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Threads (Detail)

In literary theory the term ‘world-effect’ is used to talk about a story in which a certain intensity supersedes the surface events of the plot (see here (footnote 6) for cross-reference). This is the feeling that Lloyd Durling’s art tends to evoke. One of his latest pieces, the biro-pen ink-drawing ‘Threads’ is a landscape of strange phenomena that elude unambiguous recognition. There are those that resemble exotic irises, corals or petrified trees, waterfalls, vines or thick syrupy substance that drips down out of nowhere, mountains of clouds. The colours and theme suggest Japanese silk paintings, or more distantly, Indonesian Batik.

Japanese silk painting 1856

Japanese silk painting 1856

Iris Sibirica (2000)

Iris Sibirica (Batik, 2000)

We are presented with an other-worldly world that nevertheless has a visceral way of affecting the onlooker.

Something that is immediately noticeable is that this is a world devoid of people. Perhaps this is not a world then that we inhabit, but rather one that resides within us. Not merely some dream-landscape, of the unresolved thoughts we process in our sleep; or a surrealist depiction of a strange transcendent corner of the sub-conscious. What if this is a world that is interlaced with our thinking, as opposed to something we think about, or which underlies our consciousness?

‘Threads’ presents us with an image of becoming and movement, in which nothing remains static. Unusual elements are brought together without a jarring effect. In the same way, our thoughts are constantly making the most improbable connections. Some of us are better than others in formulating this associative chaos into a cohesive, linear presentation for the benefit of their interlocutor. (I for one am a disaster and have more or less learnt to accept a certain rambling incoherence to my speech, or even, on occasion, manage to adjust it to fit a more formal setting. I have always listened with puzzlement and amazement to those, admittedly rare, speakers who are able to fill ninety minutes with a near-perfect lecture, delivered in full sentences with only the occasional dead end and where even digressions are redirected so that they neatly lead back the main line of argument).

The Romantic poet (and writer of most other genres) Heinrich von Kleist was (as far as I know) one of the first to write about this relation between thought and speech, arguing that since a disconnected way of speaking is closer to the way we think, it’s maybe not something we should necessarily repress (see how Freud would have liked this train of thought). He didn’t like neatly organized speech: “Only truly vulgar spirits, people who have learnt by heart yesterday what the state is supposed to be and who have forgotten it tomorrow, will have a ready answer. ” Rather, he was more interested in finding the moment where thought and speech are closest together. Here he explains the feeling of allowing his thoughts to slowly materialize (or is it etherealize?) into words:

But since I have some vague thoughts that are in some way connected with
what I am looking for, then once I have embarked on the formulation of the
thought it is as if the need to lead what has been begun to some conclusion
transforms my hazy imaginations into complete clarity in such a way that my
insight is completed together with my rambling sentence.  I mix in inarticulate
noises, I draw out my sentence connectives, I use appositions where they are not
strictly necessary and I use other rhetorical tricks that will draw out speech:  in this
way I gain the time to fabricate my idea in this workshop of reason.

And further down he writes:

If therefore a thought is expressed in a fuzzy way, then it does not at all follow that this thought was conceived in a confused way. On the contrary it is quite possible that the ideas that are expressed in the most confusing fashion are the ones that were thought out most clearly.

This probably sounds counterintuitive and I don’t know what present linguists would have to say about it; but personally I quite like it (since it would allow me to conclude that my confused way of speaking reflects profound deliberation). Deleuze likes Kleist precisely for the way in which he puts his theory into practice in his fiction. For Deleuze such a disjunctive style – always proceeding from the middle and straying off into the horizon – is closer to reality than a rigorously structured hierarchical account that subsumes all thought to one Central idea. Deleuze reads Kleist in terms of blocks of becoming, affect, shifts in speed.

Kleist invented a writing of this type, a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation with the outside… No form develops, no subject forms; affects are displaced, becomings catapult forward and combine into blocks… (Thousand plateaus, Continuum transl.; p. 10, 295)

To lead what has become a bit of a digression in itself back to ‘Threads’: this is a place that similarly constitutes a block of becoming, a sensation of crystallized movement that is ready to shoot out in multiple directions all at once. In this way, these elaborate and detailed ink drawings are congruent with thought.  Somehow a sort of resting place for the mind, that simultaneously stimulates it to branch off into new directions. The sharp pen lines allow the coexistence of fluid with brittle, smooth with rough. The different layers project out from one another with the suggestion of different speeds and movements, over a backdrop of opaque darkness. If that darkness is the Void that travels with our thought as undetected dark matter, then at least ‘Threads’ shows us a world that is filled with the peace of coming home and the exhilaration of this very moment as the birth of any thought at all.

Threads (Detail)

Threads (Detail)

Threads (Detail)

Threads (Detail)

Threads (Detail)

Threads (Detail)

4 thoughts on “Lloyd Durling: approaching thought in threads

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