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  • Enxhi Mandija

(REVIEW) Still Like Water: Suppose a Collapse by Lucie McLaughlin

Photo of 'Suppose a Collapse', by Lucie McLaughlin. The collection has a white background with the title and author in black ink. The book is sitting on a green, ornate, floral background.

In this experimental response to Lucie McLaughlin’s Suppose a Collapse (JOAN Publishing, 2021), Enxhi Mandija dives into the watery, boundary-less space of language, to explore art writing and generating of voice, meeting a book that ‘doesn’t want to be reviewed’ but instead ‘tantalises, glimmers, suspends’.

‘What does absence become, once investigated?’

Coming back to notes from over a month ago — here you are as almost not-you, a discrepancy. The time that has swollen in between has distorted things, like a fun-fair mirror, it’s hard to picture yourself writing them. A familiar feeling, as of late — you’re flung so far off yourself you’re tethering, you’re on the verge — of a face-to-face encounter with the ground. After losing touch.

note, 14/08/2021 13:37

The boundary of the self (skin) painful, changing, dispersing. Why the insistence on baths, need for the sea.

Watery, the space is boundary-less, commingled, full of shifts in tension and depth and temperature, a chill current, rather than clean-cut demarcations to be traversed. The movement between places and times and situations is controlled and constant, considered. All the while, the voice that carries it through, even as it moves between prose and poetry, and essay and memoir, stays clear, posed, focused. It has the potential to be overwhelming, but it always stops just a moment before — counterbalancing the warm proximity of confession with crisp clear distance. Sentences seem to hold you present, summon you and bring you aware, are about to reveal a secret, ear to lips — yet stay, suspended, on the verge of blossoming. Then, with a twirl on tiptoes, they move on.

The confines of the voice are, also, mobile, tenuous, a barrier of algae. How do you review a book that doesn’t want to be reviewed, doesn’t offer itself up, but tantalises, glimmers, suspends? Margaret Tait writes of poetry as the moment you can’t see of a flower ‘moving open’, whose time, eternally slow yet too fast, doesn’t match up with yours (Tait, 1959). Lucie McLaughlin’s sentences are concerned with that time, the un-seen time of a flower changing, moving. And if it is maybe not surprising that Tait wonders about movement and time in her poetry, at the same time as she works with film, it is similarly fitting that Suppose a Collapse not only includes musings about film, but seems to pivot on its cinematic-ness, its creating and unravelling of atmosphere, scene. The voice is a being but also a movement, continuously unsettled in her assessment of space, continuously building and rebuilding the spaces around her.

‘There’s a few rocks to climb over at the edges, and a lack of waves’.

Some of the writing is scored out — offering itself up as non-writing, as what you don’t want to admit to, look at, and that yet persists, stays, at the periphery of your vision. Perhaps, what’s at the core of autofictional narratives, where McLaughlin’s work might find a space: when writing reaches the places it can’t look into, because they are too painful, or absent, or have been emptied out, and has to turn on to itself to find a way out, ravel and unravel, the doing and undoing of Penelope’s weaving. On this, and other forms of un-writing, Jennifer Cooke writes ‘like Penelope’s ancient unravelling of her day’s weaving in the Odyssey, this is interpreted as a form of subterfuge […] repeated return to the blank slate, a textual erasure that works as its own sort of block’, in turn requiring new unravelling (Cooke, 2020). If writing tethers to life, is the reverse also true?

All my friends are leaving town. It’s easy to think the place you’re in says something about who you are, bears significance upon you. It’s easy to let that overwhelm you, and before you know it, you’re trapped into what the place thinks of you.

Retrieving, again and again. And a way to make space. Do you not feel, sometimes, as If you’re losing touch — your words are thin. Scratchings, on a slab of ice — to break, or melt, at any moment. Lace, see-through, and as soon as a fingernail catches. You’re worried because you thought they could keep you together — a cast, a scaffolding — but really, you’re on your own.

Absence. What saturates with projection, desire, images of what could be or have been, yet remains intangible, aerial. Once investigated, it perhaps becomes that contradiction, that painful fray between what you see but can’t touch, what is there but not for you, what is taken. Illusion, fiction. The half-transparent shell of skin, a husk.

‘I am directing a performance for all the people of my life .'

You are, you and her both, sensing in the unfamiliar a tastoni. One way to remedy to that absence, stage up a play, a film, a book. Put words into people’s mouths, animate them. It is fiction, but it isn’t fictional. ‘Reality betrays […] the fiction we build up’.

Memory interferes with art, with criticism. How these terms become rapidly obsolete. For Suppose a Collapse wonders if art writing couldn’t be a place where these distinctions do not bear weight anymore, where what is sustained is voice, where criticism is lyrical and imaginative, where poetry is sharp with thought. Where voice is so strong you can almost hear it, how it moulds around words. ‘I imagine the bundled bunch of cards and notes, letters sent even though he didn’t get a reply, joined-together grownup handwriting’. The whole book is founded on movement, undulatory and continuous, instability is its grounds — so the voice, too, fittingly moves, circles, returns. It dips into different voices, different modes — here, a word on a film, there, a word on an exhibition, here, a poem on absence — which is its coherence. ‘The colours of the cards drip off their surface, the whole lot gone in an instant, because it isn’t true’.

On memory, Russian writer Maria Stepanova notes: ‘no story reaches us without having its heels chipped off or its face scratched away’, yet it is these gaps, these traumas — from the Ancient Greek for break, separation — that make ‘individuals — singly and unambiguously us’. At the same time, these same empty spaces, these absences, these caesurae in a story, in a family history, in one’s experience of time, ‘become an allegory: the impossibility of telling these histories, the impossibility of saving anything at all’ (Stepanova, translated by Sasha Dugdale, 2021).

Watch our words direct ourselves. Thin, scratchings, see-through. Muslin, lace, cheesecloth. Things that fray, easily, after a hasty cut.

note, 15/08/2021 07:21

How words wear things thin (what you’d imagined, what was possible) again environment and subjectivity meeting / seeping / collapsing – a collapse of surfaces, revealing their porosity, their vulnerability, instability.

note, 15/08/2021 07:33

The need to stay above surfaces – not to collapse into bad states of mind / body, but also probe absence?

‘The sheet has painted flowers all over, like a watercolour, smudged at the edges. Each time I wet the cotton through I panic for a second as the yellows run into reds and the shapes start to drip but never fall out of their cotton frame, or onto the bed or me.’

Water – where surface breaks.


All quotes, unless specified, are from Suppose a Collapse, by Lucie McLaughlin.

Cited works:

Cooke, Jennifer, 2020. Contemporary Feminist Life-Writing: The New Audacity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Stepanova, Maria, 2021. In Memory of Memory, translated by Sasha Dugdale (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions).

Tait, Margaret, 1959. ‘Now’, in Origins and Elements (Edinburgh).


Text: Enxhi Mandija

Image: Enxhi Mandija

Published: 05/10/21


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