The Paradox of the Word


The first word appears only at a moment when nothing can be explained anymore, at some instant of experience that defies all sense. To be reduced to saying nothing. Or else, to say to himself: this is what haunts me. And then to realize, almost in the same breath, that this is what he haunts.

~ Paul Auster


Mind games again, you’re thinking. Wasn’t he in this territory again just a few days ago?  And then again yesterday or the day before? 


But Auster is doing most of the work for us. So, yes, I concur. There is no need to tarry long.


Somewhere in your past there lies an experience that makes no sense to you. I’m sure of it. Probably it’s hidden away. Every now and then, I recall a painful memory from an early evening during my college years.


My friends and I were headed off campus to get dinner. We were stepping over a low-hanging chain stretched across a road leading into campus. I’ll never understand this. But as my friends, more or less simultaneously, were stepping over the chain, I lifted it with my foot. They all fell forward onto the asphalt. Scrapped knees, bloody hands, looks of incredulity. They could not make any sense of it, nor can I today.


Or a visit I once made to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. I had ridden my bike there from Atlanta, during a time in my life when I was feeling a bit down. Something affirming happened that day, an incredible coincidence or perhaps not (I must admit), that was so full of inexplicable mystery that it made me, well, question everything.


So, yes, I am haunted by such memories. As are you, no doubt, by some chapters in your own book of memory. But what does Auster mean when he says that also haunt them? And how can it be that the first word appears only when it is powerless to do anything? When it cannot possibly explain what, after all, has been conceded to be inexplicable?


Seana Reilly, the artist of the works pictured here, may be pondering with her art a similar dilemma or paradox: “The creation of the graphite ground is an exercise in giving up control, letting nature take its course. The secondary subtractive marks are my efforts to understand, classify, and mentally subdue that act of nature afterwards.”


I think we’ll ponder all that for a bit. Though I don’t like being left alone with the suggestion that I myself am haunting — and not or not only being haunted by — the most sensitive and troubling of my memories.


Art © Seana Reilly / All Rights Reserved


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