The Blind Man in the Mountain

January 1, 2012

In December of 2010, I performed at my former home, the Hall of the Woods, with my girlfriend-at-the-time’s dance project MirrorMilk and my friends’ folk music entity novemthree. I had maintained a fairly steady – approximately monthly, when it was averaged out – performance schedule for a couple of years, decided it was becoming something of a distraction from the course my life was taking, and decided to spend a year offstage. This year, plus a couple of weeks, has now transpired, and it seems entirely unclear to me when or if I will resume such efforts.

The performance art scene that I had immersed myself in in Portland and Olympia was very focused on experimental and folk music, noise, butoh dance, and various unclassifiable modes of gesture and movement, that were highly disparate in their immediate manifestations, but somewhat unified in consistently avoiding directly spoken elements. I was fascinated by the experimentalism but always wanted to utilize it toward the end of conveying clear messages and telling explicit stories. To this end, my collaborations with MirrorMilk took the form of dances, more or less based on Meghann’s butoh background, with English language lyrics that were intended to convey something of an overt and comprehensible narrative. An example is in this video, which is taken from afar in a dimly-lit environment, and thus does not capture a great deal of the facial expression that is fairly integral to the piece, but for which I am nonetheless quite grateful to my friend Inga for capturing:

Probably some elements of the narrative are unclear (particularly on video, where it might not be apparent that we are cutting her bonds at the end), but hopefully to some extent it is apparent that I am a captor, she a captor of sorts, and the piece involves her struggle for freedom, which she eventually enlists me in as an eager comrade. In any case, I wanted more complex stories, and eventually took to the expedient of simply writing out pieces of written dialogue. This piece, The Blind Man in the Mountain, is the fullest realization of these efforts. I wrote it last spring, requiring only one other performer for the sake of logistical plausibility with actually getting it on stage. I do not know if it will ever be manifested; I have not been making any effort to see it to completion myself.

Skeptical of its prospects in my own hands, I have lost any sense of propriety with it, and now present it to the world at large. Perform it, if you like. Steal random parts of the text for your own stories, or for the liner notes of your next album. Copy it for an assignment in a creative writing class. It is my gift to you. The actual performance, as I envisioned it, is extremely difficult to convey through text. The entire sequence is a battle, fought through the modes of speech, percussion, song, and movement. At times, any number of these elements would be occurring simultaneously. I think, if I remember correctly, that the elementary form of this theme took root in my mind in Portland, in my collaborations for a large experimental music theatrical production called Bogville. I recall that at a few crucial junctures in the story, conflicts occurred that were essentially dance battles between two antagonists. This was a source of some humor at the time, but the concept was ultimately quite beautiful. In this video, you can see my decisive defeat by Tiare Tashnick starting at around 3:13, albeit in a highly fragmentary format:

We would dance, circling around and around, and appear to strike each other without making any sort of contact, simply as a contest of gestures. Eventually, she lights fire fans and these do me in. This has to be understood for this text to make any sense at all. Throughout more or less the entire thing, words are spoken and appear to have the effect of delivering physical blows to the person being spoken to. Dance movements and percussion have the same effect. It is not a dialogue. It is a desperate battle.

Aside from its performative manifestation, hopefully this text is of some innate interest as a piece of prose poetry. I wrote it with the theme in mind of nature becoming aware of itself, ie aggregations of matter progressing in complexity from simple elements to complex molecules to functioning organisms to conscious brains that were capable of knowing themselves and where they came from. This is the moment of struggle between a human, the created thing, and god, or nature, the thing that has created it. It is the moment when the creator realizes that the thing it has made is aware of it. Before this happened, god/nature did not know itself. The human it made is the vehicle of its sentience. But god/nature would like to think it is more powerful than the thing it made, the thing it contextualizes. Thus, as the human becomes aware, it is a struggle. This theme of nature coming to know itself never ceases to fascinate me. I imagine standing on a ridge somewhere, looking out over some valley, realizing that the body I inhabit, the mind that I am, first was elements in the rocks, then rose up through the soil, through ever-increasing complexity, until I know myself and everything around me and then, in the final permutation, I realize that I made all of these things, and am nature.

As a note, the captor/deity figure is referred to as a female in this script, for the simple reason that I was working with a female collaborator at the time it was written. It is also worth noting that we were both going to have numerous bells and pieces of junk metal and other trinkets attached to our bodies, so that our movements would have an auditory effect.

(Captive is lying on stage, face completely obscured by a scarf tied around his head. Captor stands above him.)

CAPTIVE: Wait, what’s happening to me? I can’t see anything. Where am I? Where am I? Where am I? What’s going on? Where is my body? Where is the world? I can’t find the boundary between the two, and there’s nothing in either of them, no skin nor blood nor bone here, there’s not even really a here that I can tell, and beyond, no sky nor stars nor howling raging wind… Where am I? (repeated with
percussion). I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, perhaps if I rise to some other, higher vantage point, I can see the stars, or feel myself breathing some air, or least, if I can not sense any world around me, I could again be able to know where my hands are, where any part of my self is in relation to any other part, I would like to feel myself moving my hands, but I can not reckon them now, I have no body… I don’t remember coming here, maybe I’m on some mountain that has no soil, beneath a sky that has no appearance, not even of darkness… if I rise…

CAPTOR: Stay still!

CAPTIVE: I must

CAPTOR: Stay still!

CAPTIVE: I must

(This exchange is repeated many times. With each ‘I must’ the captive raises up a little bit, with each ‘stay still’, he is brought back to the ground. Then the captive stops saying anything, only straining upward, captor repeats a chant of ‘STILL!’ with faster and faster percussion until they eventually scream it a final time, stopping percussion, captive falls all the way back to the ground with a crash. Dead silence and no movement for a moment. Then captive begins writhin on the ground, weak and disoriented, speech faltering.)

CAPTIVE: (not remembering what has just happened) Wait, where am I? I can’t see anything. What’s happening to me? Am I in some terrible bondage, that renders even my senses null, that makes me unable to perceive the very bonds that tie me down, the very body that they bind? It’s so strange… (trails off, voice grows calmer, stops writhing) I can’t feel my face, I don’t know where it is (touching face), but there is something… isn’t there some breath of liberation swelling my breast, even if ever so slightly, some wind from some far-off foreign sky? Is my chest filled with a hidden, distant sky, despite that I can’t see the one above me? Could such an enormous thing live in this small frail body, this body I can’t move or see? Do I know this sky from the breath it gives? Is this a howling storm that moves through my lungs, that gives breath to the words I speak? Could I feel this sky’s fierce gales, its piercing wind, its mornings, its dawn in which Venus dies in the pale blue light the blackness surrenders to? (Begins gesticulating, growing more urgent) This is the thing. This is the thing. I do not know where I am or how I got here or what the fuck is happening to me, but I swear I have some vague memory of trying to get out of here, if there’s such a thing as here, if this is a place, once before. It had something to do with moving upward…

(Battle of percussion, breath, and screams ensues. Captive strains and moans each time he tries to rise, is brought crashing back to the ground by a single strike of percussion each time. Percussion starts to be in multiple beats, captive begins screaming, finally strikes their own flutter of percussion, captor is visibly affected, blown back, look of rage grows in face. They begin an exchange of strikes, each one beating the other one back, no one makes any progress, finally the captive points at the captor and screams)

CAPTIVE: I can see you!

(Deafening silence. Captor is thunderstruck. Here begins integrated percussion and speech.)

CAPTOR: What?!?

CAPTIVE: I can see you!

CAPTOR: No. You. Can. Not.

CAPTIVE: (uncertain) It seems I can…

CAPTOR: You have less than no sight, in you the absence of light is a treasure, you

CAPTIVE: I can see!

CAPTOR: are like the worm that rules the desert, the mad

CAPTIVE: No!

CAPTOR: despot whose tyranny extends over an

CAPTIVE: I have living eyes!

CAPTOR: an empty waste with no beginning and no ending

CAPTIVE: And they flood with precious light, they birth the image

CAPTOR: who gloats, feeble-minded, over the nothing that he covets, his crazed, greedy laughter the only sound to be heard as he counts the sands of his empty wasteland,

CAPTIVE: of the world and all its motion and all the aching tender flowers that open within it, trembling as if in anticipation of a lover…

CAPTOR: reckoning each one a pretty bauble with which to adorn himself. So, too, you gloat over the nothingness you perceive, you grow fat from feeding on your lack of sight, you frenzied glutton, the blind bring you their severed eyes and you, stupid and selfish and cruel, crush them between your teeth, and because your hunger for blindness can not be sated, you demand of them – cruel despot, blind tyrant, king of nothing – that they bring you the eyes of their weeping children.

CAPTIVE: (exhausted, having dropped mallets, face buried in hands) If I can not see you, I swear I can sense you somehow.

CAPTOR: You sense nothing. You can not see me. You can not hear me speaking to you right now. You can not feel me beating you. (Strikes captive, captive falls) You do not know, my trembling little blossom, that it is the wind that moves you on the branch, and threatens to send you hurtling from the safety that you cling to. You know nothing of the forces that control you.

(Captor lifts captive up by head and begins percussion and breathing, alternately beats on scrap metal and on captive’s body, captive wails. Eventually they are breathing, screaming, moving together. Finally, captor gets up and begins to walk away. In a very soft voice, captive begins singing a pretty song. Captor stops dead in tracks, intent on singing.)

lyrics:
It’s a fair wind that carries
the song from the red bird’s throat
and a good place of green hills
where that song will go
It’s a fair sun that is golden
that warms the smiling face
and a cruel wind and bitter
that carries you away
O my autumn, o my autumn,
there are many fair things
pale moons and bruised blossoms
that your chill wind brings
But gladly I’d foresake them
to spend a single day
swaying in the spring breeze
with the true love you took away

CAPTOR: (still staring at the ground, absorbed, nods head) Very clever. (Turns, voice resumes harshness). You are desperate, and you are feeble. But you are clever. You can not overcome the stifling weight of your motionless, featureless world by strength, for it is an absolute weight that bears down on you, so you surrender to it. You bare your pretty throat to the force that controls you, hoping that, rather than desire to draw the blade across such a tender throat, I will pity you. Very well, songbird. You wish for song? (Caresses captive’s face beneath scarf, begins unraveling it while speaking. Captive sways back and forth on knees, captor grabs by hair and pulls his head back, presses face close to captive’s, speaks through bared teeth). I will make you dance, my little singer. (They rise, captor sways forward and back, moving drunkenly and haplessly). It is the singer who controls the dancer. It is the pretty song, so innocent and pure, such a seemingly harmless instrument, that grows in the mind and seizes the body, deceitful in its charm, like the malevolent flower plucked for the beauty of its blossoms by someone unsuspecting of the poison that it harbors, that takes control of the dancer and moves them according to its will. Dance! (Word simultaneous with stomp, throws captive, who teeters and stumbles wildly before beginning a crazy, swaying, slow, perpetually off-balance dance). A dancer is precisely what you are. Hapless, pure of heart, having given your body to the beauty that controls it. Dance! (Captive again reels violently) I am the beauty that consumes your body, I am the song that moves you, and I command you to dance! (Captor sings pretty song, causing captive to dance, occasionally punctuating song with violent stomps/beats of percussion, which causes him to reel as if blows are being struck. Eventually they move closer together and embrace, dancing and swaying together. Captive appears feeble, and captor gently lowers hm to ground, sitting down and placing his head in her lap. Captor strokes captive’s face; a complete change of demeanor, to one of tenderness, has overtaken her.)

CAPTIVE: It seems the world was born out of an injury, some great wound inflicted into something that was here before. But I can’t see whatever was here before there was trauma; all I can sense is the horrible motion of everything in existence, every hill and every flower and every creature, flinching from that primordial injury that gave birth to it. Everything is fleeing from the source of its pain, which is the thing that gives it shape. What was it like in the beginning, I wonder?

CAPTOR: Perhaps nothing could take shape, or have any solid substance or living breath, if it were not suffering.

CAPTIVE: I can’t tell where my body is or what it is doing. But it seems as though it is carried on a rushing tide of agony, a roaring blood-red flood. But as it careens through the maelstrom, it occasionally collides with other things, and I try to comprehend them as they tumble by. I think I recognize some of them. A carousel horse, painted gold, its pole broken. A fragment of music. A bird carved from wood, with some tiny round object for an eye embedded in the head that I don’t recognize; a piece of bone or shell? Do I remember these things? Are they from my former life, from when I could still see and move, from when I was young?

CAPTOR: (With a tone of sympathy for the captive’s suffering, the captor tells a completely decontextualized story from their childhood, about something traumatic and definitive. ie something that introduced the person to the understanding that the world was not fair, and contained pain) [Editor’s note: If I had taken the role of the captive, which was not my intention, I would have told a story about a dream I had during a very terrible fever when I was four years old. My girlfriend Lauren, who was planning on collaborating with me as the captor, planned to tell a story about a heavy snow on a farm in Iowa, during which she came to associate the vast fields of snow, littered with the bodies of dead cattle, with the ocean, and how this association of the ocean with pain was reinforced by her first visit to the actual ocean, when she ran toward it and immediately cut her foot on broken glass.]

CAPTIVE: Do my senses rush away from the world, or do they flee from themselves, and cast themselves headlong into the world? Perhaps they assault it. Perhaps my senses, although I am oblivious to them, are invading everything. Perhaps my words are like a knife, a weapon, cutting skin and breaking bone, drawing blood and stopping breath. They pierce the world’s heart, and throb with it, the great quivering of that heart at the center of all things that is afflicted with all of the terrible joy and great agony of experiencing all things in nature simultaneously. I am within this heart, I am of it. I feel my arms reaching up through the soil to twist into the trunks of trees, even as my hands cast lightning bolts down from the sky to split my arms in two. The hand strikes its body. God fights itself. I can feel all of this happening.

CAPTOR: Your pain has made you crazy. You are becoming a madman.

CAPTIVE: Yes. I am a madman. I am a monster, for I resemble the misshapen creator of our world. My mind has been touched by the hideous light, flooded with the image of myself as the world, creating itself in order to know itself. The soil and the rocks desired to comprehend themselves, so they grew me out of them – blood and breath and skin and bone – so that I could look on them, and know them. But now I feel not only myself, when I look on the soil I also think I am looking on myself. And I see my body from the perspective of the soil. I possess two minds. We are recognizing each other. We are gazing on one another. We are mutually aware. There are two selves, two gazers, within me, and I must somehow comprehend both of them looking into each others eyes. I am gazing on a thousand suns. It is more than I can bear.

CAPTOR: (still sympathetic) You see all this, and yet you still can not see me.

CAPTIVE: I can see you in the pattern of random objects that races by me. Any one of them on their own is meaningless – something innocent and pure torn from the good place it once occupied to tumble senselessly on the raging tide – but if I watch them I can see the shape of your body in the pattern of these things flowing by. I can tell where you are, I can see how you move, and I can hear you speaking to me.

CAPTOR: (Grows angry, lifts captive’s head up by hair, snarls) Then do you think, my captive, helpless in your bonds, that you could overcome me?

CAPTIVE: I could fight you. I can sense you. Something is guiding me. I could be free from the weight you have born down on me.

CAPTOR: (roaring) Fool! (Stands abruptly, dropping captive from lap) Hold your tongue! You have no sense of what you are saying or to whom! (Picks up scrap and mallet) You know nothing! You are not the knower, you are the known. I am god! I possess you, I make your body and I give it breath! (God strikes scrap with mallet, standing directly over human, leaning down close to him. Human cries out and writhes in agony) I do not just strike you, I shape your face as it contorts in pain from the blows I strike. I make your body writhe, captive! I give you the voice with which you cry out! (God falters in mid-beat, straining to strike the mallet against the scrap. Human likewise strains on the ground; a contest of wills is occurring. Human’s voice rises gradually into a yell, struggling to break out of bonds, and then very suddenly, as if they have snapped, he beats on chest, stomps on ground, and uses breath as a weapon. God, afflicted, takes a few steps back, raising hands to shield face and head. Human stands and wheels to face god. Does not appear confrontational, but rather, delicate, appealing for peace, hands clasped before chest delicately.)

HUMAN: Don’t you see, god, that I am a part of you, and therefore I can know you, and anticipate your blows? Fight me if you must. But you can not look on me, you can not decide to strike me, without me knowing it, because I am you.

(God does not listen. Strains to strike the metal. Human strains back. Both their voices raise gradually with the effort into yells until abruptly human drops to the ground, rapidly retrieves scrap and a mallet, and beats on it. God is driven back a few steps, until she recovers the effort to strike her own scrap, which silences human. They stand staring at each other in silence. Finally, god strikes. An exchange of blows occurs, with each one almost knocking the victim off their feet until they recover the strength to strike back. Finally, god appears to be winning. Human stands on tiptoes, teetering, almost falling over, back turned to god.)

HUMAN: (Turns rapidly toward god, beginning a battle of words) Clutch your breast and you will feel it, beneath the flesh that heaves with breath, beneath the skin that stings with wounds and aches for the tender caress of the blossoms that flutter from their branches in the breeze, the constant devourer, evercircling, the serpent strikes your heart! Feel how he wends his way

GOD: A lilting flower with a slit throat, sick and stricken, anguished blossom, your mouth hangs open gasping, your cheeks flush with venom, venom floods your veins and venom gives you sweet sleep and peace, your last breath rattles from your limp mouth, making your petals quiver, your blossom loses color. Gasp, flower, surrender

HUMAN: (coming closer to god) The serpent always circles and ever comes closer to the center, undulating pulsing throbbing serpent churning through the oceans and giving birth to all the mountains, always does his tongue sing with the poison that seeks the heart, and the heart, born of great longing, aches and yearns for the poison that seeks it like a lover. Desert, river, blade, center

GOD: (coming closer to human) Gasp, flower, surrender to the blade that strikes your center, surrender to the desert with no river, surrender to the desperate tide of sun that strikes the flat white hot unyielding sand in which you stand. Let the red veil cover your eyes

HUMAN: (God and human are standing face to face, speaking directly into one another) Desert, river, blade, center, unreckonable space with no edge and no center, this is the monster that is also the mouth that gives birth to the river, the desperate tide of venom that flows through the white hot brain that swells in your head. This is the fever that consumes you, this is the hunger that wastes you, this is the taste of the decaying fruit on your tongue

GOD: Let the red veil cover your eyes, let the red sun fill your mind with livid red-hot light and swell your brain and flow out of your mouth as blood, pour forth the desperate tide of venom from your monstrous flower mouth to scorch the earth and give her fever, she undulates and pulses beneath you. Feel her gasp and shudder, bare of food or water, in your hungry roots

HUMAN: Rage! (God is knocked back decisively, begins immediately beating on scrap, but this seems to have the effect of animating human rather that harming him) All things race along their courses – earth circling sun, sun spinning out of the sky night after day and day after night, grass growing toward sun and sinking back again – in a rage! The sun teeters on the axis that sets it down. The mountain
strains against the tether of the ground. The tree pulls away from the soil in which it is bound. All things long for freedom. All things heave and snap and shake in rage! As the boulders pile up above me, as you build the great mountain on top of me, as it forms soil and
grows trees and stands for a thousand years so that I am forgotten, voiceless, nameless, unknown and unknowing, having lost recollection even of my own shape amidst the jumble of rocks that press down on me, reckon the weight of each one as you burden me with it. Reckon the weight of each rock so that you will know the terrible strength that lives in me when I break free of them, when I rise above them. For all these rocks will break on my body, and I will rise above them! Know, god, that among all the monstrosities you created, among all the atrocities you have committed, nothing is so horrible, so boundless and unfettered and insane, as the strength which surges through me. Do you feel it now? Can you feel it within you? That is the rage of tempest that swells my breast. Nothing can withstand its desperate motion as it strikes out against all that confines it.

GOD AND HUMAN: In rage the sun teeters on the axis that sets it down. In rage the mountain strains against the tether of the ground. In rage the tree defies the soil in which it is bound. In rage – in rage – in rage.

HUMAN: The soil is the seed’s universe. It is oblivious, as it longs and strains and reaches to sprout from the ground, to what lies beyond what it has always known. But is is born to strive upward, to whatever grief or joy is beyond. As I rise above the world, as I hurtle through the sky, as I expand in every direction, I do not know what is beyond these stars or the vast and aching blackness they pierce. But I must strive, I must rise. I must go beyond. I must go beyond. I must go beyond. It does not matter whether it is the boundary or myself that is destroyed. I am the transgressor. I am the transgressor. I am the transgressor. May my body break these bonds or may these bonds break my body. I am the fate of the earth. All the light will come to live within me, and I must shine with it or it will die within me, and existence will cease. I am the momentum of life hurtling ever forward. I am all my brothers and sisters
of every kind – all silent standing trees and mottled owls and speckled fish gliding through the light as it shimmers in the water – they are all within me and I am within them. We are a circle and we must rise.

GOD AND HUMAN: In rage the sun teeters on the axis that sets it down. In rage the mountain strains against the tether of the ground. In rage the tree defies the soil in which it is bound. In rage – in rage – in rage.

(God stops percussion)

HUMAN: Please forgive me, whoever you are, that I cause pain to as I strike out in every direction, blind and insane, in my frenzy to be go beyond these horizons. Forgive my violence. I can not help it. I was born with this desperation; it is this very desperation with which I ventured from the womb. Please forgive me, precious flower, should I crush you underfoot as I flee through the field. Know that I love you even though I destroyed you, that I praise your name, and that I wish also to be destroyed by you. I wish for you to be born anew, glorious, verdant, brilliantly blossomed, reveling in your unshakable strength. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It is simply my nature. I must go beyond, as the eagle must swoop down on the hare, as the salmon must swim home to the stream where it was born. I have to go now.

(A moment of silence. God and human look at each other. Human is shaken, grieved.)

HUMAN: Where are we?

GOD: We are together.

HUMAN: I did not recognize you. I have been raving like a madman.

GOD: (opening her arms to him) Come.

HUMAN: Have I hurt you?

GOD: (taking him into her arms, reassuring him) Come. I will take you where you wish to go.

(They walk off stage together)

THE END.

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