Selected Writings of Mirtha Dermisache. Siglio/Ugly Duckling Presse. 128pp., $30.
“Libro No. 1, 1972.” Blocks and squares, like sheets hung on a line, buildings on a horizon. The eye focuses on the black shapes, then on the white space in between. A familiar vista wiped out by new construction, and then remade as travelogue.
“A Selection of Sixteen Texts: Textos, 1970-1979,” Plate 13. A balanced composition of connected and disconnected lines, wedges, dots. This almost cursive may be all that’s left of a letter long carried in a pocket, or dried out after a flood, a raid, a migration of so many continents and centuries that the descendants of the travelers don’t recognize a single letter of the alphabet of their ancestors. Murmurs of the half-awake. The words of your mother in your next life: you’ve been reborn without any knowledge of speech.
“Sin Titulo (Libro) 1971.” Tight arcs and corners that comes very close to explaining. The repetitions within this novella-length section can be sorted and sieved, almost translated in the right kind of light. Dermisache’s scratches present a rational irrationality, turned in on itself, that goes on page after page, much of its communicativeness carried by the joyful blue of its ink.
I block out the blare of sirens, then turn on the radio as soon as I enter the empty apartment.
The findings of the foundation run counter to stereotypes…
Half-heard news piece about an algorithm that can decide who actually deserves pain medication.
I sat on the couch “reading” Mirtha Dermisache, that is, staring at scribbles that approach language asymptotically, and stay just below the threshold of alphabeticity. I fantasized that I would never read anything else, that my moods and needs could all be found within its
that I might point at a line or pseudo-word, a unit of inked texture
in order to say
“I miss my daughter,” or ask if there’s any more wine.
Argentinian artist Mirtha Dermisache produced “a voluminous body of illegible writings.” This phrase from the editors’ brief afterward is in itself so evocative I can hardly go further, that body light and aloft, setting sail on an invisible current of the thoughts beneath words, the feelings beneath skin.
She preferred “publication and distribution” rather than exhibition, seeing her work as books, as stories, as newspaper pages that could be read intently and then set to other uses, the mopping of wet basements, the stuffing of shoes by the destitute in cold weather.
Dermisache invited her audience “to sit and manipulate the printed matter” in a process that was so open that anyone could make anything of the lines, the words, the pages. A total freedom of interpretation, where a series of tiny open boxes could mean bread, could mean windows, could mean the exhaustion of a typist’s fingers after a long day producing legal documents. Her text-like pages lean towards meaning, as evocative of intelligence as the lines chewed by beetles beneath tree bark.
All around us entities call to us–the hiss of the radiator, the blink of the printer low on toner, the whisperings of a plastic bag caught in branches. Dermisache lovingly renders the breadth of systems within our systems, making manifest in various scripts missives from beneath, below, beside. Though none of it is understandable the way my letters and spaces and punctuation make English resonant in your brain, her language-like drawings pull us into a deeper, warmer presence of comprehension.
A link clicked on, then left behind in a blur of other pages, all crying for our consideration: the findings of the foundation…
Hours pass this way, the fingers and the eyes making a nothingness of the creature in between. The reader can scarcely trace her way back to where she started. Checking for an email from her daughter leads to terrible news, then more terrible news, then a book review, the history of an uprising, examination of sweaters, of photos of the engagement party she missed, a bill from Charter, the radio still on in the background, the string of clicks ending in many cases with the loading and then unloading of a virtual shopping cart, her money also virtual, and her time, and her worth.
The strip-mining of our attention that we have now almost taken as normal
makes us grateful for Dermisache’s abandonment of expectation
that we would understand any particular linguistic string. Instead she gives us a totality. At last, knowing nothing, we understand everything, her lines serving as markers on the surface of a buried
water pumping station
Operated by women who tell us
things we finally believe.
Angela Woodward’s new novel Natural Wonders won the Fiction Collective Two Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. She is also the author of the novel End of the Fire Cult and the collections Origins and Other Stories and The Human Mind. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Conjunctions, Ninth Letter, Black Warrior Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.
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