Who am I? Automatic Writing:
[Marcantonio Raimondi: The Dream of Raphael (1508)]
The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis
© Jack Ross 2006
For Ken, again
Acknowledgements are due to the following for the use of texts and extracts:
- The quotations on the two title-pages come from Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt. 1954. Penguin Classics (London: Penguin, 2003), pp. 366-67 & 304.
- The text on pp. 41-43 comes from Sabine Baring-Gould, A Book of Folk-Lore (London: Collins, n.d.), pp. 107-11.
By the time he climbed off at the wharf, he’d forgotten getting onto the boat. As for anything before that – the wave, the beach, the girl – it was lost in an irredeemable past.
“Where am I?” he wondered, as he followed the crowds down the gangplank, through the medley of barren thriftless shops flanking the street exit, and out into the vacancy of a summer afternoon.
“Who am I?”
There didn’t seem to be anyone to ask. Everyone was moving so fast, commuters rapt in their dream of home, that it seemed impertinent to break into their self-absorption, force himself upon their notice, beg to be redeemed.
Groping in the pocket of his jeans, he found a pencil. In the other pocket, the left one, there was a notebook:
said the inscription on the cover.
Good, then he’d anticipated this … what could one call it? This absence of mind, this fugue, this flight from all that was stable and well-formed. Already the ferry itself was hard to grasp, drifting off into its own, self-generated mist.
“Forward,” his mind seemed to be saying, “Don’t dwell on all that.” There was nothing for it than acceptance of this concrete footpath, these bollards, this – yes – green-painted bench.
He sat down in the sun and started to read:
The procedure is as follows:
• sit in darkness, pen poised on the paper
(loose blank sheets of A4)
• clear your mind
wipe reflections from the mirror
still the waters of the well
• don’t look at what you’re writing
(connections may be posited subsequently)
• Keep a level head
• Take careful note of names / dates / places
• Themes & incidents may – or may not –
• Recovery may – or may not –
be a matter of years not days
Session 1 (4/9 – 8.44 a.m.):
mirrors were forbidden in the royal household
so princess tela had never seen herself
could she in fact have been said to know herself
lacking as she did that necessary self image
that sense of what can be seen through anothers eyes
of course she had seen other girls
the servants and ladies in waiting
who surrounded her at all times
she had to imagine she looked like one of them
waking this day unusually before dawn she
Tela and Sabra
The Princess and the Slumgirl
A Princess of Atlantis
A Princess of Lemuria √
Session 2 (6/9 – 8.37 a.m.):
the rumble of the earthquake woke her a little before dawn the glass of water at the head of her bed was still vibrating with a single ringing tone as the walls and beams of the palace creaked and groaned under the strain slipping out from under the smooth lion skin naked as she was born she walked to the window and stared out over the troubled city the darkness was broken here and there by flames screaming voices she couldnt be sure but she suspected one of the watchtowers had fallen there seemed to be some shift in the ridges of darkness which were all she could see in the penumbra
she felt on edge disturbed her nerves unnaturally alert thats how it generally was of course one couldnt simply turn over and go back to sleep after one of these events it was worse during the day in any case then one could sometimes feel the tremor approaching like a wave of upheaval rushing across the land smooth and irresistible all one could do was brace for the shock and wait till it was over
dont show fear that was the most important thing dont show fear that was what her father had told her not long before he died we have a position to safeguard people look up to us if any of us ever loses control then the others will too father never lost control not even when the mountain spewed flame that last time not even when he marched towards the lava flow holding the whip and flail he died like a king thats what they said about him shed only been a little girl at the time but she still remembered the spurt of hot tears blinding her at the last minute she hadnt turned her head away though that was what theyd been emphasizing to her for days you mustnt turn your head away so shed seen him die seen the lava grind across him as nonchalant as it was pitiless but the next day it stopped the day her uncle was anointed the new king
she shook her head this was no time to rake up those old memories only yesterday shed been telling herself that it was time to grow up take more interest in the conduct of the kingdom otherwise it might be truly said her father had died in vain as for her uncle she shuddered thinking of his bloated hateful face those fat white hands tufted with bristles shed learnt to avoid those hands ever since shed realised he wanted something from her not just to marry her off to one of her cousins consolidate the kingdom for himself and his family of toad like children but something unutterable for himself
dawn was beginning to break now over the harbour rim lighting up the docks and cranes the little ships moored out in the channel it was a rare day now that passed without a tremor of some kind so people had learned to live with them ships would