Archive of Devastation (Derek Jarman’s ‘Blue,’ part 8)

Waves of icy sulphadiazine breaking on the farther shores after we have crossed over in a blizzard of pills, a rainbow-coloured confetti of serpent poisons, sharp-toothed as the adder.  Words, no longer strung out on the lines of narrative, escape and hang round corners waiting to jump out of the dictionary, restore primal disorder.  The emerald apple sits on my bedside table, its perfection disordered in my mind’s eye…. Apple of my eye.

Someone else says losing your sight must be frightening.  Not so, as long as you have a safe harbour in the sea of shadows.  Just inconvenient.  If you woke on a dark day, had only the mind’s eye with which to see your way, would you turn back?

My drip ticks away a long afternoon.  The sulphadiazine battles with the cysts to bring me second sight.  By tea time the migraine takes over.  They play the ‘theme tune’ from Death in Venice as I enter the brain scan….

My eyes are back, I can read.  Though the grey shadows circle at the periphery, and the drugs make me dizzy and disorientated…. I could be out by Saturday.  I’m stronger, have put my weight back on; but feel like an invalid.  I can’t believe I’ll ever be well again.  The drugs have brought on a rash.  I’ll be on them for life, and how long will that be?

The lilies Lynn sent me have lasted eight days.

A woman leads a blind child slowly down the stairs.

In the vision field you gaze for an eternity at small bright lights and press a buzzer each time lights flash on and off.  It is confusing and my eyes, heavy with antihistamine, fall asleep.  An eye for an eye.  I return to the waiting room….

I wish I had brought a video and recorded these last weeks here….

What the eye doesn’t see the mind doesn’t grieve for….

The day of our death is sealed up.  I do not wish to die…yet.  I would love to see my garden through several summers….

I view the world through drunken eyes….

The horizon has closed in….

X-rays take an age.  I hate this waiting room…. A sign says Come Early, Save Time.  [Modern Nature, 304 ff]

The language of these journal entries and others like them affords an opportunity – and imposes a certain obligation – to read Jarman reading, as it links the threat of blindness posed by HIV not merely with a de rigueur clock-watching “during the long hours” in hospital waiting rooms and wards, but with an imperative to read the time even as he continues to record “across the empty page” a time that is “all awry” (“My weakness is my inability to grasp that literate and intelligent people could do anything but agree that this time is all awry” [Smiling, 111]).  And the responsibility to read the time is not Jarman’s alone.  Indeed, its urgency is not confined to those already suffering the incalculable effects of the virus, among them the foreclosing of life’s horizon.  The journal’s intermittently apostrophic mode – here, “If you woke on a dark day, had only the mind’s eye with which to see your way, would you turn back?” – directs the imperative not only to its eventual readers, but more generally to all persons of voice:  first, second and third.  By way of a question that, once again, is neither simply rhetorical nor strictly hypothetical, the prospect of blindness evokes the perhaps compensatory and certainly allegorical figuration of a supplementary “vision” (the “mind’s eye,” “second sight,” an “eye for an eye”), allowing for the possibility that “blindness may be a blessing, even the gift of poetic and political clairvoyance, the chance for prophecy” (Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, 1993, 128).  All as the drip delivers the drugs that Jarman will be on “for life, and how long will that be?”, even as it “ticks away a long afternoon.”  Appearing three years later, his last film will allude (again apostrophically) to the long duration of the brief time remaining:  “This illness knocks you for six / Just as you start to forget it / A bullet in the back of the head / Might be easier / You know, you can take longer than / The second world war to get to the grave”  (Blue, 26).

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

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