Matilda discovers the thingness of words

Blog post
Published: 02.04.2009

Matilda is tearing, bouncing, flouncing, pouncing, skating, skidding, flying, somersaulting. Every surface, vertical or horizontal, is a trampoline, including the bodies of “her staff”. Our bedtime is her “witching hour”. What goes on that little brain? She turns turtle in mid-air. Spooked. Her eyes wild. Her whole body tensed like an inverted “U”. Her tail a fuzzy bottlebrush. Perhaps this primal behaviour is provoked by instinct, by the age-old need of the feline to stalk, to fight, to flee, to make a kill (a foot or sock will do) to grapple with prey or foe, or partner. Something that must be practised as a matter of survival. Or am I mistaken? Does she sense something which is invisible to me?

To engage with the immaterial seems easy for a kitten. It is not always the case for her mistress-maker. Try as I might to resist physical presence, the weight, the tactility, the obduracy of stone, the tensile strength of steel, the mild tractability of silver, the dry scumble or lush impasto of paint, I soon move into my studio. But before this, I write.

I write: stone   basalt   granite   marble   slate
As I write and speak these solid words I feel the matter that they name. The fleshly veining of Cararra marble is disturbingly chill to the touch; basalt has a sombre yet almost metallic timbre; granite, yes, granite: I can feel its weight and the hard grit of it between my teeth. I write rather than draw, for the materials of drawing (drawing’s matter) often hinder rather than help. They lock me into paper-ness, into the compliance of pencil, the swish of ink or wash. The words stone, heavy, cold (or warm from hand or abrasion), obdurate, frangible, have more solidity, more thingness than even the most skilled rendering (or photographic image). The word basalt is basalt. I feel it under my hand. The words basalt brooch have particular potential which is stymied by the dissembling liaison of pencil or pen and paper. Even more so by the manipulation (which is ill-named as hands are barely involved) of pixels on a screen. Marks on paper are for making drawings, things which will end up papery and marked with intent, or for making poems (or even blog posts) which may end up as immaterial as these words will be as you are reading them.

To make some thing from the solid word basalt necessitates taking up the stone, not feinting with sketches on paper or even models from clay or plasticine. Taking the stone. Listening to its voice. Working with it until the word becomes stone and the stone becomes word: basalt . . . basalt . . . basalt brooch . . . basalt brooch . . . brooch. . .

Matilda feints with air. She pounces on nothing.
And now, as she is cutting teeth, she discovers the thingness of words.

       Matilda considers words                         Matilda discovers the thingness of words