The Weight Of The World
/ A Conversation with Etel

Etel Adnan, The Weight of The World (2016), Serpentine Galleries, London

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I read Etel Adnan’s latest book: “Surge.” My friend told me that it was

darker, more morose, “less Etel.” “It’s still romantic, though” she said so as to comfort me. What prompted her to think that that would comfort me remains beyond my knowledge. Etel Adnan’s work never comforted me. I never felt that I fully understood it. It made me uneasy—a kind of unease I only feel when I read her work. It is a particular one that I never managed to put my finger on. The work is beautiful, a term often deemed to be pejorative. Frowned upon when used. But it’s beautiful in a way that terrifies you, “shocks [you] shitless.”[1]It’s beautiful in a way that only Etel Adnan’s prose can be. Take, for example:

"And of white butterflies the sea is inundated. A fabulous verse, for one needs trillions of butterflies to fill this image-equation, Gerard having seen at once the power of the infinitely small when it agglomerates. There's no denying it: in Beirut, it is the sea which calls for intimacy because it often resembles people's eyes. It is she who gives us the desire to live at the dimensions which are ours: taking walks, running into someone, wanderings, amorous ornonchalant, despair annihilating us because the sea's green is even more translucid when it appears behind the cactus bushes, it's a tear in a solar plant. The ocean pushes you to absolute solitude." – Etel Adnan, Life Is A Weaving.

In 2016, Adnan created a series of prints titled “The Weight of The World / Le Poids Du Monde.” The series consists of 20 paintings, all featuring at least one circle. No one knows what the circles are really meant to represent. Whether they stood for the all-seeing eye, the sun, the moon, or the tension between forms and the canvas, is anyone’s guess. Did they stand for the weight? This weight is supposed to be invisible. It cannot—physically speaking—be perceived by the naked eye. The weight was the invisible tension between the canvas and the world.

- Etel Adnan, The Weight of The World (2016), Serpentine Galleries, London

Some conversations can be invisible —wait, can conversations be invisible? I’m not entirely sure whether that’s physiologically possible.

(Conversations are audible, they are something that we listen to, or partake in; but they cannot be perceived by the naked eye, hence they are invisible.)

Is the weight of the world invisible? Is it quantifiable?

I had never seen any of Adnan’s work in real life up until this past summer, when, on a visit to the Sursock Museum in Beirut, I happened to stumble upon one of her large-scale tapestries. I’d been taken by photographs I’ve seen online of her paintings and tapestries, but it was something else to see a creation of hers in real life. A very specific radiance emanated from it, a certain light, a semblance of a memory.

Writers always say that they are in conversation with their predecessors, the writers and thinkers who influenced them. Am I in conversation with Etel?

Degradation followed display, reified and emptied. The circle was treated like the loneliest of things. It lived within the confines of the canvas, the confines of sharp corners, and lines that break.

There is more work in interpreting interpretations than in interpreting things.

Of Mount Tamlpais, Etel explains: “It was my point of reference, it was like a pole, that when I saw it I felt like home.” In Surge, she did away with possessive pronouns: “During a darkest night I did away with the word “I” on my way to being just a being. The land was of the past. We will soon return to inhabiting trees (if any are left).”

Sometimes, I don’t know where to take and what to do with this body of mine: this body that needs to be constantly fed, washed, hydrated, scrubbed, clothed, informed and taken care of. Can I do away with it on my way to being just a being?

How do we construct being? How do we construct that which we cannot perceive?

The multiverse is composed of a quantum superposition of infinitely many, increasingly divergent, non-communicating parallel universes or quantum worlds. All outcomes exist simultaneously but do not interfere further with each other. Each single prior world had split into mutually unobservable but equally real worlds. The others are invisible to the one and the one invisible to the others.

12. a.
Every lie creates a parallel world: the world in which it’s true. It is a frequent habit when I discover several resemblances between two things to attribute equally to both points in which they are in reality different.

“Combined with this was another perversity – an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of representation. I like things that appeared; then one was sure. Whether they were or not was a subordinate and almost always a profitless question.” Henry James, The Real Thing

Now I have asked this question before: how do we construct becoming? 

I am yet to excavate an answer.

Existing is in and of itself a form of breakage, consisting of a series of schisms: the first one happens in the womb, when chromosomes split and take either the form of XX or XY. How does the subject construct a form of becoming that emerges from within these schisms? How does it seep through the cracks and thread itself into a web of (invisible) synapses that make one what they are (becoming)?

“We witness night as the result of high-jacking of light, a home for despair. A thousand souls in one body, in one soul… body and soul dying at different times, different speeds.”[2]— Is the light of day a daily planned obsolescence? A trick played by the multiverse?

[1] Anzaldúa Gloria, and AnaLouise Keating. The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. Duke University Press, 2009.

[2] Adnan, Etel. Surge.Nightboat Books, 2018.

New York, Beirut