Marks (for Asemic call)
by Terri Witek
Some dates mark themselves in the archive. At 7, I learned that sacred rituals might leave “indelible marks” on the soul. This went into childhood’s imprimatur/imprinter. When I was 35 and 5 months pregnant, during a regular obstetrical visit a nurse pointed out a suspicious mark on my neck. During a hastily scheduled surgery, the obstetrician dropped in to check my baby’s peaky lines on a monitor while another doctor cut out the skin-evidence. That day left a jagged scar from jaw to collarbone; my husband, given to precision of phrasing, offered context: ‘someone has written part of your life on your body.’
To make/find/dimensionalize marks can of course also be less dramatically and much more pleasurably the work of the body. Still with its built-in perils, of course. When I started collecting hair from my comb, I recalled a student saying that hair weaves on her dorm bathroom floor were “dirty”; later, another student said hair in her shower wall was a “diary.” Maybe all marks torn from a known source cause unease. Isn’t that what happens with any so-called ‘unreadable’ or asemic writing, which is after all ‘readable’ though not in easily disclosed ways? But recall too the touch of our own confused complicities: what greater and simpler pleasure than to braid a child’s hair or clutch a lover’s? For a time, I stored the hair pulled from my comb in discarded CD holders: in English, the strangely beautifully named ‘ jewel cases.’ If not readily readable, was the hair now somehow playable? And both discards seemed to possess what Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes wonderfully calls ‘the charm of obsolete technology.’ From OOO theory (object oriented ontology), we learn that things also have lives. Different than ours. Slower ones. Marks too are things.
OOO: with a drawn-out sigh, my mind returns to invisible marks. In Clarice Lispector’s famous cronica “ O Ovo e a Galinha “ (The Egg and the Chicken) Lispector argues that the chicken never recognizes the egg, whether it is inside her or out. Of such eggs we’ve eaten, as they say, our share. And of course all women carry invisible eggs, though the count is uncertain. Helene Cixoux was struck by the fact that so many of the Portuguese words on Clarice’s first page begin with O : these are eggs, she delightedly insists. Is there something generative and unknown that lives inside the marks we make, then? Here: I’ve cut out then candled the eggs from the text/body of the first page of “O Ovo e a Galinha” in English so you can think about it.
This to say, there’s also a translation aspect to making/leaving/ marks as well as a ritual aspect as well as a gendered aspect as well as an argument for expanded reading as well as an invitation to activate. When my mother was dying at home in Sandusky, Ohio, US and I was sequestered in Florida, I asked one of my sisters to surreptitiously cut a lock of her hair: we chose not to tell our other siblings. It still seems important to keep this bio-ID close to hand: it travelled to a city where my parents had never been when we evacuated during Hurricane Irma, for instance. Mother’s hair in the comb: we all know this is something.
My weaver sister and I have something of a hair archive now, if we add in the sweeping she recently saved from a school reap to make cancer wigs and a wall of small wigs I bought from a going- out- of -business doll shop. Steffani Jemison argues that archives always await activation; and with each mark that short-circuits representation she is” “looking for a route to drawing, and a route to writing, that does not pass though any masters at all, old or otherwise.” Our reaps or sheds, though, always have something to do with the unmastered body, no matter how many touches away from the source. They are an archive readable as marks, as objects and as prediction, these lines and swirls and clumps that ask for something still unknown. A detail from the hair my sister and I keep looks like OOO /// seen from above and translated into rudimentary font. Unmoored from a source. Not dead, exactly.