released, fine-tuned, structured, achieved is now upended in a way that exceeds comprehension. Everything shuts down to open to something else. Against all odds to be swept out, far out, to be dared and challenged at core. It is a form of wisdom-madness the intense absolute way in which this love calls.

Navigation instructions

make sure it can be spoken

make sure it will be spoken

Forþon: Because/ Therefore/ Indeed

for some / indeed / in this way /

Forþon nis þæs /

Modwlonc: Norw. mot/ courage

Wlonc: wlanc: proud – elated – grand / Norw. stolt

Because not there is. Not yet migrants and skraelings not yet.

Use the 8 fordon structurally

Crossing / knust / now / broken now nu

Thats why thats why thats why thats why thats why thats why thats

why thats why

Heart geographies/ thoughts/

Heart gethinking/ full of thoughts

That ache for the high/ hard streams

The Salt tysse/ tossing tyþa tireless seas/streams /waves

Self I know/ cunninge: strive/ should strive / conch/

monad modes lust / monthly mood wishes / more mood wishes

lust – desire / lyst

salt of the mind – mind salt

I apply myself to transforming desire into a sense of pleasure. To feel everything without the need for possession. It’s a way of surviving the irreducible shock. And of accepting an impossible turning back. Saying afloat using all I have to hand without jumping in too quickly and without losing all elements on the way. Keeping heart and making slow ingress. Leave the mould to enter this trajectory. This is the rescue, are we safe.

Medieval novigation

no engines

no fuel

no magnetic compasses

no sea charts

no logs

no global positioning systems

no C-maps

no Automatic Radar Plotting Aids

no echo sounding systems

no digital depth sounders

no National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association broadcasts

no Global Maritime Distress and Safety System

no satellite phone

no shipping forecasts

no inmarsat systems

no SAR Search and Rescue responsibility zone for coastal states

no 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

no 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea

no NATO Naval and Aerial monitoring

no coffee

no cocoa

Glissant, Brathwaite. They chart another historic Atlantic, further south. The horrors of the Middle Passage, the genocidal crossing which robs of all identity, the enslaved survivors’ arrival, which robs the arrivants of whatever’s left of: name, language, history, family, song, body, health, freedom. The making of their poetics declares the impossibility of return and the laying down of roots. Once crossed always crossed. yet their insights reject the tabula rasa of a history of conquerors and obliterators. Languages work in profound ways. They intermingle and act as obscure relays of one another. They call up all the languages of the world.