My Chimera

Let me tell you my story of Chimera and it will not have a concluded meaning, proper and clear cut, for symbols never do, they are made of an elusive but present substance which does not get lost in translation, and demands to be ceaselessly transcelated—at once transcending words, and carried in them: at once radiance and presence, cadence and glare—heard as tone, not carved in stone.

Chimera, fire-breathing monstrous creature made of three different parts, impossible in theory but real in the imagination. Here is a form of writing that is chimera, composite of parts written in different styles, some of which may seem impossible, monstrous, disturbing. Here is chimeric writing and it demands neologisms, a new vocabulary, wildly imaginative approaches to reading, hear Chimera.

Chimera, object of a yearning deemed unattainable. Here is chimeric writing, hear writing in the volume of yearning, in the tension between words and what exceeds them, and the critic who writes is exhausted by such yearning, not the owner of exhaustive knowledge. Here is writing, hear writing, that has been and is not yet, writing the not-yet-existent that is not a mere nothing.

Yearning, duration, persistence. Ideas are arranged and words intensified, charged with meanings, made unstable, and layered—not one after the other, but one inside the other, so that there is not going to be, in separate stages, a framing context followed by the work of writing followed by reflections: it is all writing, all context, all resonance instead of reflection, shattering case studies and glass screens, appearing enmeshed, impure, entangled, sounding like an introduction until the very last page, always ending, always rebuilding its language, rebeginning. Sometimes it sounds as if it has all been heard before. All and nothing. Sometimes it sounds like nothing, then the silence is so loud that I can only laugh.

To bring chimera into writing I have coined the term csiting, conjoining ‘citing’ and ‘siting’ in an assonant desiring encounter—a way of working beyond the rules of citation, a way of citing as hearing in reading, where I find my grounds as I read, site myself as I cite, go over the words that make my understanding of chimera and these words are residual: situs in Latin is site as well as dust, detritus. As I csite I continue to ground, and unground residues. Here as I csite (hear my csite, hear my sight as I read) my sources are not my origin, understood in terms of a stable before that legitimates and authorises what I write: they are not original, they are residual decaying and changing, they are beating hearts, cores of voices, rhythms and songs I heard before and continue to sing and they continue to beat. They are here, heard in the heartbeat of every reoccurrence, they are here, heard, which is the anagram of read with the added h of a breath. They are the artificed meaningful substance made up from an apparent lack of quality, an apparent lack of words, that allows other words, other qualities to emerge.

A site for csiting. The geographical site in the region of Lycia in Anatolia, where Chimera roamed, was a ravine extending up from the shore. I think of chimeric writing perched on a ravine, in Greek krinein, the root of critical, that discerns and leans toward and might fall into its yearning. It leans toward something else, a yearning perceived in the material of research, that separates and is at once medium for conversation. Chimeric writing is all, it is nothing, it is krinein, it is criticism, it falls into ravine, in Italian crinale, in English crest, that slides into crestfallen, a state of mind and again a fall, a ruin, rovina, ravine, fall, faint. All, nothing, oscillating between meanings found in sound, hearing in writing that ripples the surface of these pages, yearning for other ways of reading. Chimeric writing is all, it is nothing, a relay of fractured voices in research, resonance, residue, for still hidden writings to read.

Do not call Chimera interdisciplinary, do not call her hybrid: she will spit fire at you. Can you hear how differently chimera chimes? Chimera is an image, an image not seen, but an image imagined: heard in reading. Chimera—I understand from James Hillman as he writes of the deep forms of psyche which are manners of being in the world, of carrying presence every day—chimera is the way in which I see, not a content that I see; an image heard in reading that makes claims on me, and my task is not to interpret it, but to attend to its presence. Listen now, here is how Chimera met me, how I attended to it.

Chimera is the last word in Sonnet CXXIV by 16th-century poet Gaspara Stampa, a song of lost love and a manifestation of the sense of being split, half alive half dead, feeling everything and feeling nothing; the writer’s true form is ‘all and nothing, […] an image of Echo and Chimera.’ I encountered the sonnet as it was named in a letter by the Italian writer Cristina Campo, who deemed it most exquisite, and who wrote of the necessity to write because nobody else had seen certain things the way she had, nobody had put them in conversation as she had. I encountered the sonnet after I had realised that Chimera was to be at the core of my project, and before I knew how my Chimera was to form, although I heard it in my yearning—so Chimera appeared in the concluding verse of Gaspara’s sonnet, sounding and breathing and speaking the sense of ‘all and nothing’ that I perceive when I write, and in hearing Chimera summoning me (D.C.) in the last verse of the sonnet I was speechless, petrified, again, Da Capo.

Speechless petrified again Da Capo, rebeginning from an ending. Pierre, stone is the last word in the cycle of poems by Gérard De Nerval entitled Chimeras, among the masterpieces of Symbolist verse—poems dense in their vocabulary, and transformative in their treatment of images, and ‘a pure spirit beneath the skin of stones’ summoned me from the last verse of the last poem, when I heard pierre vaguely rhyming with Chimère, stone rhyming with Chimera and I was petrified, the stone of paralysis, the block in which I could not write until I reversed the terms of my condition, and said to myself, do not be Sisyphus, be the stone, the alchemical stone, malleable and changing, the stone that unevenly rhymes with, and is, chimera, pierre, chimère.

Of course.
How couldn’t it.
My Chimera (my research) found me.

It found me as I was open to listening to it. Then to write when I had nothing to say became a transformation into the material that initially appeared to make me speechless: it had to be Chimera because it was Chimera. Not interpretation, not progression: this form of writing prompts a shift of perspective while staying exactly where it is, working with the material it is given, sometimes stubbornly, its modus operandi slow, repetitive, severe, as dark and obstinate as the material. In this writing I find myself exhausted, stuck, repetitive, and obstinate, and I read the exhaustion and paralysis as a rich, complex state: something is being worked upon, and dissolves meaning as content. I feel deprived of any dependable and comforting notion of achievement, of goodness, of award: ‘Every moment of blackness is a harbinger of alteration, of invisible discovery, and of dissolution of attachments to whatever has been taken as truth and reality, solid fact, recognition, or dogmatic virtue’. Chimeric writing darkens and sophisticates the reading-hearing eye, as it moves in excess of itself and its materials, wants to be elsewhere, into a yearning for the untold unheard untranslated, with the fire it breathes, the things that cannot be fully known but are sensed through the beautiful subterfuge of more words, so when I write chimera no clear image appears, but a muted blurry symbol which continues to tell and continues to hide and continues to burn, can be told and retold in many forms, never forgetting the interferences.

Chimera was the title of the opening poem in Dino Campana’s Canti orfici (Orphic Chants), a collection of verses from the early twentieth century in which symbolism and lyricism merge with innovative rhythmic forms, and with attention to montage and unusual viewpoints. Chimera was heard in the rapturous and visionary voice of performer Carmelo Bene reading that poem, ‘e ti chiamo ti chiamo Chimera.’ Campana in Italian is bell, a word contained in La libellula (The Dragonfly), a long poem by Amelia Rosselli, who inhabited Campana’s words and transformed them through misreading and not always correct rhyming, so that chimera becomes another composite, inappropriately but tellingly and soundingly echoing sirena, chimera, sirena, e ti chiamo ti chiamo chimera, e tu suoni e risuoni chimera, sirena, and I call you I call you chimera, and you sound and resound chimera, sirena. Hear how Chimera glides over words across centuries, she will not be captured. It is Chimera, and in Rosselli’s hearing it becomes sirena, siren, but Chimera’s song is not yet sung, it must be heard in reading.

Voice from a Faintspeaker: It is time in the underworld for D.C. to wake up. She recalls a nightmare during which, repeatedly, she was asked to clarify why she calls herself a critic. Over and over again. Her attempts at replying that these definitions are not entrenchments, but manners of placing herself in a constellation; that she learned to know herself through a practice of critical writing, which does not mean her critical writing cannot exist in other forms, in fact it was through the practice of critical writing that she realised her language was composite and imperfect, therefore porous to other unexpected… But, what sort of questions were these? Is it necessary to continue getting tangled up with this chattering? Predictable, sudden end to the nightmare: asphyxia. She tries to reply but is smothered. The side effects of the Interdisciplinary Nothing? An overdose of Creative Criticism? We shall never know. Importantly for now, she awakens in Hell. Chimera is by D.C.’s side. It seems apt to suggest at this point, how D.C.’s begins to sound closer and closer to…

D.C., in a sudden fit: …DECEASED! Corpsed in our proud school of critical writing, we can no longer write.

Chimera: Still speechless, D.C.?

D.C.: As speechless as _______ [CHOKES].

C.: Still interdisciplinary?

D.C.: I’d rather be interred.

C.: Did I hear interned?

D.C.: Better to call me mad, than a prose stylist—a stylite, perhaps: leave me on a pillar, to rot. The study of that rotting unspeakable substance underlying language, which Amelia Rosselli made evident in her poem La libellula through slight repetitions and variations of misspellings, absorbs me a lot more that any polished surfaces. I want to write the heavy threat, the dread I feel sometimes in writing when I become very aware of the overspill, the rot, the excess.

C.: All this talk of rot and dread becomes you, D.C. You do not look healthy these days.

D.C.: I am exhausted, you know. Consumed by study, by yearning.

C.: And you are, as ever, so woefully inconclusive.

D.C.: Inconclusive, with ugly and heavy prose too, when necessary; carrying the form and sense of the exhaustion, the impossibility of completeness. This is why I never wrote a monograph, and stayed with the all and nothing. Nothing: the feeling of emptiness, anxiety, inability, vacuity I perceive every time I set out to write with the demands and pressure of producing a clear statement, argument, or overview. What can I possibly say, what more, who am I, and where? I can say less: yearn chimerically in reading and then, by contrast, the All appears: the fullness, the drive, the embodiment, the dizzying restlessness of finding forms, and to embody in them all the metamorphoses in understanding which I go through because I am, I encounter myself again, through the writings I study. Chimeric is the csite where I can say something even if my readers may be dead, or not born yet, or I do not have the means to reach them—chimeric is writing that holds yearning, holds my movement with, and my being moved by certain texts, rather than the paralysis in front of the demand for recognition or accomplished, concluded evaluations.

C.: You are falling back into essay mode. I thought you and I had agreed it was not the appropriate way to proceed. Be composite, impure. That is your nature, your moira. The sick anxiety of flawlessness is too much for your feeble heart.

D.C.: In truth, if certain words or phrases here did not inspire repellence, I would abandon my pursuit.

C.: And yet…

D.C.: . . . And yet we are not afraid of beauty. 

C.: A most subversive statement. Hush now. You should sleep. I will bring you dreams of pure fruits that go crazy, of mad impurities.

Voice from a Faintspeaker: So Chimera was muted. The M dropped out: Chi era. Chi era? in Italian is ‘who was she?’. Me? Here begins the questioning of self through the M of muted, M of mutation, M of me-monster: manners of writing selves through polyphonies, transformations, a language restless and unruly.

A Chimeric Transcelation (for Cristina Campo)

The exigent refusal, the non-frivolousmanner to adopt, is that of reading attentively, writing slowly: not necessarily a canonical book. It might as well be a luminous treatise on the knots in a Persian rug as true portraiture of the geometries of life, or the accurate response to the sounds of bells first tolling in a foundry, or to the gestures, sayings, and raptures of the Desert Fathers. Letters do not exclude poems, journals do not exclude prose, Chimera glides in the undercurrents that allow disparate forms to coexist. Meticulous, specious, inflexible, a chimeric writer who called herself Cristina, Vittoria, Bernardo, Giusto, Puccio, once composed these disparate forms as she wrote sentences as sharp as iron-tipped arrows, or sudden arpeggios soon to be withdrawn by a shy hand. She understood writing as more necessary than what is deemed useful: not found in goal-driven actions, but in the gratuitous splendour of certain gestures—grounded on a core of recurring intensities, against the prolific, against recognition and the chatter of appearance, into a deepening that sometimes is concealment.                                   

In a simultaneous and contradictory movement, at that point in which this chimeric writer synthesises at most her subject by reducing it, like the painters of the T’ang era in China, to that unique profile, to that line that is its being’s utterance itself, the reader hears it multiply, echo in numberless sounds. The perception of vertiginous activity is conjoined with a sense of inevitable presence and stillness. Such concentrated tension, such yearning, belong to writing formed in the same manner as the entomologist labours to express the inexpressible azure of a dragonfly wing. So chimeric writing’s eloquence may hinge on a tiny particle, a faint signal, all and nothing, almost nothing.

This text rewrites and combines excerpts from non-identical twin books, Nothing As We Need It. A Chimera (Punctum Books / Risking Education, forthcoming 2022) and Chimeras. A Deranged Essay. An Imaginary Conversation. A Transcelation (forthcoming).