Elio, or the house of time and space
[The text and the image presented here are part of a work done in collaboration with Carlijn Kingma who is the author of the drawing. The aim of this ongoing collaboration is that of exploring the relation between visual and textual representation, their possibilities and the outcome of their creative encounter in an exchange between text and drawing, or rather, the writer and the artist; it is not therefore a matter of illustrating a story nor of describing a drawing.]
Elio was a man made of time and space, that is light, as everybody knows.
He lived alone in a circular house, he had a room for each day of the year, each one with a dawn door to enter in the morning and a dusk one to retire at night.
Elio lived time by inhabiting it; or maybe it was his home that was time, and by inhabiting it, time had life.
He wasn’t lonely, because every door had uncountable windows, looking into worlds whose stories he knew and whose histories are marked on the corridors of his house.
One may think Elio lived in a timepiece, or maybe a calendar; a device that measures time. But that is only partly true. It is an approximation, because humans need to economise, that is to reduce, in order to relate. They call Elio by many names, though they may know him or not, he who wanders through his circular palace, where there is a room for each day and time never passes.
The house of Elio, like all things but even more, is at once one and many things. It is a dot and an infinite space, a snake biting its tail and a palace of corridors and stairs. Is it maybe that the steps and tiles are the scales of the snake’s tail?... Maybe.
Does that dot have many dots inside it, each a room with more dots, each a window, looking over days, or maybe aeons?... Maybe.
We can only see what Elio shows, once a bright sphere of light, another time a hazy lack of light; is he projecting it or absorbing it? Maybe both, maybe we are talking of something which can’t be said, maybe not with our language... Maybe.
Still, Elio walks inside his house, we know he is there. We know he walks down marble corridors with door gilded in brass and gold, we see his light coming through the caryatids, casting the shadows of forgotten gods on abandoned pillars for the philosopher to hear them sing.* The same light, or is it?, colours altars of multifaceted light which once told a story as important as the light itself; now it reflects over mirrored towers and the carcasses of metallic insects, blinding ant-sized passer byes.
Is it the same light that casts shadows into a philosopher’s cave and that permeates a glass cube on an American garden? Is it Elio in his house of many rooms or is it many Elio in a single sphere? But after all, how can we tell? Us, who are everyday the same different person, under a light that comes from an ever-changing place fixed in the sky?
Maybe it is just a matter of scale in time and space, that is, in light... Maybe.
What are these thoughts to Elio, who hovers above and beyond us in his house with a room for each day, along corridors of years and stairs of centuries? Like the poet, he reigns over infinity in a nutshell**, to him there’s no difference between a galaxy and a grain of sand***, between sky and mind.**** Each nut a galaxy of life, each galaxy a diamond on the chandelier of his house, made of time and space, that is light.
He sees them all, he sees them isolated and together at once, because his seeing is not like ours; his gaze, is what make it possible for us to see. He orders them and keeps them together but oh, it’s dense, so dense and difficult and painful, to deal with all that was, that is and will be; to be time and space, that is light.
His corridors drip with blood from the serpent’s tail, the joints of the floor crack and scream; some moan for centuries, some split out with no warning at atomic speed. But there is a place, inside Elio’s house, where there’s no pain, no time nor space, that is, no light. It is the place where all his corridors lead; the stairs climb up and into it. It is a place the house goes away from and leads to, it pulls and vibrate, electrifying the air of Elio’s palace and prickling the scales of the serpent. Which is it? In or out? Cause or effect? Does the light come from there or does it go in there? Elio does not know, he walks around it, a fluctuating dance between near and far, just like the other smaller palaces he can see dancing around him from his many windows.
Sometimes Elio feels like stepping into it, but could he ever get out? Does it even have an in and an out?
Sometimes he feels as if his circular orbits around the palace are an escape from that centre, as if he’s been running away for so long that he forgot about it.
Sometimes he just feels its presence, neither attracting nor repulsing; on those days Elio is brighter and purer, they say you can feel it when Elio is quiet along his corridors.
Towards, away or, maybe, in balance? Elio does not know, and how could we; he walks along his halls, wherever they’re going. Why should they go somewhere anyway? Doesn’t he have infinite rooms, one for every past, present and future day?
Still, there must be a way, a direction, an order to the rooms, a beginning of the circle, a top and a bottom of the sphere. Why else would he be living in this house, why else does he have so many rooms and corridors, why walk them all? Maybe though, he’s just there to walk, to see through those many windows, to feel those many floors, walls and ceilings; maybe he’s just there to live his house... Maybe.
Perhaps one day he’ll leave the house where he can never rest, or he could also walk into that room where, he’s sure, there must be rest. Repose, idleness, sleep; a nothingness full of all, a light so bright it is blinding darkness.
Lately he seems to pass more and more into the same rooms. He knows them all, of course, although they are infinite, because he is the reason they’re there, and vice versa. Maybe he can’t find some any more because his walk has changed, may his orbit has tilted? That happens only after many stairs and even more corridors. No, this seems different. He was wrong, the rooms are still all there, but closer, or maybe smaller; nothing has changed but something must have.
The house though, cannot have changed, how can time change? How can space remain the same and at the same time be smaller? Maybe it’s him, it must be him... Maybe.
Elio has been thinking too much of this inner room, his presence subtly veering towards the inside. The rooms are smaller, the corridors shorter, the windows as narrow as the slits of a bunker. He seems to recall now a very strange notion, one that collides with his palace and his whole being; still, it somehow feels right with his palace so weirdly changing. The same length of time can have different lengths, is that possible? Could it be that his rooms, without changing, have changed to him?
Out of this crazy and illogical speculations - a length that encompasses different lengths! - an even more unacceptable one arises. Is it possible that the real house, the cell of his temple, is that inner room and his palace just the porous walls surrounding and protecting it? Is it possible that all this time he hasn’t been living in the nutshell of the poet but over its coarse shell, brain-like and infinite in its complexity, but still, just a shell?
He still walks through his palace pondering these uncomfortable thoughts but it seems to him that the palace grows smaller and smaller. The slits of the windows are now pinholes in a yarn of corridors and stairs whose patchwork of pavements is the last sign of the many rooms that made up his sumptuous palace. Is it maybe that his mind is too close to the forbidden centre of his palace to properly walk through his rooms, to properly think of them and therefore see them, live them, make them...? Maybe.
Maybe, but the room is still there. Sometimes it feels as if the whole palace and Elio himself are emanating from it. At other times, which for Elio of course means at the same time, it feels as if every piece of stone, glass, steel, wood, bone and every material with which his palace and himself are made are pulled towards the centre, each atom hooked by an invisible force which threatens to pull the molecules apart if they don’t yield to its irresistible call.
He can feel his fangs tearing at his tail, pulling and sinking. Blood is flowing, sticky and slow, through the corridors and down the stairs; around the inner room a crimson pool is raising and coagulating against the walls.
This, may very well be the curiosity of time: from Elio’s palace, the fixed movement of time, like a wheel spinning fast, looks still.
There’s a room in the centre of this wheel, a fix fulcrum of an eternal balance. In his house Elio used to listen to the sound of time, the celestial spheres moving in the void along their elliptical dance; atoms and electrons courting each other; and the rhythmic thump of the quantum leaps. All sounds of the many dials of the universal timepiece.
Like a lighthouse in front of the retreating ocean of time, Elio lived in his house until all rooms became one, until the doors of dawn and those of dusk where no more entrance and exits, but the threshold of the same space.
Elio lived in its circular house until the majestic sphere became a dot. And Elio was gone; as was light, that is time, and space.
Someone says that if one starts counting, or proclaiming a well metered poem while looking at the sky, points start to appear, as if wishing for the solidity they once lost, to make the idea into a shape and for Elio to live again in that house with a room for each day, made of time and space.
Those people who still tell these stories, look at the sky in search of Elio, the marker of time and space. But even a child knows that if you look too long at the sun, some point will appear, start to swell, and pulse. . . ...
*“Only three columns are left standing that still speak of the temple of zeus that once was: in the breadth of the landscape they are like three strings of an invisible lyre on which perhaps the winds play songs of mourning, inaudible to mortals - echoes of the flight of the gods.”M. Heidegger, Sojourns
** “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”W. Shakespeare, Hamlet
*** “To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour...”W. Blake, Auguries of Innocence
**** “Ah, not to be cut off, / not through the slightest partition / shut off from the law of the stars. / The inner - what is it? / if not intensified sky, / hurled through with birds and deep / with the winds of homecoming.”R.M. Rilke, Ahead of all parting