Excerpt: 'the feather of Ma’at' by Jeremy Fernando
A pure heart is weightless … take my breath away
A pure heart is weightless: for, we should try not to forget that the scale is balanced even after Anubis has placed her feather of Ma’at on it. Which means that in order to show that one’s life had been virtuous, your heart must be equal to, or less than, weightless. In a certain sense, one must have led a flighty life. This might well also mean that a weighty painting is evil. Which should be of no surprise to us: after all, paintings are always already in the realm of artifice.
Might well also be crafty, slanty, shifty.
After all, as Oscar Wilde continues to teach us, « lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art ».
Moreover, it is probably no coincidence that Plato is suspicious of painters: after all, this is an extension of his fear of chirographic tekhnē. And, specifically that once a mark is made, since it has no voice to defend itself, to speak for it, a reader can read it in ways the maker may not have intended, a reader can take liberties with the text, or perhaps even that reading can free a text from the bonds its maker is attempting to impose. Which makes it somewhat ironic that his warning comes to us through writing. And even more so, considering poets were his main target, that these warnings come to us through a mélange of his own voice and Socrates’: where, Plato is adopting the form of poetry that he warns most about:
A warning that almost serves more as homage than anything else.
For, Plato also teaches us that rhetoric in its highest form requires divine inspiration by way of the daemon: which is a moment that seizes you — perhaps even causes you to cease — that puts you beyond yourself. In other words, a good rhetorician must always already be open to the possibility of otherness — quite possibly the same otherness that resides in the feminine. One can trace this to the poet that he both loved and feared, most — Homer. Where perhaps, the effect of effeminacy that Homer’s poetry opens, effects, brings about, is precisely the source of its power: through listening to Homer, opening oneself to the words, thoughts, sounds, of the poem, one’s body, one’s habitus, is opened to the possibility of the feminine. And here, one must remember that the source of all learning — and teaching — also lies in mimesis, in repetition, in habit. For, once the habitus is opened to the possibility of invasion, of intervention, of otherness, there is quite possibly no possibility of distinguishing whether the mimesis is that of reproduction or if there is always also a productive aspect to it.
Where it is no longer quite so easy to determine whether one is homo sapiens or home faber: where to make, that is to create, and to know might well be indistinguishable — or biblical.
Where we might all well be, as Wolfgang Schirmacher exclaims, « homo generator » ; not just in the fact that we bring forth, but in that instant of making, what we are generating is our very selves.
You discover things in the making of a painting. It
can reveal things that you
didn’t expect. Things you keep secret from yourself.
~ Paula Rego
Where perhaps, the very danger of the mark, of making marks, lies in the fact that in being able to see, to read, to think, for oneself, one can then be free of (ex-) the hand (manus) that once held you, one can then have a moment of emancipation.
A moment which Isis crafts for herself when she discovers, tricks Ra into revealing, his secret name.
Amen-Ra: I am Ra.
Something which everyone already knew: after all, who under the sun did not know he were Ra. However, what Isis knew above all was that secrets lie in their significance and not their signification: for, just because you know the date of my birth does not immediately grant you access to my life-savings; you first have to know that it were the password to my bank account. That just because you knew his name were Ra means naught; what is crucial — and this is precisely why Isis gains access to the great powers of Ra — is that she knows the importance of the name Ra; that the very source of his power lies in the acknowledgment, the reference to, perhaps even the naming of himself as, Ra.
That he is the origin (auctor), one might even say author, of his own name. Which is quite possibly why he has authority over all.
For, we must try not to forget that authority is granted by others, by another: one cannot grant it to oneself. More than that, not only does someone else have to deem one a figure of authority, they have to do so willingly. Otherwise, it would merely be an imposition of the self upon an other, one will over another: that would be a situation of power, terror even, but certainly not reside in the realm of authority. And since authority has to be granted, this suggests that it always already comes from elsewhere. Which means that one is authored into authority.
… the true sense of an infinitely profound work is to
be found in the author’s desire to disappear, to
vanish without leaving a human trace, because
nothing else is worthy of him …
~ Georges Bataille
Which also means that to emancipate oneself one has to first imagine Sisyphus not so much as happy — for, as Trent Reznor sings to us, « the happiest slave is the one who believes he is free » — but as free.
Where, to open the possibility of being free, you have to first paint a picture of yourself being so.
This is what the best of art does: uncovers an
unrecoverable view of the world …
the seemingly impossible.
~ Sara Baume
And here, one should try never to forget the possibility that art is the very movement — trans- — of what is brought forth through craft, by tekhnē, into something else, something other than itself.
That there must always be a transformation, a movement in form, alongside a translation.
And here, one should bear in mind that translation, that transformation, entails bringing over, ferrying across, carrying beyond, along with the inherent risk that not only might something be loss, or added on, along the way, but that this deliverance, this handing-over (tradere) is always also potentially an act of betrayal, where even as one might be acting in fidelity to what one is transferring, is trading, one might be nothing other than a traitor.
And where what is betrayed might well be our very selves.
It is difficult to be a traitor; it is to create.
One has to lose one’s identity, one’s face, in it. One
has to disappear, to become unknown.
~ Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet
Not that the one who makes it is any different — even if (s)he might never quite remain the same after. Even though, perhaps precisely because, there is no guarantee that (s)he might ever be able to do so again, repeat it, make it again; nor even if (s)he might be able to recognise the possibility of art in what (s)he has crafted.
Where perhaps what is art and what is craft might well be the same, but at the same time, same same but different.
Every translation signifies the space-between, the
gap, the historical chasm or the repression of
history; translation is the most cautious form of
communication since there is always the inherent
admission of a certain departure and an uncertain
~ Hubertus von Amelunxen
Where, it is not just that difference lies within sameness, nor merely that there is sameness in difference, but that what is same is always already different — for, the very notion of same is a relation, and in relation lies difference.
Where, in its relation to craft, art might always be un pas au-delà.
Thus, quite possibly unseen, un-seeable — and where, the one who sees the art in any moment of craft might well be the only one who sees it, might well be hearing what (s)he thinks is a call from and of the work, might well be hearing only what (s)he hears.
Voices in one’s head — which might well come in the form of Music, a proffering even.
Crackle makes us aware that we are listening to a
time that is out of joint;
it won’t allow us to fall into the
illusion of presence.
~ Mark Fischer
For, all (s)he can do is to be in relation with the work; and more precisely, in a relation of « not understanding in a way of holding myself in front and of letting come », as Hélène Cixous might say, has said, continues to say, when speaking of love, of our relation to someone or something we love, of the relationship called love.
Which is not to say that art is antithetical to knowing, to knowledge, nor its antonym: but that it is a knowing that does not claim to know, that might never know, un savoir qui ne voit pas.
Not just in terms of what is seen, or even worse any claim to meaning, but to the very status of the work as art.
Where in standing before a work, even a work that one considers, calls, has named, a work of art, one can only say that it moves me, that I feel, je sens, but nothing more, car je ne peux pas savoir s’il y a un sens à ce que je ressens, for I cannot know if there is a meaning in what I feel.
Which might well be why her owl only flies in the twilight — for, the goddess perhaps knew that the transformation from tekhnē to art happens due to the movement of the world. Not that one sees the world differently — nothing that banal — but when there is a gap between the object and what is seen.
When a chair is both a chair, in all its usefulness, its so-called purpose and — at the same time — not-quite-just-a-chair; where the purposefulness of crafting this chair lies somehow just slightly beyond its purpose: just slightly beyond — this gap — being nothing other than not just un pas au-delà, but another name for the chair-ness of the chair.
It is space that is first needed for touch.
~ Jean-Luc Nancy
Art : or, another name for a transcendence that is not transcendental, an immanent transcendence.
Which also means that it might well be a moment that escapes one — not because one did not experience it, nor that this experience did not register with one, but that it is quite possibly an instance which writes itself into one in the very instant it is scratched out of one.
For, one should keep in mind that each scribble, scribere, not only scratches into, stains — paints — the surface on which it is writing, but also scratches out, tears, opens, quite possibly tears out, erases, in the very moment in which it is attempting to make its mark.
Isabel Löfgren, Moebius variations, 2009 (Charcoal on paper, 50 x 70cm)
Where all one can do, might be able to do, is to remark on the trace of this erasure, on this erased trace; and whilst doing so, quite possibly mark over these traces, inadvertently paint over the marks.
Where, art is quite possibly nothing other than the trace of that very encounter — the trace of one’s encounter with the work.
I love you: I work at understanding you to the point
of not understanding you, and there, standing in a
wind, I don’t understand you. Not understanding in
a way of holding myself in front and of letting come.
Transverbal, transintellectual relationship, this
loving the other in submission to the mystery. (It’s
accepting, not knowing, forefeeling, feeling with the
heart.) I’m speaking in favour of non-recognition,
not of mistaken cognition. I’m speaking of closeness,
without any familiarity.
~ Hélène Cixous
which can only be read.
My own words take me
by surprise and teach me what I think.
~ Maurice Merleau-Ponty
About the Author
Jeremy Fernando reads, writes, and makes things.
Excerpted from the feather of Ma’at by Jeremy Fernando, published by Delere Press, with artworks by Yanyun Chen, Sara Chong, Gabriela Golder & Mariela Yeregui, Alfredo Jaar, Olivia Joret, Isabel Löfgren, Ruben Pang, Lucía Sbardella, and Ashley YK Yeo. Copyright (c) 2022 Delere Press. Used by arrangement with the author and publisher.
Detail from a Gary Ellis photograph (Unsplash).