Visitor (noun): caller, guest, transient, visitant, habitué (French), passenger, newcomer, latecomer, johnny-come-lately (see arrival).
What are these people doing here? I wake up and the house is full of them. Did I invite them? I don’t think so. I listen at my door. How to avoid bumping into visitors on my way to the bathroom. My bathroom is somewhat hidden, maybe they won’t find it. Maybe they won’t find any bathroom and will go home. I look up ‘visitor’ in Roget’s Thesaurus, a handy reference tool I keep in my room.
Reading Roget’s has its usual calming effect. Words give me – oh I don’t know – dangling their little roots in the past as they reach forward, reach towards us. And Roget’s tidy pages, the beautiful lists, all these analogical children of slight difference – it is the opposite of anarchy! No maybe not. I suppose you know why Roget made lists. Chronic mental instability in several members of his family including himself led him to seek what Freud might have called a coping mechanism. Roget made lists of lots of things, not just words. Posterity has not found much use for his tallies of ‘things in the garden’ or ‘the movements of the iris of the eye’. But his Thesaurus enjoyed twenty-eight reprintings in his lifetime. He lived to be ninety and dabbled in a variety of scientific researches, e.g. ‘Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel seen through vertical apertures’, a paper he presented to the Royal Society of London in 1824, thus more or less inventing the movies.
Freud would have liked Roget.
Are you religious? Is this some kind of ritual weekend? I am no longer calm. I glimpsed a woman in white on the stairs. I heard someone rummaging in the kitchen. I descend to confront – a visitor! After the jam? I think so. Or the gin. I don’t care about the gin, like to keep the jam for the fox. No! he says, we’re making a movie! We’ll use seven rooms of the house plus the porch! All at once! Rehearse today, shoot tomorrow! Single take! He is very excited. He talks in exclamation marks like Don Quixote. I ask what the movie’s about. Sex divorce fighting longing realness pretending! he says. Not jam? I say and we both laugh. His is a guilty laugh.
Roget had no fox, no fox pocket. Even as a child he couldn’t relax, he was compulsively neat. His first word list, compiled at age eight, would continue to be perfected till his death in 1869. He organised the first edition of the Thesaurus (1852) in 1,002 concepts. When Roget stared into the fire he was thinking out a problem. Next day by reclassifying ‘absence of intellect’ as a subcategory of ‘intellect’ and ‘indiscrimination’ as a subcategory of ‘choice’, he pared Roget’s down to a neat 1,000. Would Freud have liked me? I don’t think so. His favoured patients tended to be arty types, girls but not girlish – Hilda Doolittle, for example, who describes her experience of analysis with Freud as the most luscious sort of vers libre. Sometimes when they were talking H.D. and Freud let the telephone ring on and on. We trapped each other, she says, but his wings held. What does that mean? His wings held. I’d like to draw Freud with his fox. I’m not good at wings. When not drawing I am incongruous (inappropriate, inapt, improper, incompatible, irreconcilable, inconsistent, unusual, warring, strange, alien).
My bathroom! As predicted! I stumble in, door not locked, there lies a visitor in the tub in flagrante, guitar on his lap, head flung back to the wall, mouth agape with song, huge naked white foot propped on the taps. This foot projects towards me. This foot is a beachcomber, a beachhead, a beacon, a beast, a bedlam, words fail me. It resembles the dead Christ’s foot in Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ, but we know from art history that Mantegna had to scale down the size of Christ’s foot lest it block our view of Christ’s violently foreshortened legs, torso and face. No scale-down with this guy – splayed out in the bath in his headphones he laughs, he twangs, he flashes his blue eye-guns at me and cries, I love the tension!
Faced with Christ’s unforeshortened foot, I retreat to the stairs. What a maelstrom in me. Headphones in the bath! Well, I can’t worry about that. Let me just say, these guys are no Éric Rohmer. They claim to be making a movie. Spent yesterday in seven different rooms of the house, not to mention the bathroom, playing and singing louder and louder until by evening the whole place was wailing like a dinosaur. Rohmer wore earplugs while shooting the nightclub scenes of Full Moon in Paris, a fine early film of his that (most people don’t notice) has a fox in the corner of one scene. ‘Éric Rohmer’ of course is a pseudonym – his real name being Maurice [something] – his mother never knew he made films, she thought he was a high school teacher all his life. Watch for the fox.
To enter the door of the drawing is uncanny.
More on Roget. One morning in 1824 he was gazing out the basement window of his house. Saw a man with horse and cart passing and noticed (vertical blinds) how the spokes of the cart’s moving wheels appeared to be curved. He dashed up to the street. Paid the man to drive back and forth several times. Made mathematical calculations. The human retina, he had discovered, typically saw a fast series of still images as a continuous movie. The fox opens and closes in my pocket. Tomorrow the fox will look for the door to enter my drawing.
Did I mention my admiration for Éric Rohmer, I think so. In adolescence I used to watch his movies with pencil and paper in hand, alert for quotes to use with older women. Oh how he shattered the spirit world, as Pascal said of Archimedes, is a good one. Also I loved the way Jean-Louis Trintignant pronounced boy scoot and his awful haircut. Why am I telling you this? Because Éric Rohmer knew how to make a movie. Keep everybody in the same room, is a good first rule. And who is this woman wandering the halls in white satin undergarments? Do they know her? They demur. Her whiteness makes me dream. She is always going out of rooms just as I come in – it’s like living in the New Wave: I am a bachelor, I am mysterious.
Sneaking about the halls, eavesdropping here and there, I learn a few things. They are from Iceland, these visitors, which explains a lot. Perhaps you’ve been to Iceland? I went once, I couldn’t stay. There is nothing there but emptiness. A gigantic empty wind wails along the edge of every minute and tosses the odd dazed seabird out onto the empty beach. When you drive the single lonely highway a huge piece of emptiness drives along beside you and goes wherever you go, then piles up in your driveway at home on top of the emptinesses from other days. You see horses standing in the fields so soaked with emptiness they can’t move, they’ve been there for years, they might as well be waterfalls. Of course all this exerts a psychic pressure on inhabitants – the whole soul frays. I made lists while I was there. I took photographs too but later at home found the emptiness had vanished from each one, leaving a tiny print. Pawprint, handprint, mouthprint, I can’t tell.
The most uncanny thing about my fox is whether or not he will find the door.
I ask one of the visitors for his theory of mimesis. My heart is a yacht! he cries, quoting some ninth-century saga, no doubt. Then he tells me a long story about his godmother whose name was Engel and who (he claims) knew Freud. In fact Freud invited Engel to his house in London to play the piano. Back in Berlin she had been a popular performer of lieder in sparse modernist arrangements and had been invited by Hitler to do a private concert. Nein, said Engel and left for London on the next train. But it turned out Freud had no piano in his London house, only a clavichord. The punchline to this story involves the words ‘klavier’ and ‘komplex’ in a bit of Germanic wordplay that he finds so hilarious he loses his balance in the kitchen and knocks over a row of jam jars. There will be a lot of tidying up to do after they leave. Engel made a Freud joke with Freud! he exclaims. The fox is chewing off old bits of the fur behind his leg. His leg is beginning to look like Jean-Louis Trintignant.
But his wings held. I keep returning to this occluded comment. I sense a treacherous nature. And there she goes again, the woman in white satin undergarments, what is she up to? Is she wounded? Is she one of the ten commandments? Is she Engel? Or is she asleep, a dream residue, one of those agile vegetative processes whose activity (Freud says) is doubled as we drift off ? Maybe she is an unconscious impulse. Or going back to look for something in the past – the childsoul not yet abrim with sexuality? A better question might be, why is Freud’s jargon so catchy? Vernacular, dialect, cant, argot, idiom, lingo, patois, patter, slang, jive (slang), gobbledygook (colloquial), technology. Are children terrifying? I think so – they undress, catch fire, go to paradise. But they have no power. Freud knew, the fox has the power.
My fox gets trembly when there are leave-takings. I’m not sure if he is sad or glad or just wants jam. The moods of another, this anarchy. How to reinforce ourselves? Hilda Doolittle’s final image of her analytic time with Freud: him beating his fist on the sofa, saying, I am an old man, you do not think it worth your while to love me! Eros, amour, infatuation, crush, flame, passion, desire, attraction, venery, tender feelings, yearning, devotion, fancy, attachment, adoration, idolatry, worship, wooing, serenading, romance, intrigue, tryst. So as the day darkens towards evening I resume my perch on the stairs and monitor goings-on below. I see all the visitors’ souls one by one slide back into their bodies and scamper off down a grassy slope to the river. I should return to my drawing but feel a need to check the house for traces and, so to speak, piss on all the boundaries. Freud in his heyday would have called this a homosexually-tinged desire. Freud was prim. In old age he looked like a shrunken monkey, according to Engel and when she visited him to play his clavichord, he whispered in her ear, I was infamous not famous. Poor rosy-cheeks, what did he really want? Only the unconscious can track the unconscious. Now the halls of the house stand empty. Faint ticking or dripping sounds. Have the microphones been left on? I think so. A tech guy appears, switching off lights. He goes from room to room. I sit in the dark, I am patient. Later we will try the drawing again. The fox breathes with the night, with the stars. In and out he breathes.
Artwork © Vanessa Smith, With Animals, 2019, TAG Fine Arts