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Living in Code

[First published in Asylum Annual 1995, Asylum Arts, 1995.]

"Propaganda affects the germ cells; the word influences the genitals," according to Gottfried Benn. Perhaps few writers have this intense a faith in their art, but we all have suspicions about the intended and unintended effects of our words. Words do have consequences, after all, much as that hurts to admit. Words may have, as Benn suggests, effects that are far more serious than has hitherto been suspected. The sounds of our words, the rhythm and pulse and twists of our sentences, the cumulative repercussions of our speeches--these creations might trigger vibrations that expand outward forever, filling the sky in all directions.

Like old television broadcasts now reaching distant stars, our words, even the bioelectrical static we call our thoughts, may have audiences we have never suspected.


If a branch could be a rock, move from noun to noun or verb to verb and back again...

"Many things are too delicate to be thought," as Mr. Novalis once claimed. And yet it is the delicacies--the faint tremblings of interaction between the natural and the artificial, the word and the image, the signifier and the signified--which need to be thought.

These delicacies must be encoded as thought and stored and kept safe, for they are wavering blueprints on the retina of a world yet to come.


Or consider this: Spontaneous word battles, words fighting between themselves for space and meaning, working to dominate the flow of text, to twist the other words, to pull them in a particular way.

The text as a struggle, der kampf, a battle among/between/amidst the words that a writer has put on the page, a raging battle the reader brings to life by reading the text, by running his eyes over the text like an invisible thief.

Even words carved deep in stone can have their messages stolen from them.


How to create? Sensation and thought, a union of opposites, the reactive and the meditative, the reflex and the relaxed. One breeds the other again and again, round and round, a snake swallowing its own tail. An instinct leads to action to situation to reflection to another instinctual action. (Higher and higher the battle climbs.)

Action before theory, and then another action.


Always the dead speak to the living, and never the other way around. Words in books, images on film, paint on canvas, all of these are speaking to us, shouting to us, waving their arms like obnoxious drunks on a street corner. You can't escape it.

But when the living can speak to the dead...! (And the word is made flesh.)

For now, we fashion new totems to prop in the soil, new sounds to shout into the incessant wind.


A seeding of memory, a planting of fields, endless fields, and the dry earth, eager, so eager.

(I can remember so much that never happened. I forget so much that has.)

Here's a photograph of my grandfather with his back to a brick wall. I don't know the wall, not where it was or even when. But that's my grandfather. He stands against a wall in the vortex. All time circles round him, round us, in a black-and-white blur of photographic negatives.

And he smiles at me...


On a sunny day my shadow mimics me, taunts me, teases me. The frisky bastard won't leave me alone, like a bad memory or the cycles of the moon.

If you only saw my shadow, would you know it was mine?

Here, let me sign it for you.


--Thomas Wiloch