Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine
A library of living books, a reading room, an exhibition, a workspace, a publishing house, a bookshop
Mette Edvardsen’s “living books” first appeared in Brussels in 2013 at the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Since then, this astonishing proposition, called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, has turned into a long-term project on the incarnation of books. After having learnt and recited by heart for several years, the performers are now going one step further by putting down on paper the books as they exist in their memory. These editions are new versions of existing works, texts rewritten through a process of learning and forgetting, with all the transformations that occur along the way. The festival is opening a reading room in the Galerie Ravenstein: a place where this permanently changing project is being documented and set in motion. The traces of a lengthy working process can be seen there, new “living books” can be consulted and we can even have a go at it ourselves. The practice is made tangible, everything is shared. Time is still suspended.
6 > 27/05
Tue-Sun 10:00 > 18:00
Nocturne every Thursday 10:00 > 21:00
- Performance: Living Books
6, 13, 20, 27/05 – 10:00 > 18:00
Or by appointment
FR / NL / EN
Reserve your living book on site or at the box office
- Talks: Reflections on the Practice
11/05 – 19:00 > 21:00 (Bruno De Wachter)
18/05 – 19:00 > 21:00 (Jeroen Peeters)
21/05 – 10:00 > 18:00
25/05 – 19:00 > 21:00 (Victoria Pérez Royo)
16 > 19 – 10:30 > 12:00
23 > 26 – 10:30 > 12:00
Info & registration at the box office
Alexandra Napier, Bruno De Wachter, Caroline Daish, David Helbich, Elly Clarke, Irena Radmanovic, Johan Sonnenschein, Katja Dreyer, Kristien Van den Brande, Lilia Mestre, Mari Matre Larsen, Marit Ødegaard, Mette Edvardsen, Moqapi Selassie, Philip Holyman, Rhiannon Newton, Sarah Ludi, Sébastien Hendrickx, Sonia Si Ahmed, Tiziana Penna, Vincent Dunoyer, Wouter Krokaert & special guests Victoria Perez Royo, Jeroen Peeters, a.o.
Mette Edvardsen / Athome & Manyone vzw (Brussels)
Norsk Kulturråd, Norwegian Artistic Research Program
Bibliothèque royale de Belgique / Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België
And only in what is lost do we last
When I borrow a book from a library I can never avoid looking at the loan sheet, to see the date of the last time its pages were opened. I am always fascinated to think of the interlude between the last time it was opened and the moment I do so. The life of books is made up of such latencies and intensities: intervals of calm during which time does not pass, and sudden accelerations. At such moments, when books rest patiently on their shelves waiting for someone to open them again, time falls asleep in the afternoon sunshine, it is when time stops in the long life of books.
The existence of a book as a material object hovers between these two extremes: the intense experience of reading and the time it spends waiting on a shelf, moments during which light shines on its pages and those others in which the rays of the afternoon sun rub its back; it is a halting, intermittent existence. But that is not the only possibility: when it is read, in those moments of contact with hands, and a body, a book awakens from its dormancy and some of its stories, its language, its ideas, its images become part of a living being, they mix with his or her memories, they evoke images and sensations, deceive or disappoint, are remembered and forgotten. At that moment of contact, an inert medium of paper and ink comes to life in a body of flesh and bone. This is the intangible life of books that cannot be traced or dated, an existence of which there is no imprint, whose history is not written down; an invisible life (made of memory, transformation and oblivion) and to which no attention has been paid in the history of literature. Studies have centered on the confirmed existence of what is written down, without going any further, forgetting this vicarious, ghostly existence; disregarding these opaque and clandestine processes of incarnation of the text, that are elusive and invisible, hardly identifiable because they take place in a living body in continuous transformation.
There are three images that can help us understand this unique interplay of body, life and book that is enacted in Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine. The first two belong to tradition and are nowadays extremely rare: one, the hafiz, the person who has learned the Quran by heart and can recite it from any point; the other, the medieval scribe, whose hands have transmitted and preserved books throughout history, before the invention of the printing press. The third is entirely fictional: the figure of the remarkable author Pierre Menard, who proposes to write (not copy, nor reproduce) Cervantes’ Don Quixote word for word.
The hafiz and memory
Time has fallen… was born from one of these unpredictable and unexpected lives of books, specifically Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953). The image it presents, of a community of dissidents who learn books from memory, probably fascinated and permeated the body and fantasy of Mette Edvardsen, who made it come true with her associates, each of whom assumed the task of learning a book by heart.
Memorization may be the best possible way to read a book, that which has the highest impact. It is not the approach of the professional critic, but that of a fascinated reader, who is ready to memorize the text, so that the book is fully integrated into his living organism. Jean Racine, it is said, memorized the Aethiopica, the romance of Theagenes and Chariclea, to be able to enjoy the pleasure of its epic love scenes without fear that the Jansenist clerics of his boarding school would burn it again, like the successive copies they had caught him reading. Not just any book is memorized, but one that has caused a major impact. Most of the contributors of Time has fallen… have chosen to memorize a book that was already lodged in their bodies, that had found there a good place to stay, and which had already been partially assimilated before beginning the effort of its memorization. In fact, a book’s ways of finding its place in a body are fundamental in the process of reading (and memorizing), as suggested by Ik ben Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen by Maurice Gilliams, by Wouter Krokaert (2016).
The book that has probably been memorized most often is the Quran, learned, in part or in total, by millions of people from Muhammad onwards. Those who know and can recite the 114 Surahs (or chapters), totalling more than 6000 verses, are given the title of hafiz, a very important acknowledgement in Islamic culture, and which can be proudly placed before a person’s name. It is very significant that one of the literal translations of hafiz is “guardian”. The hafiz must not only have memorized the Quran, but must also make sure not to forget it, so he dedicates himself throughout his life to constant practice in order to remain faithful to every exact word. It is a process of vigilance that applies both to the text and to the body that memorizes it: the work imposes a rigorous discipline to avoid possible alterations and transformations derived from the incorporation process. The body is also subjected to the strain involved in literal memorization. But the indomitable character of the body prevents its complete docility and although the text can be preserved intact, it has not been possible to avoid the emergence of a dozen different schools of recitation.
The contributors of Time has fallen… are a somewhat strange species of hafiz: they have learned their respective books with the utmost rigor, they have tried to preserve them in their memory during these years. But in the gesture of returning them to paper, in this second phase of the project, there is a displacement, a minimal but significant reorientation. Avoiding, in the whole project, the pleasures of creativity, and focusing at all times on the book and not on the subjective experience it generates, they have faithfully rewritten the texts. Fidelity has not been kept with regard to the material book, but to that which has lived in the body of each subject, that which has been memorized and remembered during these years. This slight change of focus (from the stable book, on paper, inert, to the book that lives in the body) opens up a whole new world of questions and concerns, which installs a new way of looking at literature that also pays heed to the language of the living, which I will describe in the words of Italo Calvino: “a language without words, with which you cannot write books, but you can only live, second by second, not record or remember.” So far this language has been left unattended because it is in a continuous process of becoming and because it leaves no visible marks on paper. It is the language with which books are intermixed when they are incarnated, when they are incorporated by a body. Attending to this language precisely, means focusing our attention on a crucial and central area of every reading process, and which of course becomes clearer due to the process of memorizing and living the book in one’s own body. Time has fallen… focuses on this process, the task of careful conservation and its subsequent transfer back to paper, striving to expand the boundaries of literature in contact with the body and dwelling on what remains outside of it, on what cannot find a written form, but that does affect it from its very root. The result is an impossible literature, which has only been practiced in fiction, in Cimmerian literature as described by Calvino in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, a literature made of unfinished books, because that incompleteness is what guides us towards that other dimension of reading, of the incarnation of books, which leads us to “the other language, (…) the silent language all the words of the books we read refer to”.
The rewritten books of Time has fallen…, which are the product of a reading and a rewriting that do not ignore or hide its passage through the body, point to what the book says, but also to what it does not say, point to “an internal breath that is always on the verge of being dissipated in contact with the air”, all the implications of reading a book that, in its seemingly closed and solid materiality, gives rise to a much more ethereal experience that is in fact the one that moves, guides and conforms all reading. The text becomes, in contact with the body, from within its visible stability, an invisible space of multiple dimensions of rewriting, a metamorphosis that “restores to written language its active energy” and accessed by means of the language of the body, of that which is alive, in contact with written language. But to observe how this “other” literature becomes evident, it will be necessary to consider the people-books of Time has fallen… and their condition of scribes.
The scribe and his imprint
Classical texts of Greek and Roman antiquity, as well as the texts that have finally conformed the Bible, and many other books that were written prior to the appearance of the printing press, have survived to our days due to the efforts of thousands of scribes and copyists who have transcribed them: on papyrus, parchment and paper; texts that were in turn copied by others before them. These books have been written over and over by thousands of hands, through the centuries, thereby often narrowly avoiding obliteration. Copying a text word for word was a relatively common practice until the middle of the fifteenth century, but since then, with the exception of partial fragments of texts, it has fallen into disuse.
The contributors of Time has fallen… are also a strange kind of scribe: they are not amanuenses, since, of all this library, only in the case of Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, by Emine Sevgi Özdamar, by Sonia Si Ahmed, has the book been printed with generic information, and the rest of its over 280 pages have been left blank to be handwritten one by one. But they are copyists insofar as they have rewritten a book in its entirety as faithfully as possible. In both cases, that of the scribe and the artist of Time has fallen…, an arc is drawn between a book and its next copy in which a body necessarily intervenes. The difference lies in the fact that the time lapse between reading and copying in the case of Time has fallen… is much greater than that of the scribe, but it can still be bridged, insofar as the books have been memorized.
In the case of the scribe, during the brief time span between the instants of reading and then writing the book, the text passes through the filter of his head and his hand in a way that is totally different from printing and other modes of reproduction. In that brief time the text is transformed. On the one hand, there are the errors: “It is very difficult to copy a text without making mistakes, and in many pages of medieval manuscripts we observe cases of corrections: words written on other erased ones; insertions in the margins of omissions observed in the text; erasures of repetitions.” Some are due to indolence, others to ignorance of the language, involuntary line breaks, changes in writing and spelling, the deterioration of the paper or the fading traces of characters. But there were other more insidious alterations, which perhaps a scrupulous monk introduced by correcting what he interpreted as a mistake by a prior scribe or even correcting the author himself, as Stoppard suggests in a hilarious paragraph about the unavoidable distortions present in every copy. But these errors, far from being understood only as a scourge, have an unexpected potential. Luciano Canfora, an unorthodox philologist, with nevertheless an exhaustive knowledge of the classical tradition, reinstates the figure of the scribe in a book of his that carries the eloquent title The Scribe as Author: “the scribe, because he has copied, has become the active protagonist of the text. Because he is the one who has understood it the best, the scribe becomes the co-author of the text.”
The books of the second phase of Time has fallen… dwell in the bodies that have memorized them. The books have accompanied their hafiz-scribes through various experiences, they have been recited, counted, transmitted, partially forgotten, appropriated. When they return to paper, of course, they are slightly altered. In adapting to another body and other rhythms, some words, turns, expressions, or even entire paragraphs may have been transformed or may have even completely disappeared; the cadence of their sentences and therefore their punctuation marks may present variations; certain images now seem inseparable because they have become embedded in the text. That is, there are changes resulting from carelessness that may go unnoticed; but above all, the transformations are due to an incomparably longer process than the appropriation of the text by the scribe, that is, the process of life, of adapting the text to the body that welcomed it, to its rhythms and pauses, to its breathing and the processes of transformation to which the work of memory submits them. Reminiscences do not remain unchanged in memory, but are constantly rewritten every time they surface or we return to them; they are subject to a continuous process of variations and readjustments, in which what is remembered is linked and integrated with experiences, images and sensations. This is very clear in the explanation offered by Wouter Krokaert about his decision to introduce images in his copy of Ik ben Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen by Maurice Gilliams:
“I made room for my own images, not to illustrate the story or to replace it with images that cannot be made to appear with words, but because my own images were entangled with those of Elias. Because the book soon brought to the surface memories of personal experiences and this is how the years of my own childhood became intertwined with those of Elias.” (Gilliams-Krokaert, 2016)
In this way, changes appear in the books copied. For example, Bruno de Wachter in the process of memorizing Against the Forgetting. Selected Poems by Hans Faverey, had adjusted the verses to his own rhythm. At the time of returning them to the paper he had forgotten the punctuation marks completely, so he chose to do away with them and instead introduced between each word a greater or lesser space that would indicate the length of the pause, thus reproducing its flow.
These imprints, these traces are valued in the books of Time has fallen…, since they are those that allow us to perceive the lifetime of the book and its transformation in contact with a living body that is clandestinely inserted between its lines, in its rhythms, in certain turns and expressions. The interest of these traces is not in the possible psychological character of the anxieties, obsessions or singular fears of a person, in their condition of signs that allow to deepen in the psyche and the personal procedures of forgetfulness, memory and construction of the participating artists in the project of Time has fallen… It is not a matter of taking a book as a means or excuse to infer a psyche.
These signs allow us to become aware of two dimensions of literature practically ignored to date: one, the life of the book through its readings and appropriations, its unique history in the lapses of incarnation until it returns to its silence and (renewed) stability on a shelf. It is the story of the dimension of literature to which I have referred with the figure of the hafiz, a narrative that is usually overlooked as elusive and difficult to grasp with our Western schemes of thought; and that logically are one of the concerns of an artist like Mette Edvardsen, with a training in live arts, in practices centered on the body and on encounter. The other is that these traces also allow us to look at an understanding of very interesting involuntary authorship, comparable in part to the transformation of the texts of the pre-print tradition, from copy to copy, from the stable and inert form, which a text seems to assume at one point, to the next. The sum of the lapses of time between one copy and another are those that add up and end up in an evolution that has been tried to eliminate. They have been considered execrable errors, imperfections that the philologist strives to eliminate in the search of the original book. The changes in this process of “copies of copies” are so numerous, inescapable and constant that Canfora has come to affirm that these generations of scribes are the authentic architects of the texts of the tradition that has managed to survive. Here is the core of the comparison between scribe and the author of the books of Time has fallen… which I am interested to observe in detail, in order to trace a very unique type of involuntary authorship. Not only apocryphal, but also always unfinished because in reality it continues to operate beyond circumstantial fixation. If any of the participants of Time has fallen… decided to rewrite their memorized book again, it would certainly be different from the previous one.
Pierre Menard and subterranean authorship
The alterations introduced in the books of Time has fallen… are not the fruit of creativity, caprice or will for renewal, merely as a consequence of an authorship willing to assert itself. They are the result in any case of an attitude of curious recognition of the (unintended) processes of transformation that take place in the life of these texts. And, like medieval scribes have done since the end of the fourth century, all the authors of Time has fallen… have included in their books a subscription in which a subordinate position is always assumed. Medieval colophons could simply bear the name and signature of the author of the copy, but they could also go on to express joy at the end of the task, bemoan the length of the book copied or apologize in advance for clerical errors that could have been committed, especially in the case of copyists who were ignorant of the language of the original text, were it Latin or any other.
In the rewritten books of Time has fallen…, the subscriptio usually also includes apologies for possible omissions and warns of changes that may have occurred, but it also discusses the reasons for the various decisions that have been made when transferring the book back to paper. Above all, these colophons point at a very interesting kind of authorship that slips into the text. Even if the reading of the books has been the best possible, the most rigorous, memory has operated as a subterranean author that sneaks surreptitiously between the lines of the text. The text no longer belongs only to its first author, but also to another that has permeated the copy. The Een dag in ‘t jaar we read now is not by Herman Gorter, but by “Herman Gorter, by Johan Sonnenschein.”
Pierre Menard, a fictional character in the famous story by Borges, is a writer who intends to write Don Quixote. Not to transcribe it, not to copy it, not to plagiarize it nor to write a new version, but “his admirable ambition was to produce pages that coincided – word by word and line by line – with those of Miguel de Cervantes.” And as Borges explains, his method at the beginning consisted of being Miguel de Cervantes, which meant “to know Spanish well, to recover the Catholic faith, to fight against the Moors or against the Turk, to forget the history of Europe between the years 1602 and 1918, to be Miguel de Cervantes.” But, deeming this procedure too easy, he decides to remain who he is, a writer of the twentieth century, and from his own experience, arrive at writing Don Quixote. He gets to write only chapters 9, 38 and part of 22, because his task is much more complex than that of Cervantes. Menard explains: “My complacent predecessor did not refuse the collaboration of chance: he was composing his immortal work a little haphazardly, carried by the inertia of language and invention. I have contracted the mysterious duty of literally rebuilding his spontaneous work”. Rewriting it in the twentieth century involves a task that leaves nothing to chance, imposing a much more ambiguous and subtle writing practice, sometimes having to employ irony to defend ideas contrary to his own, and having to appeal to psychology, equivocation and ambiguity.
Menard chose to destroy all his drafts and notes and only spare those few chapters of Don Quixote, which, according to the story, led many to suppose that he had simply transcribed them. Like Menard, the subterranean authors of Time has fallen… have not kept (or made public) their drafts and notes, nor the procedures they developed to carry out their arduous task of learning a book by heart and transferring it back to paper. Comparing both texts, it could happen, as in Menard’s Quixote, that they are identical. But we know that the mental processes that have led to choose one phrase over another, one expression over another, have in their second author very different meanings and implications. They have had to design their own ways of finding logic in a specific phrase, as well as finding justifications for the use of an old-fashioned expression. It is very different to write Rêveries du promeneur solitaire in the eighteenth century than in the twenty-first.
Authorship in the case of Menard leads Borges to understand the “final” Don Quixote as a kind of palimpsest, in which, in a partial and ambiguous way, two books can be read. I think something very similar to this fiction happens when we open one of the books of Time has fallen…: reading is torn between two worlds. It is impossible to attend only to what the first author would have written, because the second always sneaks into each of the lines, in a more obvious way in the variations, and in a more subtle way, in the silent language of the subterranean author that has appropriated the text.
Time has fallen… is a beautiful endeavor in its economy of means and its simplicity: to memorize books; then take them to paper from memory. But this simplicity has a great impact because it shakes the stability and the fundamental principles of uniqueness and authenticity of origin on which not only written tradition is based, but our culture in general. Being faithful to the truth, not of textual identity, but of the life of a text in connection with a body, is a liberating gesture that allows for differences, which breaks with a purity that is only achieved by destroying all ambivalence, all equivocation, all increment, all that is excessive, that is, of the body for the letter and of the authorships that are smuggled in between the lines. In the case of the books of Time has fallen… something similar to the fictional reading of Menard’s Quixote occurs, a reading that always reads much more than we would find in a conventional book of one author. The proposal of Time has fallen…, as imaginative as the best fictions of Borges, “fills the calmest books with adventure.”
Victoria Pérez RoyoBack to top
Mette Edvardsen (b. 1970) is a choreographer, dancer, and performance artist from Norway who lives and works in Oslo and Brussels. Her work as a choreographer and performer is situated within the field of performing arts. Although some of her pieces explore other media or other formats, such as video, books, and writing, her interest is in the relationship between these and the performing arts, as a practice and a situation. Based in Brussels since 1996, she has worked for several years as a dancer and performer for a number of companies and projects. Since 2002, she has been developing her own work and presenting her performances internationally. A retrospective on Edvardsen was presented at Black Box Teater in Oslo in 2015. In 2010, she initiated the project Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine to develop the practice of learning by heart, a process that is still on-going today. She is currently a research fellow at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts.Back to top