Posts Tagged ‘Lily Robert-Foley’

In 2004 Shelley Jackson launched her project SKIN, a story published in tattoos on 2095 volunteers. One of those volunteers is one of Omnia Vanitas Review‘s very own lovely editors, Ms. Lily Robert-Foley.

This is part of that story as told through those voices and read on their marked bodies with their own stories.

What’s so fascinating is how each word, already inscribed on a text, moves through texts, bonding to and inserting itself within other texts, exists outside of both their own text and Jackson’s texts, creating a third text of immeasurable size and weight, leaving the reader of the word, the wearer of the word, aware of the inevitability of natural erosion. Rebutting the claim that “writing is words that stay,” this story moves, it breathes, it hurts, it loves, and, eventually, it dies.

From this time on, participants will be known as “words”. They are not understood as carriers or agents of the texts they bear, but as its embodiments. As a result, injuries to the printed texts, such as dermabrasion, laser surgery, tattoo cover work or the loss of body parts, will not be considered to alter the work. Only the death of words effaces them from the text. As words die the story will change; when the last word dies the story will also have died. The author will make every effort to attend the funerals of her words.

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It rings. And rings. We can now silence it, but before, we couldn’t. We could only take it off the hook. Ignore that beepbeepbeepbeepbeep. But still, most of us don’t. Most of us want the telephone to ring. We assume it will ring, and when it does, we run to answer it, like Pavlovians. Ring. Hello? You there. Hello?

The mind to body connection is astounding. Ring. Phone in hand. Hello?

It’s instinctual. Like pulling your hand off of a lit stove. Hello? Talk to me.

Women wait by the telephone. (Though now, women wait for the telephone, as they are mobile, wireless devices, no longer stuck inside the home.) Everyone has waited by for the telephone. I’ve waited by for the telephone. Hoping he would call. He, the proverbial he. Hoping he would end my suffering and call. Sometimes he didn’t. Often times he didn’t.

But then sometimes, he did. “I’m sorry,” He mostly said. “I was busy.”

Busy, the predominant emotional state in men.

The words go through a machine then come out differently. They sound differently. The inflections are all wrong. The inflections are faceless. Expressionless. Without eyes.

The words are interpreted. The machine spits out what he said and I reel it in and translate it. He was busy evokes a tree of translations. He was writing. He was out with someone else. He was doing something, anything, other than thinking about me.

This is not a post wherein I discuss past relationships’ failures. This is dissection of the telephone.

Or, as Cixous calls it, the Tele-Vaccination.

Because his voice can be an injection. It can calm the storm. Weather the war within. It penetrates our ears.

The telephone is an appendage that abates loneliness. Ring. Hello? I’m here.

The telephone used to be my savior. In college I used to get nightmares. Horrible nightmares where my friends, my family, me were being brutally murdered for sport. I began reading Sartre’s Imaginary. He said that one cannot reflect in dreams, that when one starts asking questions regarding a dream’s authenticity as dream then one could effectively control their dreams. That night, I dreamt that the outdoor Pedestrian Mall was carpeted. I was walking along the ordinarily cobbled street but feeling the scratchy, clean fibers underneath my bare feet when I thought, The Ped Mall wasn’t always carpeted, was it?

No, it most certainly was not. My dreaming self took out her cell phone. She pressed some buttons and called a lover whom she wished to see, whom I, the dreamer, had wished to see. My absent lover. The lover that didn’t always call. My lover that existed through the telephone.

This became a repeated gesture throughout my dreams during this period in my life.

If a threatening man appeared in my dreams I would take out my cell phone, dial him, or some number, some friend, and the contact would see me through to a different scene. The phone eased my suffering. Just as it did when my lover called.

The phone would ring. His number would appear, and that number, without fail, was never Hello? it was always Tonight. Later. You will get to see me tonight. His number, his ring, eased my longing. His ring never wanted to talk. It wanted to penetrate.

Cixous asks, why is there no painting of a woman waiting by the telephone?

A woman waiting to be translated, to be understood. Waiting to be heard without being seen.

Both of these, she knows, are impossible. To be heard is to trigger memory. He may be hearing me, unable to see me, but he is thinking about me, imagining my face, my body language as he deciphers my emotions, decodes blindly, with memory, with translation. To be translated is not to be understood.

“Language calls out for its translation precisely because it is untranslatable.”

Lily Robert-Foley wrote that.

And, what about the game Telephone?

The first person is the speaker, the last the listener, and everyone in between represents the machine, the device that words must travel through. This is how we end up with “purple monkey dishwasher” tacked onto the end of the sentence. The device is not pure. The machine is dirty, it crackles, words mutate, fall through its static.

Lily and I are writing a book on the Telephone. Or rather, it’s called Telephone. She writes. I translate. She translates. I write. We began this project because she’s far, too far for the telephone to be affordable. So we write, letters, but with a keen awareness of the Telephone-Other that is not there but would be if we were on the telephone.

I write:

I have read, that Derrida has said, that, “a ‘good’ translation must always commit abuses.” It gives permission to the text to narrowly escape banality by asserting itself as a translation.

A translation is both aggressive and demure.

A translation must continue “seeking the unthought or unthinkable in the unsaid or unsayable.”

I look at your text, your words, and I read them aloud. To illuminate, and to disappear: used as both verb and noun. One syllable crashes into another, leaving the former a memory. A memory that is never remembered accurately, like a feeling.

A feeling that’s locked in a box. Trapped. From head to paper through pen. Trapped again. Inside a box. Inside a dresser sometimes, like the time I found that pack of cigarettes you meant to throw out (one of my trauma boxes, you could say, nestled within my father’s trauma box, as he cannot bear the sight of Lucky Strikes), next to your trauma boxes. One word written on each cubic side. A terrible memory of yours locked inside.

She writes:

Cixous says we repeat a lot on the phone, don’t we, we repeat what we said because we are afraid that the other hasn’t heard what we said or we repeat what we think the other said because we are afraid we did not hear what the other said, the definition of the telephone being that it rings and we respond right away and this is what happens to language in translation as it passes from one language to another for instance language in French has two words, langage, which is the structures of language, the way the unities of language, whatever they may be maybe are put together and in what order and with what value, and langue which is the institution of language, those who speak and protect it, the library and the publishing houses, the debates in the government, not just something I wrote to you, but as we say sometimes, a langue is a language with an Army and a Navy, which is why the Swiss have no langue and that chasm of homophonies, a word or an idiom’s history of iteration, its memory and its interpersonal relationships must be demolished and built up again in a new language, and that’s why Derrida says that translation is impossible, but that it is also necessary…

The Telephone is a trauma box of mine. The pain is stored inside of its receiver. The fear that the other person is not hearing me right. That their translation of me is inaccurate. That I translated inaccurately.

But also, that they are not there, not listening, playing video games, setting the phone down. Walking away as I speak.

I have anxiety about the facelessness, the earlessness of the telephone. That my presence is unwanted, an interruption, an intrusion.

This explains the excitement for the ringing phone, for the gentleman caller.

Ring. Hello? I want to talk to you.

The telephone is a reward for good behavior.

Its removal is a punishment.

I was always grounded from the telephone.

Late at night I would sneak calls. Sometimes I would set up a meeting time, a rendezvous minute, where I would call a 1-800 number and wait for the other to call, for call-waiting, so my parents wouldn’t know I was on the phone.

This is when the telephone became sacred. Because of this, because of my absent lover, I adopted surreptitious telephone habits. The telephone became a secret. The telephone became a symbol, a portal to an affair. The gentleman caller is a voice without a face. He could be anyone to anyone else, anyone other than me. He is a secret. His phone call is also a secret.

Ring. Hello? Shhh, they’ll hear you.

But they can’t hear. Only the one with telephone can hear. Ear pressed against the device she hears words only spoken for her.

These words can bring forth demands. They can be exhausting, annoying.

Ring. Hello? Do this. Ring. Hello? Explain yourself. Ring. Hello? Give me your time.

Or then, the fantasy, the desire to be loved, to be missed, to be heard.

Ring. Hello? I love you. I love you too.

But what if these last two quarrel. What happens when they’re at odds?

Ring. Hello? I love you, she says. Give me your time, he hears. No, he says, and she falls, rejected, sad. He’s confused, that’s not what he meant. He meant he was busy. She dissects “busy,” as she’s wont to do. Still paranoid, still assuming refusal, dismissal. He becomes angry. A cycle. A series of misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Meaning lost inside the machine.

(Ring. Hello? Come to me.)

(To quote Beyoncé, “I should’ve left my phone at home cuz this is a disaster.”)

(Ring. Hello? I’m sorry.)

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Guest Blogger: Lily Robert-Foley.


First published on the Green Lantern’s Blog:

Mexico City February 2009

Kelly and I lay on the floor surrounded by books.

“What question should we ask next?”  Kelly asked, aware of the absurdity of her question, as though asking a question can only ever be preceded and followed by an infinite loop of questions about the question itself:  “What is the question?”  “What was the question?”  “What is the answer to the question?”  “What does the question mean?”

We had been asking questions about God, and existence, the nature of nature, the mind-body connection, problems of philosophical methodology, reflection, and language.  But our limbs had fallen slowly to the ground like petals.  I had not found the post office.  We were becoming younger.

“Should I go back to the Marxist?”


“No, I’m not asking you, I’m answering your question.”

She opened a book.

“Shall we ask Freud?  Or perhaps Pessoa?”

“Pessoa,”  I answered.

She leafed through the book

“To think about God is to disobey God,/Since God wanted us not to know him,/Which is why he didn’t reveal himself to us.”

“What does that mean?”  Kelly and myself elegantly and imperceptibly becoming of one mind, a woman talking or thinking to herself.

“It means you are conflicted.  That you are caught between two impossible halves of a division—like a Chinese finger trap.  You cannot know God without betraying God, but you cannot know not to know God without first knowing him.  Therefore you are in constant betrayal.  There is no option that does not lead to betrayal.”

“Did I not know that already?”

“You can’t ask Pessoa these things.  You want answers, you must go to someone who gives answers.”

“Who, like God?”

Kelly made a chiasmic facial gesture, raising her eyebrows and lowering, cocking her chin, her face splitting, breaking open, apart, like the earth, over time.  An expression that indicates both possibility and direction.

She reached over to my copy of the English bible laid out next to the Spanish one on the coffee table amidst my drafts of translation.

“Dear God, please give this poor young woman the strength to make a choice in this most infuriating dilemma.  Please guide her by giving her quick and easy answers so that she will not have to take responsibility for her own decisions.”

I grabbed the Spanish version off the table and threw it at her mouth, where her words had come out.  She raised the English version just in time to block her face and the Spanish one collided with it mid-air, and fell to the floor, open faced, it’s onion skin pages curling and bending.  Kelly laughing, the books scattered around us like the rests of a Bacchanal.

“Old Testament or New Testament?”

“Who cares, god is God, right?”  Jubilation.

“And Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments.”

“What is that supposed to mean.?”

“No idea.  Joshua sounds like a dick, though. Try the Spanish version.”

“El cadaver de Jezabel sera como un abono que se esparce y ni siquiera se podra decir: “Esta es Jezebal.”

“You opened to the part about Jezebel?  Unbelievable.”

“Let’s see…”  I rifled through my papers.  “The cadaver of Jezebel will be like a dispersed interest payment and not even the most insignificant shit will be able to say, ‘this credit card statement is Jezebal’”

“Your Spanish is really crap, you know.  How are you going to translate the bible if you don’t even speak Spanish?”

“Shut up, I’m working on it.  Besides, it’s the language of God I’m translating, and God speaks directly to me.”

“You’re fucked up, you know?”

“What’s it to you?  What does the New Standard Revised have?”

“Oh here it is, The English version says, ‘the corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field in the territory of Jezreel, so that no one can say, This is Jezebel.”

“What are yout talking about?  It’s practically the same as my translation.”

“Joshua and Jezebal sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!”

“Oh shut up.  I’m asking Bolano.”


“Bolano!  Our saviour!”

“Oh shit, I opened to Cesaria Tinajera’s poem.”

“You know, sometimes I think 2666 is actually based on the bible.  Like the Satanic Verses is based on the Koran.  The Satanic Verses of Mexico.”

“There is no doubt that Mexico needs its copy of the Satanic Verses.  There is also no doubt that we must do more to expose the tyranny of biblical dissemination in Mexico.  That it was the most heinous of the weapons of the Conquest, and remains to this day the principal instrument of oppression, never ceases to astound me.”

“Perhaps Bolano was trying to do that.”

“Perhaps… but Bolano has his own dialectic—or his own dialogue, I suppose.  Don’t you think?  He would never construct such a simple allegory without destabilizing its structures of correspondance…”

“To think about God is to disobey God.”

“Don’t think about God!”

“Ah!  I’m thining about him, I’m thinking about him!”

“Sinner!  Sinner!”

And at that I lunged across the room and began to wrestle with Kelly the two of us sisters, locked in a linguistic battle over the truth of God.  Our arms moving through each other’s, around each other’s bodys, our hands holding onto each other’s hair, our  mouths in flight, two angels, the wandering interpretation of texts.

“Oh what’s this?  This book of fairy tales opened all by itself!  Let’s see what it says”

They unraveled and laid flat on their bellies on the cold tile floor.

“Close your eyes and point.”

“ ‘Go West in a week,’”

“Now that’s some advice I can follow.”

– transcribed (loosely based on reality) and posted by Lily.

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