Palimpsest

I dreamed last night of

driving in my car, looking for a place to refuel in a strange setting. I pull up to a BP station which looks industrial, messy–trucks, bowsers, mud, oil, puddles, disused buildings. No attention given to attracting customers, purely functional. Fill up and get out of there. I try a few pumps but cannot get any petrol so I ask where can I get some. A man points me across the busy freeway to a tall modern-looking building. You can go there and get some on the third floor. Odd location for petrol but I go, looking for a way to drive across the busy freeway. And then, the word “palimpsest” starts up and repeats, as I slowly begin to wake up.

This dream occurred the night after I had finished my essay, For the Love of Emptiness! The first sentence I wrote in that essay is:

Four months post-surgery for my brain tumour and I am cast into, not a Field of Dreams, but a field of emptiness. I wake up with my customary headache and fatigue, with a shard or two of dream-stuff tenuously wafting briefly around the edges of my discomfort, before wisping away again.

My usually regular occurrence of dreams at night had evaporated under the intrusion of these early morning headaches. And I was a bit worried. I went on to comfort myself by saying that emptiness could well be the condition for any movement to start up in the imagination. After all, “The lion roars at the enraging desert”—a sound that will surely stir movement or wake the Dead.

And then this dream came, the night after finishing the essay. It begins with an image of emptiness (empty tank) and my failure to “fill it up”. So, filling up the emptiness is not supported. Instead I am encouraged to stay in that emptiness and go where I am told to go, i.e., at right angles to the “flow of traffic”, ie mechanical locomotion (things literally moving). As I do so, a psychic movement starts up. “Palimpsest” drifts across my mind. 

In my essay, I wrote that I was sure my previous form of “service to the god”, the dithyrambic urge that had driven me to feverishly write for decades (I finished my doctoral thesis in ten days…) has withdrawn and I now had to wait for something entirely new, a fresh page as it were. But, intriguingly, the palimpsest suggests another movement altogether. As the term indicates:

Ancient ruins, antique furniture, and battered toys that show the effects of their past can be seen as palimpsests, relating information about their histories. A palimpsest then may be anything having diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath its surface.

So it’s is not simply a matter of my starting afresh, a clean slate. In art for example, palimpsests are formed when the artist redraws over the original and future observers may detect traces of the original beneath the surface. Speaking of traces, Derrida showed that language itself may thought as a palimpsest, and there is the discipline of hermeneutics which shows how the traces of past meaning in texts may be revivified in… STOP! Although my mind is now moving along these exciting tributaries and quickly accelerating into rapids and whirlpools, I feel a note of caution here. My mind’s tendency to rush off into these directions may lead me too far from the dream’s “intent” which aims for the unknown future. I need to respect the unfamiliar aspect of the dream, slow down, hear its unknown qualities. I need to distinguish between my mind’s quick movements which are always in terms of the familiar past and the often slight, tremulous movements that can spring from the emptiness, as happened in my dream. Wait, be attentive to other, related psychic movements that resonate with this movement of overwriting!

Now there’s a surprise, right there: overwriting. I did not intend to write “overwrite” but here it is! I have never explored this new movement before…. overwriting! Now what’s the difference between a palimpsest and an action of overwriting? Stop! Stop! You are at it again. Slow down, wait, there is probably more to come.

be patient!
stay in the emptiness
as the emptiness 

I’ll let you know….

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