Knife and Wound
Text by João Ribas
What can be salvaged from the ash-heap of history? Sick words to which we remain prisoner, from apparent coherence or self-assurance? Language that remains close at hand, in our attempt to secure it against loss or terror? If words become debased or hollowed-out, to transform and rebuild them is a task forged at the level of sense and syntax, a work at once material and semantic. Sign and symbol, metaphor and meaning, these bear witness to woundings. Reconciliation rests on the limits of the voicing of them. Language invokes the invisible in its metaphysics of trace and remembrance; but the image also voices the otherwise unspeakable or unsayable. “Fragments, soul flotsam, coagulates of the twentieth century,” in the words of Gottfried Benn, find their way into art. This trauma and wounding, and its poetics of destitution and transcendence, subsumes the recent work of Filipe Volker Marques collected in KNIFE AND WOUND. Through a scenography of transparency and translucence, Marques’ drawings, installations, and texts return to a poetics of both nihilism and desire—“lust and cavader”—in confronting barbarism and oblivion that is at once mythic, psychological, and historical.
The ahistorical fragment becomes a primary means of a return to wounding. Marques’ engagement with the poetics of trauma is enacted through coupling: between knife and wound, word and picture, fragment and remainder, Cain and Abel, history and body.
The ontological relation between “knife and wound” is Marques’ encompassing metaphor for the relation of affect, nihilism, and contact that permeates his work. This coupling, like all the others, is defined by violence—-yet violence as an act of contact and proximity, a means altering shape, form, relation. Aching, soiling, dividing, mirroring, and fragmenting are ontologically transformative actions, alchemical in their effect. The relation is enacted between the material that effects a wound and the affect that materializes from it. Contact, memory, trauma and affect are thus intertwined:
The relation between knife and wound is variable. The wound bleeds. The knife is bloodied. The wound hurts. The knife dulls. The wound painfully remembers the knife. The knife does not remember the wound. The wound scars. The wound of the knife is lasting. One day even the wound will forget the knife. The knife has nothing to forget. The knife delights in the wound like a body that opens itself to it. The wound can also delight in the knife as a body that penetrates it.
That knife and wound belong to each other in primary relation—this “accidental wounding and essential boundedness "defines both the unconscious and the mythic. Their link is affective as well as material:
The wound fears the knife. The knife can also fear the wound. There are those that fear the wound. There are those that fear the knife. There are those that fear both. The wound can also love the knife. The knife can also love the wound. The knife might feel pain like the wound. The wound may be as insensitive as the knife.
There is no wound without the knife; the knife heals the wound, as the wound leaves the possibility of reconciliation on it. Here, the Jungian Amfortas wound is invoked, as that which can only be healed by its own cause (as in by what, or whom, has caused the wound in the first place). In Wagner’s Parsifal, Amfortas, the keeper of the Holy Grail and Spear, attempts to kill Klingsor with the spear of Longinus that pierced Christ’s side on the Cross. Yet Klingsor is able to steal the spear and used it to wound Amfortas in the thigh instead—a wound that will not heal, but can only be partially relieved. As the opera opens, Amfortas has a vision that only an ‘innocent fool…made wise by compassion’ will relieve this suffering, by regaining the spear from Klingsor and using it to heal. This union derives from an earlier Greek legend of Telephos, wounded by Achilles. An oracle declares in the legend that, “he that wounded shall also heal,” the cure thus to be effected by the weapon that caused it. This the primordial images of the collective unconscious. As Marques’ continues:
The wound will one day heal. The knife could break itself in the wound. The knife says often: I am the Wound. The wound may come to say one day: I am the Knife. The relation between wound and knife is variable. Only one thing does not vary. That there is wound and there is knife. The knife is the knife of the wound. The wound is the wound of the knife.
There is wound and there is knife. The first wounding is in fact also the first fratricide. The origin of the first human grave. This coupling is more accurately triadic: Cain, Abel, God. Augustine’s reading of Genesis 4:17 divides this coupling into archetypes of humanity, Cain as the exiled founder of the first city, bearing a mark (a wound?) that has been interpreted as either protective or damning. The dramaturgy of Marques’ work re-enacts this original barbarism, not merely as filial strife, but as recurring original violence. Anachronistic in setting the story in contemporary reality (and there by highlighting its perennial re-enactment) Marques’ telling, in his eponymous film and related installations, is made absurdly banal—or better, banalised in its absurdity:
Abel: by the way, there is something I’ve been dying to tell you.
Abel: It was when I was running errands, at the laundromat. Or rather…to put it more clearly…making the laundry list. So, I placed the knife on that small table, and its rolled and fell off.
Abel: rolled and fell. On the rug. Right in front of me.
Cain: my god.
Abel: that knife. that perfectly innocent knife.
Cain: you don’t know that its innocent.
Abel: why not?
Cain: because you don’t know where it’s been. You don’t know how many hands its passed through, how many hands wrote with it, or what other people could have done with it. You don’t know anything about its history. You don’t know anything about its origins, its parentage.
Abel: a knife has no progenitors.
A TEXTUAL PATHOS-INFORMEL
The reiterative, repetitive nature of these texts is echoed throughout much of Marques’ work in its use of doubling, mirroring, and repetition. Repetition, as resistance against oblivion, is compulsive as well as incantatory. Words and fragments, either taken from his own writing or from divergent references and sources, appear and reappear as central elements: stretching across surfaces, both veiled and revealed; scrawled in light, cursively limned out in neon letters; suspended or reflected in space; or running across collaged in various layers, images, themselves repeated, layered, and reiterated. In (TITLE), for example, images of bombardments on air and sea are printed on layers of fabric on with appear running lines of dialogue, these layered over with pictographic and textual motifs articulated in neon light. Each element in the series revisits and reorients this grammatical material, as so many fragments or ruins of “all-compassing historicization"
The fragmentary poetics of text and image, and its pathos of remainder and ruination are most evident in Marques’ TITLE, which introduced his recent exhibition. The abandoned, ruinous scenography of the drawings, and the dislocated language that appears in light beneath them, are reflected in the freestanding mirrors at acute angles to the image. The image is folded and refracted as if on a page, presenting the mirrored double of both image and text. While the image is reversed, the language is eclipsed by the disorientation of the image, in which the viewer occupies the space in between. Transitory and precarious in their condition as signs, Marques’ images engage a conflict in which the psychological and historical have their encounter where poetic fragmentation meets the materiality of the image: meticulously drafted and then repeated in a mirror—-as an image of an image—the decay in these images is both affirmed and annulled. Given two contrasting but complementary sides, these fragments have their effect reversed and annulled continuously. The eligible refraction includes fragments from the poetry of Gottfried Benn, laureate of cavaders and material medica, including the first two lines of Benn’s tenebrous masterpiece, Little Aster:
A drowned drayman was hoisted on to the slab.
Morbid but irrevocably emphatic, these words condense Benn’s thematics of fractured human selves, for which experience becomes meaningful, and finds transcendence, only as shaped into poetic expression. “States of intoxication, rushes of blood to the brain and other organs, commingling of cultural and anthropological memories, all these could help provide the conditions necessary for the production of poetry and in part its subject,” as Michael Hoffman writes. In this sense, often the wound is in fact self-inflicted or conditional, or as Hegel might say, the fragment is itself the wound it tries to heal. It is the instantiation of this wounding—-it presupposes not the whole which precedes it, and to which it belongs, but produces this whole in being a fragment. Benjamin explains this through the Cabalistic image of the broken vessel, his metaphor for translation:
Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original's mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.
AESTHETIC PARADIGM AND THE DECOLONIZATION OF THOUGHT
Yet the “rush of blood to the head” can either be the source of blind fury or mystical illumination. For Marques’, Benn’s poetry functions as a means to suture the potential of the language of nihilism to the images of both physical and mental ruination and destitution, wounds from which, after the history of the last century, we recoil. As Benn’s poem continues:
Someone had jammed a lavender aster
between his teeth.
As I made the incision up from the chest
with a long knife
under the skin
to cut out tongue and gums,
I must have nudged it because it slipped
into the brain lying adjacent.
I packed it into the thoracic cavity
with the excelsior
when he was sewn up.
Drink your fill in your vase!
Knife and Wound
Text by João Ribas