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(ESSAY) amber, by Rosie Roberts


In this essay, Rosie Roberts attunes to the vibrational synchronicities of everyday life: the interval moments that hold us thickly, the centrifugal tendencies of coming to reality. Speculation, matter and perception glitter in multifaceted form; a phenomenology of this flickering present, with all its distortions and possible clarities. Throughout ‘amber’, Roberts also parses the semiotics of Glasgow’s sigil and other vital objects of mythological anchoring, infinity, psychic preservation, sounding out.

> We step out.

> Glaswegian psychiatrist and scholar R.D. Laing opens the preface to The Divided Self by saying, one cannot say everything at once. I hold in my mind that each thought uttered takes a moment to say and a moment to witness. That these moments form conversation, argument, intimate whisper, lecture, reparation, awkward impasse, forgiveness, etc. They are interaction, which deserves care and time; and in a time where moments can seem both finite and unruly Laing’s statement rings in my ears – you cannot represent everything – a landscape of aural, visual, affective and contextual perception – at once.

> Even from within the site of one body, one moment or one’s reality can be experienced as a multi-faceted synchronisation of varying perceptions, augmenting the feeling of that moment. What follows then, perhaps, is the futility and dogmatism of an attempt at the realistic representation of a moment. Instead could there be an anti-real moment and its documentation, or disintegration into the flow of constant thought.

> Wait…what? Press the button to stop the traffic, pause on a surface specifically made to help you survive.

> Realism and idealism deal with the relationship between our minds and the world, but perhaps this is too much of what Laing would refer to as a centrifugal tendency, focusing on the reality of the seed instead of the potential of a tree. So, I begin to think from in between, creating a sapling space, supple and sweet.

> Look up to the Tron tower, pause the clock, or at least dial it down, right down. Wait for a clicking sound.

> As the pendulum swings there are seconds not seen where the chime is suspended in air, untouching and unsounding. It is this slow moment that is the preoccupation of the writing that follows, before the chime of thought to voice in air, before the branching out and rooting down. Spiral into this in between and there perhaps you can hold time with me.

> I’ll try to offer a frame, a beat, and a swoop into inertia. A beginning which starts from my own bell chamber and chiming voice which honestly/obviously is not my own, of course actually it sounds out through many others. Reading and writing at a one to one scale, those words are slanted into this text, as they lean into the thinking, the inner brain voice where parsing happens during moments of strike and struck.

> From this place what may be glimpsed is an imaginative or speculative way of achieving either documentation or activism through art and literature. These notions that have played a key role in leftist and emancipatory traditions are active within the speculative science fiction of say Octavia Butler or Ursula K. Le Guin, where a capacious foil to the close doldrum of capitalist realism is opened. Truth through fiction is perhaps more pertinent now than ever. It is likely not news that ‘true’ documentation can be an unconvincing record, that leaves some nuance or feeling lacking, an undoctored recording, like the you of Laing’s statement cannot ‘represent’ everything all at once. Documents are never a self-standing entity but are connected, haunted and contaminated by their readers and their histories.[1]

> I opened my mouth as the signal changed and I forgot what I was saying in order to do what I was doing.


> I find another bell (and it’s time stopping chime) to work with in Glasgow’s sigil, I have found it before in service and school and I came across it by chance on an archival tour. I heard it this morning, in my home. The bell chimes on a Sunday to gather a gospel community in a Pentecostal church. From my bed, through open windows I was party to it from outside its walls and inside my own. The plague of seagulls from Hamden Stadium responded in wracking craws, the sounding of my locality.

> Following Doreen Massey’s analysis of her locality, held within the essay A Global Sense of Place, of her position within it and its position within the world, and applying her method to my own; I would like to begin a forever process of sketching a geographically near moment, held both within and outwith the self.

> An act which draws in time, like the chord of the chime, in order to understand a place as undefinable, in relation to passing moments, themselves undefinable things that are slippery and constant. To find in Massey’s words, a sense of place which is adequate to this era of time-space-compression. To recognise space, and time as processes, like capitalism in the Marxist sense that we exist with and through. Like the journey to work.

> Glasgow’s sigil contains many objects, varied forms to represent a varied community, and they have been depicted in everything from tile mosaic, to bus stop, to tea towel. They are held within a shield that seeks to say something about people and what they make of where they are and what they do, but sometimes a shield is used to obscure rather than protect. People make Glasgow many things, including some nice stuff and some horror shows, people are at once the beady eyes, bystander behaviour and broken hearts.

> The story of the sigil is known and liked. A dispute, a lovers’ tryst, an overbearing father’s authority, a natural place, and a magical fish. The sigil and its storied ephemera could perhaps represent one of ways through which a trial to extract sustenance from the objects of a culture – a culture whose avowed desire has often been not to sustain[2] its inhabitants – could take place. Objects through which to think about what’s happening here and now in my locale.


> For Edinburgh-based experimental obituarist Melissa McCarthy, objects and processes that hold particular moments are often re-simulated in media to strange effect. In her book Sharks, Death and Surfers, McCarthy enacts an imaginative close reading[3] of the film Jaws as it unravels into a not so subtle metaphor of the killing of Mary Jo Kopechne, the young woman found dead in Ted Kennedy’s semi-submerged car in 1969.

> While he escaped from the vehicle, she did not. Like the political corruption that existed behind the fragile film of glamour that the Kennedy’s sustained, the reality and protagonists of the two tales – a car, a shark and a dead woman – lurk beneath a surface. This is what McCarthy describes as a moving image of motionlessness, a space-time-compression; an obscurus. And this in turn has a relationship with archives, books and the internet, if she had known what she was going to find, the findings would not exist now in the form of her book.[4]

> When we walk past and look at the surface of the Clyde’s water, seemingly stilled, we cannot see the infinity of happening underneath, time stops and continues. In an insidious inversion of this process the Kopechne incident becomes a happening under a stilled surface, paratextual, an ugly footnote, to the smash-hit-cult-classic, Jaws; demonstrating a slippage where moments repeated in media become paratextual to events themselves. But the paratextuality of metaphor in media, writing and film does not always have to act within a framework of paranoid hermeneutics, it can be reparative too.[5]


> Since the mid 1990s, the relationship between event, the self and fiction has undergone significant change. A space has opened up where the intersection of imaginative speculation, reality and theory can take place in texts as documents of autotheory, autofiction and speculative memoir. Synchronised happenings have come to be held in texts that perhaps don’t represent a moment of so called ‘truth’ but do truthfully document a certain moment in some of its labyrinthine ways.

> A noted local text in this genre could be 2014’s You Are Of Vital Importance where Sarah Tripp’s Is, yous and theys speak through, during and around group activity, gendered expectation and a global turn towards conservatism, happenings which become textually condensed into Book. A similar method is enacted in Kate Briggs’ 2017 This Little Art, where the process of translating How To Live Together by Roland Barthes and its effect on her life and thinking are held in the same moment, together, through a book shaped essay. This is then encircled once again as she reteaches the matter documented in ‘a bit, a piece, a thing, a twin’ written for The Yellow Paper in 2019.

> As examples of synchronised relational epistemologies – of one thing’s meaning and presence to another’s in a slowed-motion-moment – an intertextual interaction – the texts create a space in between, a decompression of time, for thinking’s sake. Perhaps of all the names for writing that we talked about with Briggs it is ‘the twin’ now that strikes me to be most apt, the text and the happening step out together, the seed and the tree as circuitous tandems.

> From within the site of the body I use, physically and textually, reality can be experienced as a multi-faceted synchronisation of varying perceptions, here documented by elongating a moment, demonstrating the feeling of that moment of thinking and being here walking around in Glasgow. A twinning of feeling and documentation, a united division.

> For hope and thinking’s sake We stopped and looked and listened, the lights changed red to blue to green and then cyan, magenta, yellow, then bells, voices, engines, static. And then home and back to suspended silence.




[1] Daniela Cascella

[2] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

[3] Sedgwick

[4] paraphrased quote from an interview with Melissa McCarthy in Edinburgh in December 2019

[5] Sedgwick


Text and Image: Rosie Roberts

Published: 9/2/20


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