Archive of Devastation (Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue,’ part 7)

But in Blue, crucially, the IV drip is also more and other than a medical technology, for “The drip ticks out the seconds, the source of a stream along which the minutes flow, to join the river of hours, the sea of years and the timeless ocean” (Blue, 18).  It functions here as a kind of prosthetic timepiece that measures or marks the time remaining, on the order of a watch, a clock (at this stage, the soundtrack reproduces the differential ticking of multiple clocks), and eventually a calendar.  [In 1991, Jarman published Today and Tomorrow, a perpetual calendar that featured reproductions of a number of his paintings.  Cf. Blue:  “The darkness comes in with the tide / The year slips on the calendar” (20).]  Indeed, the passage recalls a series of journal entries dating from July 1990, when “I was taken into hospital…for an emergency brain scan, which picked up the toxoplasmosis that had destroyed my sight in the previous days” (Modern Nature, 304).  Modern Nature records an early stage in Jarman’s gradual loss of vision under the assault of successive opportunistic infections, chronicled further in Smiling in Slow Motion and both thematized and figured in Blue.  In part because the language of the journals informs so much of the artist’s subsequent writing, painting and film, it warrants citation at some length.

No books to read, no newspapers.  So, what did I think about during the long hours?

I watched the clock.

On the first day its face was a fuzzy halo, the digits telescoped and disappeared.

On the second day I could see the red second hand move in a jumble of black.

On the third day I paused, looked and looked again and read the time.

On the fourth day I could read the numbers round the dial….

Beware of very hot water reads the sign above the basin.  The number 13 in the corridor slowly came into focus.  It’s 11:25, I have written three pages.  My writing is illegible.  It is remarkably easy to lose your sight:  a bad headache on a Friday evening and words slide off the pages.  Within a few days they disappear altogether.

In the waiting room of the West London Eye Hospital I was barely aware of the drip sticking in my arm watched by curious children.  I read the flashing dot in the machines and longed to get back into my bed….

I feel I should be able to record more than I have or more deeply and find I cannot….

My symptoms are a first.  I will be written up in the BMJ….

I see the blue sky veiled with shadows….

The nurse said today that this must be a frightening experience.  It isn’t, just aggravating – so silly to lose your eyes.  I can write clearly and in straight lines across the gloomy page.  How many aftershocks must I endure until my body, broken, desiccated and drained of colour, fails to respond.  I live in a permanent hangover, after years of good health.  A little green light flashes in the drip, the cool poison runs into my arm….

Blind as a bat he took to finding his way with sonar, flitting this way and that across the empty page, the starchy whiteness of a page of St. Mary’s foolscap.  Silent as the salt lakes, dazzling, blinding white to the horizon.  [Modern Nature, 304 ff]

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Filed under Books, Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

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