Kirsten Jorgenson to Danielle Vogel
At this moment a pair of Carolina Wrens are building a nest in a defunct rain gutter under the eaves of my roof. They are resourceful. They rearrange some recent flood wreckage and debris littered on the ground along the banks of the creek beside my apartment into new forms—possibility space. I want to tell you about these wrens and their nesting habits because your book, as it weaves photographs documenting the construction of your nest sculptures into your notes on your processes and motivations for writing, is nest-like; which is to say, it is radiant with immanence. It creates space for a nascent narrative and body so new, we are only just acquiring the imagination to comprehend them. In this way, your book is also a nest space for your reader. It is a place to grow into a new way of understanding the relationship between narrative, trauma, bodies, and the writer.
Initially written to accompany the exhibition The Amniotics of Seeing at the Abecedarian Gallery’s Emerging Artist Exhibition Program, your Narrative & Nest: Pre-Natal Architecture & Narrative Rituals is, on one level, a meditation on the visceral process of writing and the ritual and rigor required to body forth a book. It investigates, “the book as an appendage of the body—and the body as an appendage for the book,” by “exploring the book, pre-book—meditating within the necessary gestation period of narrative, pre and post ink—through my own muscle memory, and also the muscle memories of thread, paper fiber, and unfired and fired clay” (1–2). Far from a cool, cerebral event, you bring to surface a truth about writing that all writers, I suspect, feel on some level: writing is a sticky corporeal event and exchange. Writing means transformation.
In “A Gestating Narrative,” you invite us to “imagine the many transfusions before, between, and after. Imagine the impossible book and the body as they realize themselves,” as you investigate the “archive of memory stored in the muscle of all bodies, even the body of the book” alongside an image of thread and scroll spilling from the neck of a clay nest (1). The effect is muscular: a discharge of narrative from one form to another. It is also clearly in process. These forms are where you “synesthetically translate the flexing memory of each object to further divine their narrative,” where you “translate or midwife [your] body narratives” (2). One step removed from the objects themselves, this inquiry into their natures becomes another vessel for the developing narrative.
These clay pods, nests and hives literally hold the body-memory of your hands as you shaped them. In “Vesselings” you explore how they become surrogate bodies, necessary to not only examine “what might happen to the cellular structure of a sentence when it unfastens, but is still contained within an incubatory chamber: a body that is not my own body,” but also to reimagine the relationship between trauma and writing, as writing for you is “a slow and often painful, but necessary, ritual of un-archiving a history of traumas” (5). Your emphasis on transfusion within your writing process becomes a way for you to think beyond the formula for trauma narratives toward “a buoyancy [you’ve] not yet learned to create—something beyond trauma and limit, which inverts grammatical patterns until the traumatized body appears in all of its allusiveness and possibly transcends itself” (5). These transfusions also, importantly, “bridge the body out of its collapse,” because trauma, as you point out, severs bodies from language, banishing both body and language outside of the experience (5).
These transfusions are not always seamless. Clay tears, collapses, and fissures, which helps you to process where your “language and form collapse under itself,” while also revealing to you that “these tears and areas of collapse are one of the gifts of trauma. To return to the site and to write from there: to occupy the ripping through the tongue” (6). That you follow this statement with a reflection on scar tissue—“a proliferation of cells, the tight, but ductile gloss of this”—reinforces the generative nature of these ruptures, as, inevitably, a new kind of skin grows between the edges. The image of a vesseling bursting with thread and strips of paper reminds us that what is developing here is that new narrative “beyond trauma and limit” (5).
“Narrative & Nest,” investigates in more depth the demands of writing from the site of trauma through the lessons you learn about being a writer from the “archival and gestational practices found in nature” (9). You write: ,
I’ve come to understand narrative through the nest: that the design must be conditional in order for it to be successful—by this, I mean that in order for a narrative to be effective, it must not only mimic the place from which it originated, but it must be constructed from the matter of the place itself so that the syntax functions to emulate the site of origination. (9)
Not unlike scar tissue, which grows from and within the wound(ed), narrative is an intense locality that allows us to “track the cellular regeneration of the sentence” (10). You observe that writing involves “self-secretion” and the “retrieval of material to produce a desired shape” in order to keep writing rooted with the body. These activities are essential to “prevent unwanted distraction and decay within a narrative and within [the writer]” because, as you learn from the nests, “birds and insects build structures in tension. Many solve the problem of ephemerality with secretions from their own bodies: silk, wax, feathers, and fecal cement” (11). This structural tension, while excellent advice for any narrative, is particularly essential to the construction of a new trauma narrative that aims to “bridge the body out of its collapse” (5).
By “Toward Untraumatizing the Sentence,” you are “beginning to feel [your] own voice and body coming into a kind of focus” (13). Your nests have helped you “offer form to the problem—and gift—of ethereality and collapsibility” as they’ve helped “gestate the body—of the manuscript and also [your] own—as it awaits its own arrival” (13). The process you’ve been tracking through your investigation of prenatal architecture and narrative ritual begins to build its transcendent and transformative momentum as it moves toward birth: mother body reassembling separately from the infant on the other side of her flesh. Like other gestating forms, “the manuscript builds itself with or without you. Sometimes it kills itself. Cannibalizes. Ghosts” (14). Like other gestating bodies suspended between stability and ethereality, you recognize that as the writer you must, “convince yourself, yes, I’ve been living in the belly of a hungry ghost. This thing. That must be invoked into the other side of the body” (14). Poised at the brink, both past and future are ghosts: present absences, energetic residues, not fully habitable. It is not just the new form or manuscript that is theorized in immanence, but also the writer. No one comes back from the exchange. Both are completely new and separate. As emphasis, you end this chapter with a lush colony of nests and their spilling contents. The structures carry the mark of their exchange with your body, exist because of the interaction between your body and the clay, are filled with your content, but are separate from you.
Your book ends with “Narrative Midwifery,” which is a clear articulation of what this project has taught you about the nature of narrative and narrative’s particular relationship with trauma. You begin, “Every nest, like the body and manuscript, has a problem it must move through: functionability. When I say this, I mean that the design must reflect the history and purpose of its composition, and this is infinite” (16). You continue by quoting James Gould and Carol Grant from Animal Architects as they explain, “To begin to understand what goes on when animals build, we need to be aware of the challenges the creatures are trying to overcome,” which helps you to realize that constructing these nests has helped you to “understand how [your] narratives were performing within [you] and upon the page” (16–17). They function as a kind of somatic therapy that allows you to “transgress traumas while weaving a manuscript: they move from the body into the voice; eventually the artifact of the book becomes its own unified body” (18). The narratives you feel nesting inside of you move into nests outside of you through body and voice into their own body, though they also, always bear the mark of their passage.
Danielle, your project emphasizes the visceral, material relationship between a writer and his or her manuscript. In the end you leave us with a book that embodies a nest in the spirit of Gaston Bachelard, whom you quote quoting Jules Michelet:
A house built by and for the body, taking form from the inside, like a shell, in an intimacy that works physically. The form of the nest is commanded by the inside. ‘On the inside,” he continues, “the instrument that prescribes a circular form for the nest is nothing else but the body of the bird. It is by constantly turning round and round and pressing back the walls on every side, that it succeeds in forming this circle […] The house is a bird’s very own person; it is its form and its most immediate effort. I shall even say, its suffering. The result is only obtained by constantly repeating pressure of the breast.
Thank you for this nest. Meditating through the tension of ephemerality and the earth of the body with you as you examine the nest’s relationship to narrative has helped me begin to look for ways to build more a more tensile structure into my own work, which often fights with ephemerality. I look forward, as always, to reading your new work and wish I was in Providence this Saturday (May 4th) to see your exhibition of these pieces at AS220 Project Space.
Kirsten Jorgenson lives amidst birdsong and gunshot in Western North Carolina.