A Project by Open Space

Joshua Leon – To say something when there is so little to say

This is not an essay. But it could be.

*These texts are compiled from fragments of a series of unfinished letters written between the 7th April 2020 and the 31st May 2020 addressed to You.

31st May 2020 

Dear

This is not an essay. But it could be. If it were an essay, it would be about these questions. 1. My desire to be silent in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis? 2. Why I want to be silent? 3. Who I am being silent for? 4. How am I to perform this silence? 5. How things speak through silence? 6. How to use silence to remember? 7. How to let the silence of objects speak for us when we are unable to speak for ourselves? 8. What is it to perform without a public?

In a recent text which I later performed, I wrote,

“How can I perform silence? How can I be absent from my own words?                         … [1]

I had not anticipated that such a question would become more relevant, or more important, but as we pass through the Covid-19 crisis I cannot help but feel this question is more urgent now. Writing and reading this text should be treated as an act of performance. It had been my intention, as is with most my writing, to read aloud. But now I am puzzled by it. Originally, I wanted to write a performative script that embodied a character from Kafka’s Trial, but now I cannot. I wanted to speak by thinking through someone else. I wanted to speak about the loss of someone I did not know, by writing as one of the peripheral figures they interacted with. But now all I want to do is to perform silence.

I have left this text unfinished on purpose, because as a person I feel unfinished. I am not trying to present a complete vision of myself, nor am I trying to write, speak, or suggest, I am close to a completed notion. I am attempting to remain in a terminally unfinished condition, undergoing change, collating and collecting fragments as a means for building a structure that embodies these feelings. This event, this moment of deep grief, in which we are isolated from our grief, from our relationships to one another, from our social bonds, from our sense of being part of the public, or being in public, or making ourselves public, has left me more aware than ever of the incompleteness of my condition. And as the one who is supposed to be speaking, I want to say I cannot speak. As the one who’s whole project is set in motion by a relation to the conditions of our sociality, I want to stop working. I feel a need to not submit to over productivity, and rather lean into my feelings, as a means for protecting the silence that will come.

This text is an unfinished attempt at fulfilling a commitment to write, to speak, to think about speaking. It is addressed directly as a letter to you and only you. There is already a lot of noise out there, there are already a plenitude of voices, there is already a great deal of wisdom to gather from, and I am not sure I can manufacture my feelings to convince myself that my productivity will be of benefit to anyone, let alone you. Nor do I know how I feel about putting myself out there in the midst of a crisis, or for that matter, what is the means by which I can do so. I am suddenly aware that without a public, without the movement of social interactions, I am inept. I want to find a way out of this silence, but I have begun to accept I must learn to become silent first, or at the least, find a way to let as much silence into my day as I can. This silence is a reflection of how I think, and how I make, it is the space I leave open, where the passed and past combine. I work out of, through and by conversation, and the memory of these relations, so when there is no opportunity for this way of being to exist, I feel a debt to observe the way of being that we are asked to live.

As you read this, know that these are thoughts, fragmentary ideas, that I am trying to say to you, and you alone. I wish they didn’t have to take up as much space as they do, they should be treated as some small object that remains quietly tucked away in the corner of your home, the kind of object that lets you know everything is in order, without asking you to pay it attention. A precarious peripheral object. It is my wish that these texts could somehow represent us, or be employed as an appropriate metaphor for where we are, and that they will express a feeling of the conditions of our sociality to come. Consider it all a series of false starts, because writing to you seems impossible and urgent.

8th April 2020

What is my being without you? Without us? Without saying what we are? Without defining the space per se, but knowing it is a space that exists, in form, and material, and energy. I wanted to let you know that in writing to you, I feel myself screaming but no noise appears. I say to myself, what is there to write? Can I write this silence to you? Can you hear this silence? It would seem that distance from one another creates a vacuum, and that in this dark space where there can be no proximity, the feeling of having to say something takes on a different meaning. I no longer want to have long deep conversations about things that I truthfully struggle to understand. I want to talk gossip. I want to hear about what the fools over there got up to. The silence that is unbearable, is the nonsense that makes a necessity of our activity.

This is what I would call a real silence. The silence that manages to worm its way into the world through a gap in-between the noise. This silence we are living, is the sound of the in-between, the border. Much like us, who are in-between, not here or there, not yet, not now, not always. Now I cannot speak, nor to you, or anyone else. What do I do when I can’t talk? Even when I try to write, the clarity of my voice is diminished by the knowledge that what I write has no public, no-one to relate to. The work of writing is to be read, but the work of silence is to be heard.  And I wanted you to hear me more than I wanted to write to you. I wanted to share space with you, with our bodies and our voices. I wanted you to feel the echo of my words bouncing against other heads, hearts, and bodies, in a room we all share. So that we could all be eavesdroppers, caught up in the way we laugh and the way we argue. No one hears us, this moment has collapsed us.

I lie on the floor, flat, looking up at the blank ceiling, just to find some sense of being out there, when I know being out there is a risk to all. This is the reality of this crisis. We are all a risk to one another. We are all desperate to risk it all for one another. The silence of being isolated from our social interactions, means we come to terms with our needs for the functioning, moving, sociality that keeps our sense of rhythm going. That keeps you close to me.

April 21st 2020

In the anxiety of needing things to do, I began to re-order my collection of things. In an attempt to make sense of it all. Placing them in order of the place where they came from, placing them in order of who they stood in for, the conversations they represented. But mostly, placing them in order of how they made me feel. I tried to embody them, to let them get so far inside me that they were a part of me, coming up from within, not from a without. I am always feeling interior, feeling like the space of the interior is where I spend my time thinking about the things I keep, which I have stolen from exterior places. I still wouldn’t be able to say why I keep them, there is always this effort, the fight, to let go of things, and then ultimately the need to keep them. I tried to find ways to make the objects speak back to me. Or speak for me. Or speak through me. Or speak for us. I stole our conversations and attempted to trap them inside these objects, so that I could keep them for later. I stole from my life too. I stole because I did not see how else I could talk about talking, and how else could I think about being in conversation, how else could I capture that time back?

April 30th 2020

This morning, I was searching for a thematic drift in our conversation. It was my hope this could answer how to begin speaking to you. But I couldn’t see past the present. I tried to look out the window for inspiration, in the hope someone who looked like you would walk by. But there was no one. So, I returned to asking myself who will see this if you don’t receive it? How do I address an unknown listener, when I cannot say I know where this listener is? This knowing, that there is no public for my words, no listener for our conference, leaves me in a state of constant defeat. I confess, I am trying to fix myself from an uncertain condition, held together in parts, organised by a conflict of knowing where I want to stand. I am yet to take up a position on anything. A contrarian disguised as a confidant. You trust me, but I cannot ask you to do so. I have tried to understand where I feel I have failed, and failed you in particular, but my thoughts lack depth. I cannot seem to admit to myself that I am the failure, that this speechlessness is mine, and only mine. Each time I speak, or manifest something for you, I realise, I bear witness to the extent that even if I neither say nor show the truth, even if behind my mask, I am lying, hiding, or betraying, in every utterance, I am telling you the truth; I am telling you what I think; I bear witness in front of you.[2]

May 5th 2020

The sun was shining. I tried to stand only to find myself falling. I looked at the glass I stole for you. But its meaning had changed. In your possession it had become yours, and you had found a way to give it voice. It spoke. And I was not able to respond.

I remember sitting at your small kitchen table, a cake packed in a cereal box lay next to your arm. You asked where I was going, what I was going to do, but you didn’t need the answer. You didn’t need to know. You knew. You knew me before I was capable of knowing. I wanted to say thank you. So many times, thank you. But you were gone.

What is this inability?
The black in my focus.
The past surrounds me, it steals my trajectory.

May 12th 2020 

Do you sleep well in this time? I can’t. When I should be sleeping, I can hear noises. Things talk to you when you least expect. These words, that seem least available, presented to us from out of an edge. Is it possible that the blinds that keep out the light are now my friend? The condition of my care, keeping me inside, protecting me, the way you always did.

I had been planning to configure a way to write to you about my plans for an idea I had about the staging of a play. I had thought I had it figured out. The voices, the witnesses, the way they moved and related. It seemed so apparent to me. And now, it is gone. All I see is our empty living room. The new table commanding the space. But where there used to be our plates, and our coffee mugs, there are just scratches of a life lived. It is now a silent space. Still filled with things. The keys to the doors for all our homes. The ones we had been hidden in, tucked up into, in a kind of pre-social existence, or even just for the sake of survival. I was even thinking of AF. This could be worse, I told myself. And yet I felt so wrapped up in this miniature world, so consumed by the least important of things.

That evening I was consumed by the film we watched. It felt as though I began again. I looked into the space, and while words appeared, mouths did not move. I worked while you slept. The time flipped. The hours became fluid. I asked to be fluid too. And I became so. I dreamt about concerts in winter, with you, the noise blurring the image, the image moving in such a way that even the music became indistinct and my silence, was just me and my open mouth.

 May 20th 2020

But who cares for you, when you are caring for us? Who gives you language when there is no time for language?

May 29th 2020

These false starts will be my treaty, a testimony, to the act of care, in a time of care. For all the grief we are about to share, all the grief we already share, all the silences that exemplify our care.

Can you hear me speak? I am becoming silent.

I am with you.
Here and there.
Walking, thinking, remembering.
Always remembering.

*

The texts you have just read are formed from unfinished conversations between us.
They are formed here, as a collection, addressed to you, and only you.
These texts remain for you. I am silent now.


[1] “Teaching encompasses not only language, but also, in a unique way, that which language, [das Sprachlose], the silenced, to which mourning belongs. The teaching that is not expressed, nor alluded to in lament, but that is always kept silent, is silence itself. And therefore, lament can usurp any language: it is always the not empty, but extinguished expression, in which its death wish and its inability to die join together. The expression of the innermost expressionlessness, the language of silence is lament.” Gershom Scholem, ‘On Lament and Lamentation’, in Lament in Jewish Thought, ed. by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, 1st edn (De Gruyter, 2014), pp. 313–20 (p. 316) <https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvbkjx96.22> [accessed 13 February 2020].

[2] Jacques Derrida, Thomas Dutoit, and Outi Pasanen, Sovereignties in Question : The Poetics of Paul Celan (Fordham University Press, 2005), p. 86.

Joshua Leon (b. 1990, London) is a writer and artist who lives and works in London, UK. He is undertaking a Ph.D at the Royal College of Arts, with the prospective title If this is a Man which investigates the development of the field of Lamentology and lament as method. Leon works from peripheral positions, moving and thinking through personal and private gestures to access a combination of subjectivity, heritage and a re-staging of voices. His works blends writing, poetic performance, objects and exhibition making. Within this, Leon investigates the conditions that produce precarity and its performativity. Leon’s work is constantly collecting and re-ordering itself to produce an inventory of life at the in-between, treating conditions as fluid and unfolding mechanisms for producing meaning.