241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Tunnel

Gluiding is one of the 11 different prefaces of the publication Het is begonnen. Onderweg met Georges Perec (It Has Begun. On the Road with Georges Perec).

Imagine a tunnel with walls that are lit. Inside the tunnel lays a conveyor belt. A desk stands on top of the conveyor belt. On the desk are books and sheets of paper filled with notes. Behind a chair at this desk I sit. I’m working on my thesis. The conveyor belt is moving. As soon as we – the desk, the chair, the books and the sheets, and me – reach the end of the tunnel, the belt starts moving in the opposite direction. I’m floating through the tunnel while writing, back and forth, from left to right and from right to left. On the lit walls bright colored sentences are scribbled. I read them every time that I look up from my desk: whenever I daydream, ponder, drift off, eat a sandwich, txt my love. They guide me. I can’t get rid of them. They guide me, but I can’t get rid of them.

In random order (a contradictio in terminis inside a written text):

Ik ben geen antropoloog, socialist of schrijver. Ik ben een documentarist. Georges Perec
Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. Walker Evans
If I could do it I’d do no writing at all here. James Agee
I have always felt that my task is not to create meaning but only to charge the air so that meaning can occur. Todd Hido
If only you do not try to utter what is unutterable, then nothing gets lost. The unutterable will be - unutterably - contained in what has been uttered. Ludwig Wittgenstein
Waarnemeing is een nooit eindigende reeks van niet-beslissende momenten, die volop mogelijkheden bieden voor wie het zien wil. Paul Graham
If I come up with a clear idea, I realize I have to open it up. Alec Soth
To be original, demands isolation. Leonardo da Vinci
I have never taken a picture I’ve intended. They’re always better or worse. Diane Arbus
There doesn’t seem to be any tomorrow. Every time I wake up, no matter in what position, it’s always been today. Bob Dylan
The desire to show authorship in art has a negative effect on very many works. Wolfgang Tillmans
Taking photographs is a way of shouting. Henri Cartier-Bresson
I’m just the wind on the road that’s gonna pass you by. Gillian Welch
Gevonden woorden zijn soms het meest puur omdat ze niets met jou van doen hebben. Ik neem dingen zoals ze zijn. Veel van die dingen komen uit de ruis van het alledaagse leven. Ed Ruscha
Er zijn mogelijkheden voor mij, zeker, maar onder welke steen liggen ze? Franz Kafka
You see those headlights coming towards us? – That’s someone going back. Conor Oberst
We expect a movie to be a comedy or a drama. We expect writing to be serious writing or humorous writing. But we don’t label our days Serious Days or Humorous Days.We know that each day contains endless nuances. But we are often loathe to allow this in our art. And that is too bad. Dave Eggers
Regarde de tous tes yeux, regarde! Georges Perec
As Robert Frost told a person who asked him what one of his poems meant: “You want me to say it worse?” Robert Adams
I think I am asking a very simple question: how to use my eyes. How can I begin to see in things something other than what I have become accustomed to seeing? Georges Perec
Over time, I have come to believe that we live in several landscapes at once, among them the landscape of hope. Robert Adams
So long as a man’s eyes are open in the light, the act of seeing is involuntary. Herman Melville
Use delay instead of picture. It’s merely a way of succeeding in no longer thinking that the thing in question is a picture – to make a delay of it. Marcel Duchamp
Het menselijk bewustzijn en de menselijke ervaring vormen het domein van de kunstenaar. Bas Heijne
I just had the feeling that I wanted to keep going back to the same ideas, knowing that they would be different, yet still the same. Harry Callahan
Ik zeg niet hoe je moet denken, maar dat je kunt denken. Rednas Gaahedtiu
Television, advertising, popular culture, media intrusion, Internet, are part of our environment the way clouds and trees were a hundred years ago. David Foster Wallace
A word = a little zone of thought. Ed Ruscha
Waardeer mij en ik heb zin. Paul Bogaert
De meeste van ons bezoeken musea om uit te vissen wie we zijn. Chris Decron
Het gebrek aan kritisch vermogen is het gevolg van de wijze waarop de wereld is voorgekauwd en herkenbaar gemaakt door de beeldenstorm van de media. We kunnen niet langer alles verwerken en we willen niet langer alles zien. Susan Sontag
So what? What are insights? They don’t help any. They just make things harder. Raymond Carver
There is more to a picture than meets the eye. Neil Young
I have nothing to say and I am saying it. John Cage
Variety is the spice of life. Cabdriver Brooklyn
The significance of play is by no means defined or exhausted by calling it ‘not earnest’ or ‘not serious’. Play is a thing by itself. The play-concept as such is of higher order than is seriousness. For seriousness seeks to exclude play, whereas play can very well include seriousness. Johan Huizinga
Imperfectie is een vorm van verzet geworden tegen de commerciële cultuur, een alternatief voor de ‘debiliserende amusementscultuur’ en commerciële comateuze schoonheid, de onmenselijke leegte van perfect geconstrueerde vormen. Nicoline Timmer
The important thing is not to understand, but simply to attempt to communicate. Albert Einstein
If you are bothered by this being real, pretend it is fiction. Dave Eggers

This text is a fragment of Het is begonnen. Onderweg met Georges Perec (It Has Started, On the Road with Georges Perec). It consists of 11 texts, all of them prefaces to a possible research into the connections between the writing experiments of French novelist Georges Perec and practices in visual art, concentrated on Sander Uitdehaag’s own work and life. The prefaces are very diverse in style and content and can be read in random order, and together make up a meta-story: a search for the right tone and the best beginning.

Het is begonnen and other publications are for sale via: sanderuitdehaag@gmail.com.

“I’m not made of sugar,” says Juri Rytchëu when I offer him a place under my umbrella. And so, his denim jacket slowly becomes completely drenched while we make our way to his residence just outside the centre of St. Petersburg. It’s no wonder that he’s impervious to a downpour. The Chukchian writer (74) was born in Ouelen, a region in the far north eastern part of Sibera on the Bering Strait. He lived in a tent made of animal hide until he was seventeen. Of the approximately fifteen thousand souls that make up his tribe, the Chukchi, he is the first and only writer. His mother tongue is Chukchi. He learned Russian in school, and his English is rudimentary.

For half a century, Rytchëu has divided his time between his area of birth and St. Petersburg. His apartment, part of a casern from 1903 that was once turned into a residential building, is full of Russian literature, arranged behind small glass doors. On his desk are ten or so paperweights in the shape of dogs and polar bears. Rytchëu is the son of a hunter. The bottle of Dutch brandy brought along as a present disappears soundlessly into the fridge. ‘Since I was born I’ve never drank anything stronger than mother’s milk.’ That cannot be said of the characters of his novels.

‘I am the only professional writer in my part of the world. Putting our imagination into words is relatively new to us. Until the nineteen-thirties there was no written form of Chukchi.’ Rytchëu wrote three novels and many short stories. In his Chukchi Bible or the Last Shaman of Ouelen, not yet translated into Dutch, Rytchëu records old and new legends from his people, following the structure of the Bible. He also elaborates on the genealogy of his own family. ‘I write the history of my people. I describe what I know, what I’ve experienced. Some thought that my source would soon run dry, but I have plenty of stories left in my head. What I write is universal. It belongs to others just as much. When I started reading classical literature – Tolstoy, Gorky, Chekov, Dickens – I was very surprised that their characters were ordinary people. They were just like me! That was a great discovery for me. Literature might be the best form of communication. If you merely speak to someone, person to person, you never fully surrender yourself.’ All literature emerges from human life, stresses Rytchëu, from human history.

What Rytchëu writes has to be true. That’s his only literary criterion. ‘My task is to write the truth of my people. When asked about the relation between fact and fiction, Hemingway replied that what he had written was true and what he saw around him wasn’t.’

The same applies to Rytchëu, except that he takes this statement very literally. ‘You know, I used to read a great many books on our people. All of them are nonsense, and all of them are written by whites. That’s why I’ve become a writer. I wanted to put an end to those fables.’

‘What did they write, then?’

‘Maybe worst of all was that they idealised us. We were portrayed as arctic animals, sincere, pure, and free of wicked tendencies. Twaddle, of course. Lying and theft occur amongst us just the same. My kin is like all others. I wanted to testify to that.’

Through a variety of mythologies, Rytchëu arrives at his grandfather, Mletkin, the last shaman of the Chukchi, who call themselves Louoravetlan, or ‘real people’. The shaman, the wisest of all, has knowledge of medicinal herbs, assumes leadership during crises, christens the newborn and communicates, in the name of the populace, with the gods, to whom he regularly dedicates sacrifices. In his book, Rytchëu narrates how Mletkin, in his pursuit for reindeer, whales and a woman, ends up in Alaska and the United States. This happens against his will: he isn’t able to read his contract. The icy sea frozen shut, his way home is blocked off. In order to make some money, Mletkin accepts the offer to represent his tribe as part of the Universal Ethnological Exposition of 1898 held in Chicago. He is exhibited in an original jaranga (a round tent made of reindeer hide) and, by performing his rites as a shaman, becomes one of its top attractions. The chapter is hilarious, as Mletkin is pelted with paper clots like a monkey by the obtuse public. That relations would never be restored between the Chukchi and the Americans goes without saying.

Nonetheless, Rytchëu speaks mildly of those who came to his native land to exploit its resources for their gain. He doesn’t hold a grudge against his character, Mr. Carpenter, a Canadian from his novel A Dream in Polar Fog, who trades with the Chukchi, buying their hides and selling them Winchesters and liquor. ‘None of the sort, Carpenter is just a link to the rest of the world. Some say that European culture has spoiled our pure and untainted character, but that’s simply not true. If you want to belong to the human species, you’ll have to accept all its aspects, the good and the bad. It makes no sense to construct a wall between us and the rest of the world.’

(...)

What, according to Rytchëu, is the essence of European literature? ‘Let me answer you by way of a passage from Tolstoy’s journal. His maid, an elderly woman who lived in with him, asked him to remove the clock from her room. It would tick out loud, which she could not bear. With every ‘tick’ she thought she heard the question: who are you? Who am I? Who are you? Who am I? Literature serves to answer this everlasting question.’