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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

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MAY 2020 Issue
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The Twofold Room

The Twofold Room is an artist’s book in which Montreal-based artist, Marie-Michelle Deschamps uses the metaphor of the hotel to describe language. In her practice, language is material and protocol. She investigates not just the politics of language but its diverse manifestations—translation, world literature, and linguistic theories—writing adaptation, mnemonic devices, or human voice. The Twofold Room takes the reader on a journey following a horizontal line—a line that starts with a red carpet, breaks at a reception desk, deploys itself endlessly in the hallway, and folds at the bedroom, where suddenly another appears, as it is, evidently, a double room. In the bedroom, the description goes back and forth from the bodies of language to the bodies of the guests, pleasurably intertwined in bed together. Deschamps’s interest in the losses and gains through the process of translation illustrated a mode of construction based on altered meanings. Just like a foreign language, the hotel is an abstract location that, through a visual and literary discovery process, becomes a familiar one. She explores the variable, contagious and potent nature of language as a fluid and shared form. This book, written in English and then translated into French (this artist’s mother tongue) by Colette Tougas, explores the loss of identity caused by moving from one language to another. Upon the invitation of this month's guest critic, Daisy Desrosiers, the last chapter of the book is presented as a special contribution.

THE TWOFOLD ROOM

The door leading to the room develops like a seed, it is the fold at the end of the line.


Before, it was a question of the inaccessible ears, of the eyes, and of the entrance, the door-mouth. To enter the bedroom is to enter the intimate space of the hotel’s body, to step into the palace-palate (palais-palais) where the tongue dwells. 33

Like the hallway, the room is an area set within another, but also detached and estranged from it with the help of partitions. We feel at this particular moment the illusion that we are alone in the building. Settling here, we are subtracted from it.

***

The bedroom is often composed of three doors (one leading to the hallway, one to the closet, and one to the bathroom), a bed, a desk with a single chair, a mirror, and a window covered by a curtain. Upon entering this area, the first way of appropriating it is with our bodies, generally by sitting. We usually do that to begin with, as it is far less involved than lying down.

It seems easy to imagine that it is a space where we generally feel the contentment of solitude or the pleasure of being a pair—probably because the seating is limited here. (I should probably point out that to sit is to fold the body in two, three, four, or more, depending on whether or not you have good posture, and on where you are sitting.)

This appeal to sit usually brings us to the bed.

We generally utilise the page in the larger of its two dimensions. The same goes for the bed. The bed (or, if you prefer, the page) is a rectangular space longer that it is wide, in which, or on which, we normally lie lengthwise.34

The bed is the most important part of the room: even the room’s appellation is derived from it. In the bedroom that is mine, here in the hotel, the double bed is made of two single beds held together tightly by the tension of the contour sheet. This contour delineates the frontier, the space I can occupy when I sprawl. This bed has two sides—two tongues?—for me to lie down on. However, gravity (or is it some kind of hidden fear of falling off?) usually pulls me towards the middle; in such cases, I always end up in the zone of inseparability —the uncomfortable area of the crease.35

***

As the I falls into this fold—the fold itself composed of an infinity of little folds, folded over on themselves—it hides because it does not know which side to lie on.36

After all, text means tissue, a ready-made veil, behind which we lie, more or less hidden. Lost in this texture, the subject unmakes itself, like a spider unmaking the constructive secretions of its web.37

These are not the only folds of the bed. Every day, as the maid makes it (it is only she who knows how to put it together properly), attiring it with pristinely ironed white sheets (a blank space upon which I can recline), she carefully folds it at the top, creating a margin of sorts, an opening where the inside appears—a tricky way of enticing me with the desire to enter it. In truth, the I is never shy to break this structure, to write in this margin with its indelible ink. The I places its head in the margin of the bed.

Lying between these sheets, mobile, opaque, fleeting, the I’s body is more vulnerable, more transparent, far more legible. It is a clear and distinguished zone of expression.

For some perverts, isn’t the sentence a body?38

Stretched out, extended, the I lies horizontally, becomes a horizon. In changing orientation, the I rapidly shifts from portrait to landscape: a scene where the I is found on an island, surrounded by beaches of fine white sand. Here more lines are written—ripples, fringed, capricious curves where the fine sand meets the noisy rolling of the waves—but these lines are erased as quickly as they are engraved. The more these come and go, the more the I loses itself, alone here in this deserted land. That explains why there is the need to go for a swim sometimes, when calm waters are found around the island.

As they are surrounded by water, islands are often unstable habitats, and as if from a fold of space or a hollow in the world,39 they are pray to the turbulent wind and sea: hurricanes, tidal waves, tsunamis—a paradox, as the island itself is a place where the I runs aground and seeks refuge. Intuitively, when praying to such invasions, the I looks for a point that cannot be reached by the attack. This is when the I curls up in bed (usually folding in three), completely covered by the sheet, a protection in case the sky were to fall on its head.

(il lit) ile=lit40 li=il

The bed is the remote, deserted island where we live alone or as a duo; the hotel is the archipelago, a conglomeration of horizontal Is in bed. There is comfort in the grouping of islands, in nestling close to neighbouring rooms. Sometimes to be at peace, alone on the island, one needs the thought of someone or something somewhere else.

Continents reject mixings... whereas archipelagos make it possible to say that neither each person’s identity nor the collective identity are fixed and established once and for all. I can change through the exchange with the other, without losing or diluting my sense of self.41

***

The bed is not the only place to write in the room, as the desk is supplied daily with a sizable amount of hotel letterhead on which to write or draw. These sheets lie flat on the table, the same way the bed lies on the floor, and themselves hold a bed at the top of the page: the hotel’s logo. Like the bed, its design also implies another, a double. It is composed of two Is in bed together, two Is linked together to form an H.


It is said that being two in this double bed causes its aforementioned edges, its contour, to be less and less definable; that gradually, the two Is mutually forget where they are, lost somewhere in this white surface, amongst the folds of the sheet. (Two bodies in a bed definitely disturb the evenness of the sheet, creating many more folds.) They do so to the point that the Is cannot distinguish whether they are outside or inside of the bed, in or out of these sheets, as it is true to say that folds are at once a concave and convex surface. Of course, the fold (or the crease) in the middle of the bed never ceases to separate the two beings, the two bodies. Naturally, everything still plays around the fold, simultaneously separating and combining and also opposing and tying the two of them together. It creates the double of the introverted and the other introverted, the attraction of the two—two parts that simultaneously merge and unbind. Right then and there, the two Is might even come to form a We, causing them to abandon their individuality—two subjects together with the same desire for a relation. Being is abolished for the relation, making this moment a very dangerous one.

Nevertheless, I must admit that on occasion I wonder: is it possible to lie there side by side, to coexist without merging? And if we go back to my bed, does the fold, the line in the middle, become the edge of the I’s inexistence?

Complicate                                                                 Compliquer
Accomplice                                                                Accomplice
Amplify                                                                       Amplifier
Coupling                                                                     Coupler
Duplicate                                                                    Dupliquer
Implicate                                                                    Impliquer
Simplify                                                                     Simplifier

Slowly, the pli doesn’t create a separation but rather a space in which continuous and reversible dialogue can occur.

***

I speak to you in your tongue but it             Je te parle dans ta langue mais c’est dans la
is in mine that I understand you.                 mienne que je te comprends.42

Does that mean that it would be much better to intertwine them?

THE BASEMENT

(…)

33 ‘The Hotel Language isn’t the first hotel constructed on the model of the body. In fact, in Elia and Zoe Zenghelis’s design for the Hotel Sphinx in Times Square, New York (at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue), “each physical part of the hotel as sphinx accommodates different programmatic functions: the legs contain escalators ascending to theatres, auditoriums, and ballrooms; the two towers of the tail contain studio apartments; the neck contains social clubs; the head is dedicated to relaxation and sports; and the spine houses hotel rooms, apartments, and villas with terraced gardens. Manhattan was intended to function as an extended lobby providing all possible amenities, and, likewise, the ground floor and mezzanine were designed to draw in the city and to take on the character of the Times Square area, a notoriously seedy neighbourhood in the 1970s.” Terence Riley, ed., The Changing of the Avant-Garde: Visionary Architectural Drawings from the Howard Gilman Collection (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002), p. 142.

34 Georges Perec, Espèces d’espaces (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2000), p. 33 / Georges Perec, Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, trans. John Sturrock (London: Penguin, 1999), p. 16.

35 Gilles Deleuze, Le pli, Leibniz et le baroque (Paris: Les éditions de minuit, 1988), p. 42 / Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), p. 36.

36 Deleuze, op. cit., p. 16 (French edition), or p. 18 (English edition).

37 Roland Barthes, Le plaisir du texte (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1973), p. 64 / Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975), p. 82.

38 Barthes, op. cit., p. 101 (French edition), or p. 75 (English edition).

39 Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence Schehr (London: John Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 68.

40 Michel Leiris quoted in Perec, op. cit., p. 33 (French edition), or p. 16 (English edition).

41 Édouard Glissant and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, ‘Le 21e siècle est Glissant,’ 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts, no. 038 (Kassel: dOCUMENTA13, 2011), p. 4.

42 Édouard Glissant, Poétique de la relation (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1990), p. 199 / Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, trans. Betsy Wing (Michigan: University of MichiganPress, 1997), p. 47.

Contributor

Marie-Michelle Deschamps

Marie-Michelle Deschamps is an artist who lives and works in Montreal, Canada.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2020

All Issues