A Performance for Camera


If you would like some musical accompaniment, please follow this link and leave it playing in the background. Start it wherever you like, as loud as you like. 

There was a time, not so very long ago, that something went a little wrong in my neurological makeup. I had seizures, the synapses in my brain misfiring. The Akkadians are the first recorded humans to speak of epilepsy, attributing convulsions to a lunar god in 3000BC. The Ancient Greeks pick up what they left behind, attributing ‘the falling sickness’ to curses meted out by Selene and Artemis, goddesses of the moon. The Greeks however also associated it with genius and divinity, believing Hercules himself to have suffered. Hippocrates was the first writer to declare it a biological affliction, terming it ‘The Great Disease’. Yet this work slipped away, and until the 1600s, Western superstition persisted . Perhaps the sufferer could access prophecies and visions.Indeed, I have witnessed many people fully ‘seize’ in states of religious ecstasy, mouths slack, body tensed.

All I can remember from my seizures is a few seconds prior to unconsciousness. Some of these memories end mid descent; I was already gone by the time I reached the floor. I can remember my brain failing, as my torso began to tilt at an angle. I can remember desperately trying to hold on, clawing at my face in an attempt to stay awake. If I could feel my hand on my cheek, I was still here, still alive. If I couldn’t feel my hand, it was someone else’s problem. I once woke up to the vicar praying over me. I once woke up in the arms of the Warrant Officer. I once woke up screaming.  

Everything in my life became regulated; no locks on the bathroom, rehanging the doors so they opened outward, texting my mum when I got to school, teaching my friends how to put me in the recovery position, protect my head, to clear my tongue. For a growing adolescent, it was an intense constraint upon my development. My whole world experience had to revolve around this prevention of falling. To fall, was to reach into abject blackness.


In our living room hangs a painting given to my mother by my father, as an engagement present. It depicts the Galilee Chapel in Durham Cathedral. It has hung there throughout my childhood. It is quite big, and you have to look up at it. The chapel was built in 1170, and for some time after was the only place in the monastery where women could worship. The bones of the Anglo-Saxon monk and writer, the Venerable Bede (originally buried with St Cuthbert) were moved into this chapel in the 14th century. Here he rests surrounded by ancient brick and stone. He is amongst the brushstrokes of the painting too. One thing that has always struck me about the painting is the ceiling. Vaulted stones, arching higher and higher. Dark and airy, hummings and twanglings that are centuries old. A time before me. Things dwell up there, like in all cathedral roofs. Stones become soaked in prayer, ancient magics that give delight and hurt not. A thousand monks pouring out into the very tissue of the air. The full power of the medieval church, with all its mysticism, burned fiercely into a growing mind. Latin exaltations slipping from ancient tongues, celestial musics that peal higher and higher with every fresh incantation. Deep voices, deeper than night itself, reverberating over and over. The familiar echo of the empty nave rings between my ears. We have our own potent rituals on this island. The paints remember them well, and within the murk and mire of blackened brushstrokes, there lives my ancestors, crowding amongst my eyes. I am close to the sinews of time in this sacred canvas. I associate time with height, how it carries the mind up, up. We soar through it in our imagination, or perhaps fall. Memory is to fall across time, back to previous lives. After all, family trees move downwards.

Essentially, I experience much in the world as having a kind of spirit. The word ‘spirit’ conjures up all kinds of images of floating sprites that flit about, ethereal and fantastical. But do spirits not have weight? When we are affected by something, and feel that ‘spirit’ moving us, is it not the very impact of it falling upon us that affects us? Has it taken off, at a steady rate, climbing higher, before neatly sliding into cognition? Perhaps we should consider, where has it leapt from. The origin of the leap is different for each and every one of us. The holy darkness that tiles the Galilee Chapel is where this painting leaps from, for me, drawing all of its power into a mesmerising impact. This is the root of its sublime pull.
Darkness, yes, but the benevolent darkness that hides and entices all man, darkness of what is not yet known, willing the viewer into illumination. This is darkness that we all know well, those who seek new ways, new performances. It is that inexpressible affect, that once illustrated we know exactly what it means to us, even if it slips just outside of articulation. It is devastatingly unique, and always out of reach, for once we have ignited one sconce, the passage before us grows joyfully longer, and longer, with more torches needing blessed sparks.


It is of little surprise to me that I find myself preoccupied with soaring and falling. Soaring must be the opposite to falling. I soar and fall through a great many things, music, poetry, paintings. Soaring has propulsion, and control, it does not harm, and it does not mock. Falling is chaos, out of control with uncertain ends. But my friends, is it not easier to soar than to fall? Yet, falling can unlock more for us, most surely? When we fall alongside a piece of art that is personally precious to us, the impact is never what we fear, it is familiar and radically comforting.
I had a dream the other night, one of those stress dreams about completing a task you need to do. I remember writing the word ‘treason’, and when I woke up I clung to this word. The physical fall is treasonous. We commit a treason to our very nature in the fall and renounce the old gods of the upright and the vertical. Besides, they were only cobbled together with old scraps from the leatherworker’s floor, hastily arranged into order. But falling, now, falling is the body, subsumed into the will of the earth, returning into the blackness of pre-birth. In what feels like a raw state, the birth of impact brings forth new realms of knowing. The subjugation of the olden order is gone, never to be found again. In the moment of fall, we are brothers to the shooting star, blazing as such through rock and sulphur, fire and violence, all gentle things gone.

For what is gentle cannot help us in the fall, we must seek new altars upon which to land. We must discover what we can steal from falling, what temples do we robb on our descent? What new feeling awaits us at the bottom? Amidst any bruises incurred, we can wait for them to heal. But equally, with the very caress of those bruises, do we not unlock the sweetest songs?


What is discovered by the fall? This is what I have been grasping at, that a fall can bring something new to us. It must mean different things to us all, creating newness to each of us. For me, it is a joy, good fun, a childish inhabitation of my body. As a young boy I was always into throwing myself onto the floor, onto my friends, onto cushions. Much innocent mirth. And now? What does the fall mean to the ex-epileptic? I lost control of my falls during those years, I could not predict or save them. They subjugated my body to threats of sudden death, and left souvenirs of broken skin, and aching muscles. Indeed, I doubt I possessed an inventory within which to understand my falls. But now, what have I discovered? I wonder, has my act of falling become a way of ‘becoming-spirit’, the same spirit of sublimity that moves us and compels us? By falling by myself, in the face of all I have passed through, do I not fall onto, upon, amongst myself?  Or does the body become anew in the fall, meaning that the impact of the ground is the brother (or even father) to the external sublime? How can I transfigure the experience of bodily emergency into a way to live, to experience? I am asking, what are my sweet songs? 
I have concluded, for now, that the fall is as thus; it is a yes-saying.  It is an affirmation of life itself, the process being firmly planted in the present, the instant it happens. The fall is an embodiment of this spirit I have been speaking of, a distilled and intensely personal ‘geist’ that has emerged out of my lived experience. To leap into the air is like a treble cleft hurling itself from the stave; ink pouncing from paper; paints spilling from canvas. The physical body, as it falls, takes on the role of raw affect itself. All is felt, nothing is thought. There is no time to think, only vibrant darkness lies before you. It is that kindly vibrancy of muddy paths on hills above the sea, just after a thunderstorm, that await your beloved footprint.

I can fall now because I have reclaimed the blackened impact from my malfunctioning brain. It is a delight, and a rejoicing, to throw the body into thin air. The fall is the reclaimed experience of affect, which eluded me through seizures and fits. Always, the seizure was found in the witness, rather than me. I was elsewhere. The only affect I felt was one of absence; to this day I will never truly know what happened to me. I missed out on landings due to the seizures, and now every landing is a jubilation that I have made it to the bottom, alive. My adolescent verticality was stunted and deformed, repressed and constrained. Now I find at hand even more height in the world, new depths of feeling unlocked. I can experience the descent, falling into new knowing, new emotion. And so, I must leap, and dance. One must dance, because we can survive the fall and land, with bent knees, and joyous hearts. The gentle melodies that impact graces us are not to be ignored lightly.

So to you, my dear friend, I think we must begin to lean off balance, across our bodies, horizontally and in flight, to seek new substances of thought, to discover new delights of being.

There are many ways to fall, with radical joy assuredly waiting for us on the other side. Onwards and upwards, yes, but keeping one eye open in the twilight, ready for the glorious downwards.

“A philosopher who has traversed many kinds of health, and keeps traversing them, has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot keep from transposing his states every time into the most spiritual form and distance: this art of transfiguration is philosophy.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1886, The Gay Science; With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs, trans. Kaufmann, W, pg. 35-6

 images were taken by the author. 2020, all rights reserved