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Insomnia X

By Michael Curran


Still from Robinson in Space by Patrick Keiller, 1997

So I am tired. Night birds are singing and I begin to sing along.

I sing to myself impatiently:

Send me a postcard darlin'
Send me a postcard now
Send me a postcard darlin'
Send me a postcard now!

A journey, expedition, pilgrimage, escapes! Starting right here.

In my mind I am walking, measuring out steps, then standing still again, counting a heartbeat. I'm hostile to all endeavours while yearning for some kind of transport.

Yes, and in longing for passage, I think of Sebald saying:

"Everything one sees in a dream seems, paradoxically, much clearer. A pond becomes a lake, a breeze becomes a storm, a handful of dust is a desert, and a grain of sulphur in the blood is a volcanic inferno. What manner of theatre is it, in which we are at once playwright, actor, stage manager, scene painter and audience?"

But I am not yet dreaming.

A box of postcards by the bedside reveal a scene of Venice, Luridly coloured with a shamefully false sunset, another shows a 60s model with an umbrella hitching by a roadside. I write on the back:

I don't know what I'm thinking
and I don't know what I should think.

I take a pause to consider dreamtime's shifting landscapes and locations. Conjuring the principle characters from Bunuel's Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, they appear, all walking together through the countryside. There seems to be no destination in sight, only the endless open road as they march onwards.

We're on the road to Nowhere!

Another postcard of a spacious room with a chandelier and a geranium on a table. No inscription.

I see Deleuze in a hallway of mirrors. That great nomadic thinker, Gilles Deleuze, who rarely left his own apartment. All his journeys were those of the mind. He writes his own:

If I don't move, if I don't travel. I have had, like everyone, trips sitting still.

Here is one of a sailor reading a book. On the other side it says:

Okay Big Boy! Put The Kettle On.

Well now I have you, the reader in my sights. As companions we then should set about our sightseeing tour, in search of direction, seeking signposts and landmarks along the way. Let's go Corpse Exquise; a head, a torso and some legs to walk with. It's a place to start out. We have the alphabet and a few good games of chance. There are many ways to begin.


Still from Hoi Polloi by Andrew Kötting, 1990

Relax. Nothing but the heavens above you!
Now an old man speaks,

"That makes me one hundred and one years old and five months" followed by the voice of a child, "I wasn't born yesterday, y' know!"

We have happened upon the rural idyll of Andrew Kotting's Hoi Polloi, a place suggesting timelessness, even a sense of immortality. There are crickets and grasshoppers and cornflowers here. It seems perhaps one never has to leave. We hear a woman say:

"I haven't been out of the house but once in twenty three years!"

A man enquires :

"But don't you want to get out and see the world?"

There is no inclination to travel at all. This is the land where one grows old in order to become young again, where all the journeys necessary are found and made.

M is for mother who loves you so much.

So many worlds encapsulated here, in a flurry of postcards, in birdsongs, dreams and in this A to Z. Just throw a dart on the map. Open the page at random: the underbelly of a Faberge egg, across the dappled fur of a little deer, through the eye of a needle or upon a merry-go-round of weak metaphors, spinning into seasickness.

Wish You Weren't Here?


Still from Smart Alek by Andrew Kötting, 1993

There! An image of a family standing by a car.

Mum & Dad are Dead.

In a contrasting work, Kotting, the traveller par excellence takes us on a nightmare day out. Smart Alek begins in all the grainy, rainy day dourness of a family super 8 circa 1977.

Captives of our parents' demands we are stuck in the back of the car. We are deep in the black hole of childhood, which Thomas Bernhard speaks of so bitterly:

"People say they had a happy childhood, but it was hell all the same. People falsify everything; they also falsify the childhood they had. They say they had a happy childhood, and yet they lived through hell."

Here an uncontrolled wish comes true. Adolescent resentment seems to unwittingly fuel the chilling and violent outcome.

We are still here. Hoping it will rain soon.

Rifling through sounds, screens, scenes! A mosaic of a nymph feeding a swan. Sandcastle Grotto. Rimstone Pools & Stalagmites. Vista parcial del Convento del Carmen.Now a couple standing by a roulette table. The woman clasps her hands to her chest in excitement. Inscription:

The morning brought strange blooms.


Still from Desert Rose by Cordelia Swann, 1996

The city never sleeps and we are embraced by a warm evening wind as we drive down the boulevards of Las Vegas. A wedding chapel angel revolves slowly as clouds hang uncertainly in the sky. There's Fun City, the Pioneer Club, the Starlight Ballroom and the Empire Casino. We are hypnotised by an endless chain of neon light. The city sights seem to unfold before us intoxicating our senses. The night is full of possibility as the soft breeze continues to caresses us. Cordelia Swann's Desert Rose unravels a history of Cold War America. We are lulled by a gentle voice, recounting a return trip. Slowly a tale unfolds of the Down winders, of pre-dawn nuclear tests in a forlorn expanse of desert. Mushroom cloud theatre observed from the rooftops of casinos. We hear of the surface of the earth being lifted like a blanket, of a May morning in which a facsimile town is blasted, furniture and home appliances, washing machines and automobiles melting in a nuclear explosion followed by a breakfast of beans and coffee cooked on the irradiated rocks of Doomstown. We are caught in a ghost dance syncopated by the iridescent movements of light, which now suggests an ever-multiplying contamination and the memory of a hot storm of radioactive particles, enveloping the city.

So where to now? I want you to decide.
This view of a lake surrounded by autumn trees won't do.

I'm tired of reading the map!

Rio de Janero, Turistico. Aspectos do Carnaval Carioca.
Endless thoroughfares and highways, graveyards and fairgrounds.
The Big Wheel in Prater Park.


Still from Worst Case Scenario by John Smith, 2001-3

One of my favourite cities, Vienna. We have an unexceptional view from out hotel window, a street corner. Due to our late arrival this was the only room available. We have argued so much already that we are now reduced to silence so we observe the city's inhabitants move to and fro, going about their business.

John Smith's Worst Case Scenario in which snapshots of the day to day in a strange city seem to suggest a malign force operating beneath the most banal interactions. People seem at once watchful and suspicious as if wary of an impending accident or preparing to commit a crime. As interpretive beings we constantly seek meaning and where none can be found we are sure to insert it with paranoiac insistence. Each frozen image connects to the next as if moving towards an irrevocable catastrophe. Reality is breaking down.

You mustn't close your eyes.

The Pyramid Fountain, then the Eve Fountain followed by the Fountain of Sylphides. More! All these fountains and monuments, statues and war memorials, tapestries and battlescenes. Then too many bridges, facades and museums. Afterwards several interchangeable images of the sea.

"When the sea rushed in ... but I cannot imagine it! For so long I have made a career out of powerlessness that events have become opaque to me ... I turn my eyes in on the mind"


Still from The End by Patrick Keiller, 1986

Who is speaking in Patrick Kellier's The End?

We see highways, municipal parks, and more grand architecture. A taxi ride followed by yet another, flocks of sheep, blocking the roadway, ad hoardings and railway stations. What is ending is always introducing a new beginning. This urbane, world-weary timbre is the voice of a creature condemned to travel on, a vagrant, who sees all with eyes that are at once knowing and empty.

"And so I arrived in Rome, bringing with it my head and all its foolish contents."

An extraordinary melancholy persists throughout, conveying the sense of someone who has seen everything, made voyage after voyage, perpetually on the move, a witness to history, to ever-changing landscapes.

There is an old Dutch tradition, mentioned by Sebald, that of covering mirrors and all canvasses of landscapes after a death," so that the soul, as it left the body, would not be distracted on its final journey, either by a reflection of itself or by the last glimpse of the land now being lost for ever" The narrator in The End is totally alone and covered by a veil.

The view is not real, only a painted curtain.

Confess. You too are worn out. I long to rest with a lullaby serenading me to sleep.

My last postcard is of a carving, a winged woman surrounded by owls and aptly or not it is Lilith, the queen of the succubi. The word lullaby originates in the term Lilith-Be- Gone, the soft gentle song to drive away evil before entering into dreams.

The day was calm and still.


Still from Temenos by Nina Danino, 1998

The sound of birds again. Shrill calls and screeches. Voices are carried on the wind. The wind is a voice. This is the acoustic of a vast landscape. Everything has a heightened presence in this whistling expanse. This wilderness is the Temendos, the ritual precinct in which visions manifest themselves. Sound echoes, rebounds, decays. Suddenly a bee seems to buzz close to your ear or is it the howl of a wolf turning to the trill of a bird? Now the utterance of an earth spirit beneath the undulating shadow of a tree is becoming the shape of a woman and the smell of a rose. A voice speaks of the roses without saying what colour they are.

Empty dusty roads return as you spin like a dervish. Land masses blur to reveal other places near and far. The tree again becomes something else as the ululation of women's voices increases… a prayer… a curse …. under the shadow of the thorny tree.

Nina Danino's Temendos evokes a sacred place in which a visitation of the Holy Virgin may take place, yet here in this transforming series of parallel worlds any mirage is possible. The heat haze blurs and deforms vision. Still now stormy ,hot then cold, moist then dry, a desert or a forest?

The litany of voices continues as the territory becomes evermore uncertain. In the sandstorm of sound and vision we see many shapes, places and forms: an idyll, a family, traces of an aftermath, the scene of a crime, a lost man and a sacred place folding back and back on itself to infinity, taking us towards the deepest of sleeps.

I can hardly keep awake.

Michael Curran

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