WRITING | Questions and questioning

Posted on 31/07/2013


I’m trying to order my thoughts about the Long Time, No See? project and experience, particularly the interrelated processes of writing and participation. At some point, I am will need to contribute to some writing and/or documentation that reveals the ‘research’ trajectory and the nature of the artistic inquiry. Interrogating this from time to time, especially as I delay completing some final rewriting of our artists books, has seen my own thinking about this evolve. Or perhaps it’s just that the tacit yearnings of my process are taking shape and revealing themselves, even to me. Sometimes it needs a trigger or a magnet – without this some things may never be expressed – like today while I was tracing links from facebook, I was reminded of Pable Neruda’s Book of Questions. I recall, in part, my own drive in Long Time, No See? was, in part, to practice writing questions and practice living with questions in the face of complexity and difficulty.

And so Neruda’s Book of Questions was on my mind at some point in this process, which has purposely traced a literary, poetic and writerly path. My work has been about words and the parring back (or cutting through), where possible, of their relationship to action, meaning, being and possibility. It is not literal but, almost, a play on or with words. When readers/users take them literally, rather than something to work with or play with, I am somewhat taken aback, even startled when their lack of exposition evokes animosity. Though the expectation of this writing, within the project, was that it was to be literal – yet, there is also something more lofty at play here as participants expect a few words on the page to trigger some deep epiphany or transformation. And so a tension between the literary and the imaginary comes into play. If only the world could be changed through aphorism. Perhaps Neruda’s Book of Questions does that. The book is composed of 316 unanswerable questions written as poems.

Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

Is there anything in the world sadder
than a train standing in the rain?

These are the kinds of questions I like to live with, the kinds of questions that are thought and sense provoking, that are in themselves metaphor. They are pleasurable: “Neruda’s questions lead the reader beyond reason into realms of intuition and pure imagination.” There is a kind of letting go that comes with this kind of questioning and being at ease with questions – a shift from a hard focus on issues – that encourages emergent ideas, redirected thought and transformed vision. Neruda doesn’t intend for the questions to be answered or for the search for responses or replies to end. They are multiple and multiplying. At one point in our conversations, we spoke of ‘forking paths’ – it’s a tired metaphor for the virtual world, but a powerful story from Borges as one of the few who writes inifinity, infinitely.

What had brought these texts back to mind is a project called The (New) Book of Questions which observes and questions the “territories in process” we live in, rather than to “answer” them. These questions will lead authors and lectors into the realm of further observation and, if lucky, further questioning. The aim of this “book” is to become a device or tool for thinking, observing and understanding the landscape, city, and space. The (New) Book of Questions will document, in the format of questions, different perceptions of the territory during a year (8 November 2012 to 8 November 2013). The (New) Book of Questions is an open work inviting contributions via email and twitter.