Notes upon the mystic writing pad.

I’m starting to imagine that I’m putting together a kind of archive (the plural Weymouths suggesting a collection, a repetition, multiples), but it’s also reasonable to think that I may be taking one (or several) archives apart. Every history or collection or body of knowledge I come across in relation to Weymouth seems like fair game for re-thinking, re-framing or deconstruction. In Archive Fever, Derrida writes of typographic traces and the surface (substrate) upon which one writes (keeping records), the externalization of memory (hypomnesis) — ideas I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around since Rome. And the archiviolithic (a force that leaves no trace of itself behind — destruction of the archive).

And then —

“Archivable meaning is also and in advance codetermined by the structure that archives. It begins with the printer.”

Derrida writes of the “mystic pad” — an exterior, archival model of the psyche’s recording and memorization apparatus. He’s referring to the short essay “A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad” (PDF) (1925), where Freud outlines his theory: the erasable wax tablet as a perfect illustration of the tenuous link between perception and memory — a form of note-taking that is both unlimited and yet retains a permanent trace:

“None the less, I do not think it is too far-fetched to compare the celluloid and waxed paper cover with the system Pcpt.-Cs. (perception consciousness) and its protective shield, the wax slab with the unconscious behind them, and the appearance and disappearance of the writing with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception.”

A beautiful idea in its simplicity and the richness that comes along with the metaphor (drawing, writing, erasure, forgetfulness, impressions on a skin). And I can’t help but try to conjure up Freud’s premonition, 85 years later, in the form of today’s pads:

“It is true, too, that, once the writing has been erased, the Mystic Pad cannot ‘reproduce’ it from within; it would be a mystic pad indeed if, like our memory, it could accomplish that.”

A Note Upon the Mystic Writing Pad

What if a book could be a mystic pad, just as Freud describes? Not a Kindle book (flickering-up and passing away), but a book printed on paper, or a series of 12 books on paper. Somehow, in the construction of the material at hand, in the design of the book(s), perception stays on the surface (the stimuli), but opens up (gives up space) for memory to come and go, associations and impressions. An unfixed, indefinite presentation of history…an archive of indeterminacy. I’m not sure what this looks like yet.

So much material, everywhere I look. From a map of Native American trails to the original 1642 deed between the Wampanoag and the English settlers to Frank Lloyd Wright’s recollection of Weymouth from the three years he spent there as a child, to the River Wey to the Weymouth curb to the Osmington White Horse of 1808. And Hal. Each hub implies an entire archive of memory — separate memoirs, histories, collections. Data to be grabbed (tweets, weather records, google images), photos to be taken (the Portland stone buildings of London and NYC).

I’m starting to see one goal forming, sooner rather than later: the creation of a score.


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